Why the long face? Manchester’s Chinatown waves in the Year of the Horse

Susie Stubbs

Chinatown goes all out, and stages the biggest Chinese New Year celebrations in the north.

There’s lots of stuff we know how to do well in Manchester: inventing things, babies in test tubes, socialism, that small matter of kick-starting the Industrial Revolution. But we also know how to throw a good party – which is by way of introduction to Manchester’s Chinese New Year, the biggest of such celebrations in the north. The festivities in 2014 wave in the Year of the Horse with more things to do, eat and marvel at than ever before.

Chinese New Year in Manchester usually has one main draw: it’s epic Dragon Parade, taking place this year on Sunday 2 February and featuring a 175-foot paper dragon, street food, drums, origami (yes, really), as well as a fair ground, market and 15-minute firework display. Last year pulled in a crowd that was reportedly 75,000-people strong; that’s an awful lot of pork buns on demand at Ho’s Bakery.

75,000 visited last year; that’s an awful lot of pork buns from Ho’s Bakery

Normally, Chinese New Year is packed into a small grid of streets that’s only around half a mile across; the riotous noise and colour of a Chinese community showing off its best assets make up for the sardine-like conditions. But 2014 sees the event expanded in both size and duration. Proceedings kick off early on in January with 3,000 Chinese lanterns hung across the post-sales city (from 18 Jan). The lanterns are followed by a Chinese food market, which features some of our favourite Chinatown restaurants (such as Yuzu, Yang Sing, Little Yang Sing and the aforementioned Ho’s Bakery; 30 Jan-2 Feb). Cornerhouse, meanwhile, will contribute by staging a film season, the Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art has commissioned new work, and Manchester Art Gallery also promises to put on a day-long series of events to coincide with the main parade on 2 February.

Chinatown itself is a curious beast. It might seem on the small side but it’s the country’s biggest outside London (incidentally, Liverpool’s Chinatown is the UK’s oldest). The streets wedged between Moseley and Portland are a world away from the mainstream shops bordering Piccadilly Gardens and a contrast again to its close neighbour, the Gay Village. Excellent Thai, Vietnamese, Nepalese and, of course, Chinese restaurants jostle for space between karaoke bars, Asian supermarkets and massage parlours, all of them dominated by the Chinese arch on Faulkner Street. Shipped over from China in 1986, this dragon-adorned beauty was restored only this year and, as usual, forms the focal point for the New Year celebrations.

For such a compact city centre, Manchester doesn’t half pack it in: if you’re after an experience that’s both of the city and yet feels utterly unique, Chinese New Year – and Chinatown itself – should definitely be on your radar.

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