Havana’s Chinatown reopens abiding by social distancing protocols

Chinese descendant Teresa Lazo hangs out for lunch at the recently-reopened Tong Po Lang Restaurant in Havana’s Chinatown, a community attracting hundreds of citizens like her for its flavor of the Chinese cuisine tailored for Cubans.

The 72-year-old praises the work done by Cuban chefs who, she said, have done their best to prepare Chinese dishes, which continue to gain popularity among the island’s population.

After the city some weeks ago started to ease eight months of lockdown restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Havana’s Chinatown streets are once again bustling with people.

“I love soy sauce, fried rice, bitter-sweet sauces,” she told Xinhua while hanging out with her friend. “When it comes to Chinese cuisine, everything is delicious” and “smells so good.”

Once the biggest in Latin America, Havana’s Chinatown now struggles to keep its restaurants in business in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic restrictions ensuing from U.S. blockade against the island.

Over 20 restaurants in the community serving all kinds of food, including Cuban and Chinese dishes, have already opened to the public, in conformity with social distancing guidelines and hand disinfection procedures.

Customers are only permitted to remove face coverings when sitting to eat or drink, and tables should maintain a physical distance of at least two meters from one another.

Also, sodium hypochlorite solutions are available for diners to use in case they do not carry hand sanitizers.

Abel Abdel, who works as a waiter at El Fenix Dorado Restaurant, said that Havana’s Chinatown is one of the best places to eat Chinese food on the island.

“We are serving dumplings, Chinese soups, among other dishes,” he said. “People like the way Cubans cook Chinese food. We have learned very well.”

With a large number of restaurants in this area, Havana’s Chinatown is a fundamental part of a local development project to promote commercial activities and Chinese culture among local dwellers.

Its restaurants are among the first family-owned businesses permitted by the authorities to operate in the mid-1990s.

For the moment, all eateries and cafeterias are open at Havana’s Chinatown, except for Tian Tan Restaurant, one of the few authentic Chinese restaurants in the Caribbean nation.

“We have a Chinese chef, and that makes the difference,” said Roberto Vargas Lee, owner of the restaurant and also president of the Cuban Wushu School. “Our restaurant will open its doors to local and international visitors next week.”

In the coming days, hundreds of tourists could fill the streets of Cuban capital’s Chinatown again after Havana’s Jose Marti International Airport resumes operation Sunday.

In this regard, Teresa Li, director of the House of Chinese Arts and Traditions, told Xinhua that restaurants at Havana’s Chinatown are a fundamental attraction of the country’s post-pandemic tourism.

“With the reopening of these restaurants, we are sort of opening the doors to both the city and the world,” she said. “Whenever people crave for Chinese food here, they come to Havana’s Chinatown.”