4 November 2013

Birmingham: Chinatown's Oriental Heart...

Birmingham has been blessed with a front of heavy rain, which has made doing anything pleasant somewhat challenging! But our West Midland's metropolis is used to this glorious weather so we just get on with things, but this November Saturday just gone showed me a great afternoon in Birmingham's Chinatown. Leave the shade, now serve Chinatown Overness I say! 

Taking a well earned break from our final year degree studies myself and my friend Kelly made our way to Birmingham's Chinatown, a dynamic corner of Birmingham's Southside city centre district. To the left is Cathay Street, the gateway to a wide range of Oriental delights including restaurants, hairdressers and cake shops. Move over London, Birmingham has a Chinatown to be proud of! I absolutely love this part of town because it's an infusion of Chinese and Cantonese culture and customs that funnily enough perfectly compliment Birmingham's compact and diverse city-scape. This part of Southside is within a minutes walk to the Bullring that connects with New Street Station. For a cash-strapped student its easy to find something to do in Birmingham when the weekend makes an appearance. Cathay Street has everything like I previously mentioned so if you're visiting for the first time its ace! Yes!

Me and Kelly usually have a Chinese cake and a cold Bubble Tea in this part of town. We always choose Caffe Chino, a cute bakery and cafe that serves the best Hong Kong Black-forest cake in Birmingham! The atmosphere at Caffe Chino makes me feel closer to my days spent within the streets of New York City's Chinatown, there's nothing better than a cold HK style Bubble Tea to set the scene perfectly. Our time at Caffe Chino gave me and Kelly the chance to catch-up because the last few weeks of university have been crazy busy! Birmingham's Chinese Quarter has a cool vibe, its an authentic space that I really love because its close to all the nightspots in Southside that I love so walking to the club is always colourful. Back in February I published a blog highlighting the delights of Caffe Chino, I had never seen something so endearing before in Brum! Could China be an option after uni? I need to try the restaurant close to Chino for the barbecued duck looks mighty fine!

Forget Tesco because a large proportion of Birmingham's Chinese population choose to shop at one of the many Oriental supermarkets. These stores sell everything from the Far East. Me and Kelly went to Day In Supermarket, I love it here because everything just looks so colourful and there's a rich aroma that always greets me each time I walk through the entrance. Choose something different! Kelly usually shops at this Oriental supermarket because certain foods can't be bought in the conventional supermarkets, I was shown what frozen tofu looks like and the different varieties of soy milk, which by the way soy milk is really tasty! Just looking at the fresh Pak Choi was great for me because I wouldn't know what to cook it with, so I have some way to go yet! I had previously bought some Po-nee Tea, recommended by Kelly as its one her Grandad's favourite teas to drink. Variety is sure the spice of life!

If you've never been to a Oriental supermarket I suggest you change your mundane plans by paying a visit one day you have Tesco's or ASDA on your shopping list. Day In Supermarket is also located on Cathay Street, a stones through from the vibrant Arcadian complex that really puts this international area into perspective. I must admit that the amount of tourists looking around Day In Supermarket on Saturday afternoon was crazy, let's just say that there's no shortage of eastern promise in and around Birmingham's Chinese Quarter. I'm in the final year of my university course so I get the craziness of Birmingham at the weekend completely, its all about going with it. The staff behind main tills have a certain way with the customers, its almost like a race to process each payment something like a supermarket sweep! Kelly informed that in supermarkets in Hong Kong usually get quite hectic like how it was at Day In. Multiculturalism is alive and well in Birmingham! The overness!

Fresh from our Oriental food shopping experience we took a few steps from the Day In Supermarket to Ladywell Walk, an alley way that had some very delicious smells where I was greeted by Peach Garden Restaurant and Take Away. This back to basics Cantonese cafe kitchen oozed the charm of a Asian street market in Birmingham's city centre. Always stray away from the bright lights to find something different, something the locals approve of. I peered through the open to door to see a packed dining area made up of mainly Oriental customers, that's the sign of a top quality restaurant! I would have loved to have thrown caution to the wind by ordering lunch here but I've not go a lot money at the moment, maybe a pre-birthday treat next week? Kelly ordered the roast pork with boiled rice, If you look closely into the window of Peach Garden you will see the hanging meats that looked delicious!

I have dined at two Cantonese restaurants in Birmingham's Chinatown, firstly at Chung Ying where I tried chicken's feet for the very first time, it was a taste experience that I enjoyed very much. But more recently Kelly introduced me to the concept of Dim Sum, the China Court Cantonese Restaurant served us a colourful and tasty platter of Dim Sum dishes that didn't cost the earth, I need some more Dim Sum back in my life! I can't quite remember what the dishes were called but menu looked more like a bingo card! With all these new Oriental tastes and flavours I'm glad I have an adventourous palette. Eventually I know a trip to Hong Kong is in order to experience another interpretation of Dim Sum. All in good time for that Far Eastern trip, I need to get some Hong Kong Dollar in my life first! I really need to get back to Birmingham's Chinatown soon to enjoy some wholesome Cantonese food from Peach Garden. If I had the money I would eat out all the time. Oh life!

I was reunited with one of my favourite Chinese tea! Captured to the right are the boxes of loose leaf Fujian Oolong tea that I purchased from Day In Supermarket. I first bought Oolong tea when I was at college in Wolverhampton back in 2008-2010, I saw the bright red boxes and decided to start my own Oolong tea hype! Apparently, the natural properties that are in Oolong tea make it a good choice for weight loss, but when I drink this tea I notice that my face looks fresher and clear of imperfections. I would recommend anyone to drink Oolong tea on a regular basis, but be warned the taste of this tea can be quite bitter. I choose to have a refreshing hot cup of Oolong tea after each evening meal because that's the secret. Maybe this tea could be a stocking filler for Christmas to help detox after our gluttonous ways? I would say that a visit to Birmingham's Chinatown is the true answer to perfect skin!

Apart from Chinese and Cantonese delights its easy to find Malaysian and Thai food within Birmingham's city core, so other flares from the Oriental hype can be found.  Birmingham is blessed with many different cultural gems, I honestly say that Chinatown town is a testament to Birmingham being a international metropolis. I plan to remain faithful to Birmingham's Chinatown to enjoy a sweet treat, buy some Oriental groceries or eat a succulent and flavoursome meal that doesn't cost a whole lot of money! Do yourselves a favour by leaving Soho's Chinatown and give Birmingham's Southside a chance! I always take a chance on Birmingham's Chinatown and never regret it! So I'll get on with my Oolong hype, I'm going to drink myself skinny but that's another story. It's Chinese New Year in February of next so I'm going to keep those dates free because its quite possible me and Kelly will be making a comeback to Birmingham's Chinatown. Birmingham has got an Oriental Heart!

Serving Chinatown Overness! 

Joseph Harrison

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