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Why Nairobi’s is a different kind of a Chinatown

Every major city in the world has some semblance of a ‘Chinatown’, whether it is a residential or a commercial zone, where the population or commerce is predominantly Chinese.

And Nairobi’s Chinatown is starting to take root with an incredible array of Chinese restaurants, hotels and supermarkets cropping up in a stretch between Hurlingham and Kilimani.

A couple of the supermarkets are incredibly well–stocked with a huge variety of ingredients, including fresh meat, vegetables and seafood, most of which are half the price of their counterparts in Nakumatt or Chandarana.

In one of my favourite supermarkets there’s even a section with plastic chairs and tables where you can eat steamed buns and big soups at a much cheaper price than any restaurant in Nairobi — and it’s delicious, you just have to put up with a bit of a funky aroma from the meat counter and the shouting of the owners as they rudely boss their staff about.

One of my favourite Chinese restaurants is hidden down Jabavu lane, never has any ‘foreign’ clients and doesn’t even have a sign. The menus are only in Mandarin so I tend to point and order to get my meal which never disappoints.

This is what surprises me the most though – when Chinatowns in other cities became established, the Chinese came on trading vessels, looking to trade goods.

In Nairobi’s case it doesn’t seem like they want to trade much with anyone but the local Chinese population. The supermarkets sometimes only have product labels in Mandarin so it’s impossible to know what things are…and the Chinese owners will not go out of their way to help you out.

But this will not deter me on my quest for delicious cheaply priced food. In a city where the cost of living is rising rapidly, Nairobi’s new Chinatown is offering a great alternative; you just have to be willing to get past barriers of trade on your own.