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Not one but two. Paris has two Chinatowns. The first one in the 13th arrondissement, the more recent one, in Belleville. The 13th arrondissement, on the left bank, really took off in the late 1970's and early 1980's with the arrival of the "boat people" from Vietnam. The arrondissement had fallen victim to the depressing urban development started under the Gaullist government. This working class neighborhood was torn down and replaced by impersonal and ugly high rise buildings. No Parisian wanted to move in this universe of concrete. But the Chinese people who came from Vietnam found there a new Promised Land. The rents were cheap, there was plenty of space. They could build their own city - the largest Chinatown on the entire Continent - in the City of Light. In 1982, the first Chinese store open its doors. Now, there are over 150 restaurants in this southeastern part of Paris. The neighborhood's center is the place d'Italie, and its borders are the avenue d'Ivry, avenue de Choisy and boulevard Masséna. The only day to avoid Chinatown is Monday, when nothing much happens and most of it is closed.
In the mid 1980's, another Chinatown sprouted in another part of Paris: Belleville, in the northeastern section of the city. Belleville, which was the home of Edith Piaf and Maurice Chevalier, has been for the longest time the neighborhood where new immigrants would settle. You can still find Jewish tailors and Armenian shoemakers; more recently, Arabs and Africans moved in. In the summer, rue Rebeval feels like Cholon, the Chinese open air market in Saigon.
 

Here are our favorite addresses. Some are in other neighborhoods, but are worth checking.

 

 Tang Frères. The Ratanawan brothers aka Tang, came to France from Laos. They have built in this former French railways warehouse, Europe's largest Asian produce market. Their annual sales are over 1 billion francs and 10,000 people come to their Chinese supermarket each day, almost as much as the Pompidou Center. The smells from everywhere will overwhelm you. It is a real experience. 48, ave d'Ivry. 75013. Tel: 01 45 70 80 00. Tues-Sun, 9am-7:30pm. Métro: Porte d'Ivry.

 Chez Tang. This huge Chinese restaurant , property of the Tang brothers, of course, is always full at lunch time and that's part of the fun. The food is OK and prices reasonable. The sautéed noodles with shrimps and vegetables are good. 44, ave d'Ivry. 75013. Tel: 01 45 86 88 79. Daily until 10pm. Metro: Porte d'Ivry.

 AO-TA. Take the escalator at #44 ave d'Ivry. It will lead you to the ugly Olympiades shopping mall. Once inside, make a right at the BNP bank. AO-TA (Tues-Sun) sells Vietnamese "ready to wear", but mostly wonderful fabric.

 La Mer de Chine. Cantonese cuisine. This is the real thing and some consider it the best Chinese restaurant in the city. It makes no effort to attract non Chinese speaking customers: parts of its menu are not even translated into French. The "specialité" is sautéed duck tongue, but you can have fried soft shell crabs if you feel less adventurous. 159, rue Château des Rentiers. 75013. Tel: 01 45 84 22 49

 Le Sichuan panda. Szechuan cuisine is rare in Paris. It is the most elaborate and the spiciest. A few weeks ago this restaurant opened its door. Its "Szechuan fondue" and its cold noodles are excellent. (Not in Chinatown). 16, blvd de Strasbourg. 75010 Tel: 01 40 18 56 37. Metro: Strasbourg Saint Denis.

 Le Lys d'Or. Mr. Chen has three restaurants in the same neighborhood, but this one is the nicest. The chef has several times earned top prize at the Dalian International Food Festival. 210, rue de Charenton. 75012. Tel: 01 44 68 90 00. Metro: Dugommier

 Salon de Thé Wenzhou. Don't even think for a minute this is a tea salon. It is not. It is a restaurant in the heart of Belleville, Chinatown 2, where hundreds of Chinese come for lunch. It is cheap and everything is good: the crab and tofu soup, fried raviolis, wonderful little sautéed eels. Only drawback: the service is not very friendly. 24, rue de Belleville. 75020. 01 46 36 56 33. Mo Belleville.

 Dofa. An unpretentious and inexpensive little restaurant. Not a huge menu but everything is homemade and the quality is excellent. Try the din xin, Chinese tapas. Try also the noodles: ja jiang, a house's special, and the lo-ba rice. 77, rue Diderot. 75014. Tel: 01 45 40 52 50

 Chou Chen. This a restaurant with a history. Chou Chen was opened in 1929 by a Chinese student and is the oldest Chinese restaurant in the city. In the late 60's it was bought by a "Chinese from Corsica", Tony Bertucci. Not the best Chinese restaurant in the city but some nice specials like the "raviolis grilles" and the ginger lobster. 3, rue de Cluny. 75006. Tel: 01 43 54 99 85. Metro: Maubert-Mutualite.

 Chen. This one made history when it became the first Chinese restaurant to receive a star by the Michelin guide. The location is ugly, surrounded by concrete buildings, leftovers from another scandalous urban renewal of the Pompidou years. Chen is expensive, but always full. It is a good idea to reserve. Chen Fung-Ching, who left Shanghai during the Great Leap Forward and apprenticed in Hong Kong, is the greatest Chinese chef in France. 15, rue du Théatre. 75015. Tel: 01 45 79 34 34.

 Fusion. This is the new Chinese cuisine and also a new version of the Chinese restaurant. Thankfully, it does not look like one. Very Zen and delicious. The lunchtime menu is very good: vegetarian raviolis, clams with Chinese prunes. In the evening, count 100F. 9, rue Molière. 75001. Tel: 01 47 03 98 28.

 Yun Long. The cheapest Chinese restaurant in what was, earlier in the century, the first Chinese neighborhood, around the gare de Lyon. Chinese (and Vietnamese) immigrants would arrive by boat in Marseille and take the train to Paris. They would settle around the train station. Opened over 20 years ago by Mr. Li whose noodles are the very best in the capital. All kinds of noodles for 3 euros. 44, rue Diderot. 75012. Tel: 01 46 28 95 77. Metro: Gare de Lyon.

 

Asian culture is present in other parts of the city.

 Musée Cernuschi: It is one of the city's little treasures. In 1896, the fabulously wealthy financier Henri Cernuschi gave his town house in the parc Monceau and its splendid collection of Chinese antiquities to the city. It is worth visiting it as much for the special atmosphere as for the collection. Closed on Mon. Open 10am-5:40pm. Free on Sun. 7, ave. Velasquez. 75008. Metro: Villiers or Monceau.

 Musée d'Ennery. This one deserves the title of most unknown museum in Paris, hands down. Located on the Avenue Foch, the most prestigious Paris address, in a Napoleon III "hotel particulier", it is a stunning place. Objects are presented in extravagant "vitrines" made by French "ebenistes" with wood and mother of pearl brought from Asia in the 1870's. Madame d'Ennery is married to a successful theater playwright and she decides to dedicate herself to collecting Chinese and Japanese art. In less than 20 years, she accumulates over 7,000 objects. The contrast between the very bourgeois interior and the art shown, is delightful. In their will, the d'Ennerys asked that the collection be open to the public at no charge forever. Hôtel d'Ennery. 59, ave Foch. 75016. Tel: 01 45 53 57 96. Thu, Sun and holidays, 2pm-6pm. Metro: Porte Dauphine or Victor Hugo.

  C.T. Loo & Cie. This amazing four story red pagoda in the heart of the most bourgeois neighborhood (around the parc Monceau), was built in 1926 by a French architect for Ching Tsai Loo. At the end of the 19th century, this young Chinese was sent to Paris by his family, to learn about trade and commerce. He became a world famous antiques dealer. He died in 1957 and since then, his heirs have taken over the family's business. Don't be afraid to go in and look at every piece which is unique. Also try the elevator: a beauty made with painted wood. 48, rue de Courcelles. 75008. Tel: 01 45 62 53 15. Tues-Sat., 10:30am-12:30/ 2:30pm-6:30pm. Metro: Saint-Philippe du Roule.

 Musée Guimet. The museum is one of the world's most comprehensive. It covers every part of Asia from China to Korea, from Japan to Laos and Vietnam. It is so exhaustive that visitors can chose among 200 themes for their guided visits. It also has a huge library, a film collection and a photo collection. 6, place d'Iena. 75016. Tel: 01 56 52 53 00. Metro: Iena.

 

If these adventures have left you thirsty, go to the Buddha bar. It is a flashy and spectacular version of Buddha, with a huge statue of Buddha in the center of this vast restaurant/bar. Loud, expensive, overcrowded with beautiful people, but worth seeing. 8, rue Boissy d'Anglas. 75008. Tel: 01 53 05 90 00.




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