Chinese immigrants arrive in Chinatown

Since the time many Chinese immigrants arrived from the Pearl River Delta to the port town of San Francisco in the 1800s— the history of the city has been entwined with Chinatown, as it came to be town. A wave of Chinese prostitutes followed during the California Gold Rush and set up many Chinese sexual businesses in the early 1900s. This led to various clashes with the government and culminated in the overhaul of immigration policies. Around the 1960s, working-class Hong Kong Chinese descended in large numbers in the 1960s. Crippled by a lack of English skills, a majority of these settlers including the well-qualified ended up with low-paying jobs in restaurants and factories in and around Chinatown.

Chinatown today

Fast-forward to today, San Francisco’s Chinatown is home to a thriving community that continues to preserve its traditions, practices, languages, places of worship, and all in all, its identity. Not only is this the largest Chinatown outside of Asia, it also happens to be the oldest in North America. It feels is like stepping into a time machine and entering a different world. The typical buildings of SF give away to the pagodas and temple architecture, streets are adorned with red lanterns and lamps, the grocery stores are teeming with Chinese vegetables, dragonfruits, and other Asian produce, signposts, and street names are in English and Mandarin/Cantonese; you can hear various dialects as you walk. There are dragons everywhere, on lampposts, on the murals in the walls, in the grocery stores. You can spot people practicing TaiChi and playing chess in the parks and squares here. It’s crowded, chaotic and compact, about a square mile. It’s hard to imagine that this vastly different enclave exists in the heart of metropolitan San Francisco. I absolutely love walking these streets everytime I’m in SF.

Best of San Francisco’s Chinatown in pictures

Dragon Papa Dessert

My first thought upon seeing the dragon beard being pulled through the glass panes of the small family-run shop –

“Is this Soan papdi?”.

The dude at the counter told us without being prompted that it was NOT Soan Papdi and that many Indians had come in earlier, wondering the same thing. We bought a box of the traditional dragon beard candies and while it was similar to the Soan Papdi in texture, light and airy like a cloud, the outside sugar cocoon was dry and nutty to taste, and it crumbled into a tight ball of the crushed peanuts in the center.

Dragon’s beard, as the story goes, was first made for the emperor of China, but has since spread to many parts of Asia and the US. If it’s good for the emperor, it’s good enough for us, eh?

752 Grant Ave, San Francisco, CA 94108.  Open noon-8:30 p.m. daily.

Produce at the grocery stores

Beautiful colorful Asian produce. We bought Chinese eggplants seeds for our friends back home, let’s see how they grow 😉

A history of fortune cookies, Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory

San Francisco claims to be the first city that invented the fortune cookie but there has been a heated debated since the 80s to determine which specific Californian city it was. Apparently, there was even a mock trial in the ’80s to resolve the conflict, and San Francisco won. So there you go.

You can walk right into fortune-cookie sized Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory and see how these cookies are made, fresh off the griddle.

“First, the thin circular cookie is pulled off a hot press. Then, a fortune is placed on one side of the hot, flat dough. Next, each soft, hot cookie is shaped over a steel rod into the shape of a fortune cookie. This process must be done very quickly, otherwise, the cookie will harden before it has the right fortune cookie shape. “

It’s so fascinating to see how these cookies are made. The fun part: You can make fortune cookies with custom messages for your friends, we made a few and had a ball exchanging it with our friends.

56 Ross Alley. Open

Have you been to Chinatown? What’s your favorite SF Chinatown spot to see? Pin this for later –>



Also published on Medium.