Cuba // Havana //

El Barrio Chino and around

About a block inside Centro Habana from Habana Vieja’s western border, the grand entrance to El Barrio Chino, Havana’s version of Chinatown, is likely to confuse most visitors, as it’s placed three blocks from any visibly ethnic change in the neighbourhood. The entrance, a rectangular concrete arch with a pagoda-inspired roof, is south of the Capitolio Nacional, on the intersection of Amistad and Dragones, and marks the beginning of the ten or so square blocks which, at the start of the twentieth century, were home to some ten thousand Chinese immigrants. Today only a tiny proportion of El Barrio Chino, principally the small triangle of busy streets comprising Cuchillo, Zanja and San Nicolás – collectively known as the Cuchillo de Zanja – three blocks west of the arched entrance, is discernibly any more Chinese than the rest of Havana. Indeed, the first thing you are likely to notice about El Barrio Chino is a distinct absence of Chinese people, the once significant immigrant population having long since dissolved into the racial melting pot. The Cuchillo de Zanja itself does, however, feature its own tightly packed little backstreet food market, composed mostly of simple fruit and vegetable stalls. It’s lined with eccentric-looking restaurants, many still charging in national pesos, where the curious and unique mixture of tastes and styles is as much Cuban as Asian. Among the better restaurants here is Tien Tan.