Visitors to London’s Chinatown can enjoy a new trail that explores the area’s food heritage highlighting parts of the neighbourhood that show traditional techniques, contemporary tastes, and ways of expressing ourselves through food and flavours.
Heritage is not all about history, but about how we interpret the past. It is not fixed. Chinatown is a place of connection created by people. Through your visit today – by creating memories and experiencing the area – you have contributed to making Chinatown heritage in London.
This area of Soho has held a significant role in London’s food cultural heritage since the 1600s. From agricultural lands for medieval monks to a hunting forest in the Tudor period, a French meat market, Georgian coffee houses and then restaurants and food businesses that shared the food cultures of people from France, Italy, Russia, Mainland China and Hong Kong, Malaysia, Vietnam, India and the Caribbean.
Chinatown was given its formal name in 1985. These streets were selected and given a makeover to mark them as distinct – red lampposts, bilingual street signs, ginkgo trees, gates of welcome and the stone lions help us recognise that we are in Chinatown. This transition was led by people working in and running businesses in the area alongside Westminster Council. Their efforts changed the way we think about and experience this part of London.
The map is available in Chinatown from 1 February 2022. The self-guided trail gives more detail about long-standing businesses including Lo’s Noodle Factory; Chinatown pioneers like SeeWoo, the first company to import pak choi to the UK; where to find foods that are made by hand, and other places to seek out tasty morsels of history.
The map is free and available to collect from pick up points outside China Exchange.
Our project involved nine volunteers who were trained in documenting, archiving and developing heritage material based on interviews with Chinatown’s talented chefs, entrepreneurs and business owners. The volunteers then developed heritage stories for the printed map that emphasise the human connections between an area we associate with food strongly but do not always see or understand the stories of the people who produce that food.
The vibrant hand drawn artwork for the trail was designed by artist and multidisciplinary designer, Penny Ng.
Commenting on being one of the volunteers for this project, Emily and Priscillia said:
“Through volunteering on the food heritage trail project, I have learnt about the unique journeys, recipes, flavours and cultural diversity that make Chinatown what it is today. I have also developed my understanding of the methods of carrying out heritage research and how food history can be documented.” – Emily Riddell
“Being a part of the project was an incredible opportunity to connect deeper with the food of Chinatown and gain new skills, all while getting to know the amazing volunteers on the team over multiple dinner visits to Chinatown.” – Priscilla Yu
This trail was produced as part of Champion Chinatown’s Heritage, a 2021 project funded through generous crowdfund campaign donors and Westminster City Council. Thank you to all the amazing people who contributed to allow this project to take place. The heritage interviews and archive materials will be available at Westminster City Archives from February 2022.