Exploring Oakland’s Chinatown

Also known as: scouring your new home for noodles that closely resemble your favorite foods from traveling.

You know what’s boring?

Hearing about someone else’s food tour, seeing the photos, and not being able to eat the food yourself.  It’s why I can’t watch the Food Network when I’m hungry.

So, instead I’m going to tell you what’s not boring: Oakland.

Let’s be honest, Oakland hasn’t always had the best reputation — in fact, despite being nicknamed “the new Brooklyn” and finding Bay Area residents flocking to live there in search of culture and cheaper rent, it’s still not a place many travelers (or locals) have on their bucket list.

You heard it here first (or here and here, but who’s counting)…Oakland is on the up (and up.)  It’s quick and easy to take BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) across the bay to-and-from the city, and best of all, Oakland offers not only some of the same charm and beauty we San Franciscans love but, more importantly, a unique, burgeoning food scene.

I’ll travel just about anywhere for a food tour, especially as a way to discover a place I have yet to explore.  You can imagine my delight at only having to take the short trip across the bay to experience Oakland’s culinary scene, which in a word I would describe as:

oakland food

Enter Savor Oakland Food Tours.

The owners are passionate advocates of the Oakland area, who took it upon themselves to do the taxing work of tasting, sipping, and exploring the traditional and progressive food scene of Oakland, only to present the best options to you.

My tour guide Carlo was not only an Oakland native and foodie, but a mythbusting machine that’s ready to tackle your hesitations about food, life, and travel in Oakland.  He proudly shared a wealth of knowledge about the city’s past, present, and future.  (Did you know Oakland made the New York Times’ list of 52 Places to Go in 2012, #5, the only place in North America on the list? Did you? I had no idea.)

We all know about San Francisco’s Chinatown, one of the largest and most famous in the United States (also, created for tourists…did you know? Also, hate to break it to you, but not the best place to eat in the city.)  When the chance came my way to explore Oakland’s Chinatown — I jumped on it faster than I do a piping hot soup dumpling. (And that is fast, people.)


 

Click here! For a few things I learned about Oakland on my food tour:

Oakland has 158 different neighborhoods (whoa.)

Over 120 languages are spoken.

Oakland gets roughly 300 days of sunshine a year (as opposed to the fog of SF, which I do love…)

Oakland’s Chinatown is the 4th largest in the USA.

Oakland’s history dates back to 1852. Many immigrants came from China, but at the time men did not cook unless it was for the Imperial Court. As a result, Chinese restaurants in America are derived from only one region’s food and placate Western tastes.

There are more Chinese restaurants in the US than McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Burger King combined! (Say whaaat?)

Ever asked: why do they all have the same menu? (beef with broccoli anyone?)

Fortune cookies are NOT from China. They weren’t even introduced in China until the 1990s.

Oakland Food Scene

Oakland’s Chinatown is so cool, that it’s not even strictly Chinese food — it’s more of a Pan-Asian neighborhood, meaning the tour showed neighboring countries like Vietnam and Cambodia some love (music to my ears.)

 

A few things you should eat (from the food tour:)

Classic Guilin noodles, a form of Chinese rice noodles that have been served around Guangxi Province since the Qin Dynasty : at Classic Guilin Noodles

Warm, fresh fortune cookies – with a side of accurate history lesson : at Tom’s Bakery

Ban Cuon Dac Biet, Goi Cuon (spring rolls,) Bahn Tom Chien Kuai (sweet potato fritters,) and mmm Vietnamese coffee : at Bahn Cuon Tay Ho

Vegan Chinese food – that basically tastes better than the non-vegan kind (how?) : at Nature Vegetarian

BBQ Pork Buns (‘nough said) and other delicious Chinese pastries : at Tao Yuen

Plair Sach Ko (tangy beef salad) and who knows what else (too full at this point) : at Battambang Cambodian restaurant

A few more places Savor Oakland recommends you feast:

Sun Hing – Hong Kong Style BBQ, roast duck, roast pork: 386 8th Street

Gum Kuo – Congee: 388 9th Street #182

Shen Dong – Hand pulled noodles: 328 10th Street

>> Better yet, take a food tour with Carlo or his awesome team yourself!

Can I get a ‘thumbs up’ for Asian noodles?  For a food tour that radiates local love from its guide and its plates?  Can I get two ‘thumbs up’ for authentic Asian noodles, ones that take your stomach to Asia, available in San Francisco’s own backyard?

It was like a little trip to Asia without the expensive flight and the jet lag.  Close my eyes, especially at the market, and I’m right back traveling in Asia.  My heart and my stomach are so full.

Glad I followed to this fortune and took a chance on Oakland.

Lucky fortune

Word up to my homies at Savor Oakland for inviting me on their awesome tour, and facilitating my new love for my neighboring city.  All opinion and word choice is strictly and definitely my own.


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12 Comments

  1. I loved this write-up of Oakland’s Chinatown almost as much as I loved Savor Oakland’s food tour itself!! The tour was a homerun and I’m so glad it focused on a variety of cuisines (Vietnamese, Cambodian, Chinese) and not just strictly American “Chinese” food.
    Do you think Carlo will have to come up with some new facts now that you and I both spilled the beans about them in our posts? 😉

    • Thanks, girl! It goes without saying I had a blast with you…sure, we spilled some of Carlo’s secrets and tips but there’s nothing like having the experience for yourself. Like I said, pictures of food unfortunately do NOT equal actual eating of said food. 😛

  2. OMG yes. I must go to Oakland and explore the food scene. I love authentic Asian food and it looks like that city has it. When I come visit one day lets go have some noodles.

    BTW, love that drop-down menu!

    • Noodles it is! Don’t have to twist my arm 🙂 And I’m glad you like it! From the looks of your blog I have some serious neighborhood eats to explore with you next time I’m in NYC….

  3. Anne-

    Awesome post! Much thx+love from The Town 🙂 Hope to see you and Jenny soon 🙂

    Carlo

    • Carlo – thanks for making our first experience in Oakland such a great one 🙂
      Cheers and we will back soon, don’t you worry! East Bay love!

  4. Great post! I love these ‘off the beaten path’ neighborhoods and it’s sounds like the food tour was especially helpful in finding the best eats. Hope I can visit sometime soon =)

    • Hey Ryan! Thanks, I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I hope it leads some more people visiting SF out to explore Oakland 🙂 I hope we get the pleasure of your visit soon, too!

  5. Yes! Love this! I just signed up for the Chinatown tour for a few weeks from now, during the visit of a British foodie friend that I met in China. I can’t think of a better activity for her visit! She leads food tours in London and I think she’ll *love* the guidance and enthusiasm. I’m a Bay Area native and a big fan of both Oakland and eating. Yay!

    • Hi Leslie! So thrilled to hear you’ll be able to do the tour (and the NOODLES) in person! I can’t wait to hear about your experience. Two thumbs up for Oakland and for food!! Thanks for reading.

      • Hi Anne! We did the tour yesterday and it was so much fun. Such a wide variety of flavors, over the course of 5 lunches in a row. I’ll definitely be back soon! Thanks again for the recommendation 🙂

        • That’s so awesome! I’m glad you enjoyed so much. I definitely want to go back and eat some more soon! They do a great job 🙂

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