If you have walked along the streets in London's Chinatown enough, you'll realised that there are quite a number of Chinese supermarkets congregated within a very small area. The interesting thing is that every single Chinese supermarket has got its own customers. In fact, try asking anyone who shop for groceries in the area and I'm sure they have their favourite one that they would always check out.
For me, it has to be New Loon Moon, which set up shop opposite the well established Loon Fung just three years ago. It really boils down to the selection available at New Loon Moon that is not found anywhere else. While all these Chinese supermarkets are, well, essentially Chinese, they cater to Chinese from different regions. Due to the fact that are inherent differences between Malaysian, Singaporean, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand and mainland Chinese's cuisines, you find that each store mainly caters to a specific group.
I went round three of the main supermarkets - See Woo Hong, Loon Fung and New Loon Moon, and a newly set up Golden Gate Grocers the other day and did a comparison of what's available and conducted a price check of identical items to find out how's the competition stacking up. These items are selected so as they cover different categories and yet common enough to be found in most stores, and they are
1. Spring Home Glutinous Rice Ball (pack of 10)
2. Amoy Blended Sesame Oil (600ml)
3. Chu Qian Yi Ding Instant Noodles (per pack of 100g)
And here are the findings.
See Woo Hong (18-20 Lisle Street, London WC2H 7BA)
See Woo Hong is a hot favourite for Singaporeans and Malaysians simply because it is perceived to be the cheapest among the lot. Although I was told that it stocks primarily ingredients used in Southeast Asian cuisine, it wasn't really apparent when I was there. However, it is the only supermarket to stock Nonya Kaya (Glory) £1.75 for 400g bottle.
The staff are primarily Malaysian Cantonese (unless I am mistaken) so it'll help a lot if you know some Cantonese if you're asking for a particular item though the staff who assisted me spoke halting Mandarin as well.
Glutinous Rice Ball - £1.18
Sesame Oil - £4.35
Instant Noodles - £0.39
Loon Fung (42-44 Gerrard Street, London W1D 5QG)
This store caters primarily for mainland Chinese. That is evident from the Chinese brands in the sauces, wines and oils stocked in the store. Also, it's also the only supermarket that has a fresh meat counter. Other than the regular cuts, offal such as pig's intestines, stomach, heart, liver, kidneys are also available at this counter. Pig's trotters are also available here as well.
Queues for Loon Fung are always particularly long despite having four cashier counters. I attributed this to Loon Fung's wide selection or simply because there are more mainland Chinese in London.
Glutinous Rice Ball - £1.75
Sesame Oil - £4.29
Instant Noodles - £0.39
New Loon Moon (9A Gerrard Street, London W1D 5PN)
Unlike See Woo Hong and Loon Fung, which have been around for ages, New Loon Moon is relatively new but has quickly became one of the most popular Chinese supermarket in the area. Like See Woo Hong, New Loon Moon has got a Southeast Asian slant but with more emphasis on Thai ingredients.
A recent revamp saw it adding a first floor, which supposedly stocks 'Japan, Korea, China' tidbits and other items. However, a quick check confirmed that most of the floor are dedicated to Chinese products, even a significant portion of those labelled as Japan and Korea are manufactured in China.
That said, this is the only store that stocks vacuum sealed Chinese herbs, which is quite handy for expecting mothers or for those simply looking for some flavour in their soups.
Glutinous Rice Ball - £1.35
Sesame Oil - £4.25
Instant Noodles - £0.40
New Gate Grocers (100 Shaftesbury Avenue, London W1D 5EE)
I didn't notice this until quite recently so I assume New Gate Grocers has just set up recently. Well, it did seem so when I popped in to take a look. The shop space stretched over two and the half floors and opened up into a back alley, which is otherwise inaccessible.
While its shelves were full, it was painfully obvious that its variety paled in comparison to the three more established supermarket mentioned above. The shop was almost empty when I was there on a Saturday afternoon. However, as it is just next to the bus stop along Shaftesbury Avenue, there just might be some spillover traffic.
Glutinous Rice Ball - £1.45
Sesame Oil - £4.50
Instant Noodles - £0.35
* * *
So here you go. Price wise, it seems See Woo Hong and New Loon Moon are running neck to neck for the three selected items. However, I suspect the final decision lies not in the price but the availability of certain items that you are looking for.
Which Chinese supermarket in London's Chinatown do you normally frequent? And may I ask what's the reason for that?