Chinese Lunar New Year Weekend in Philadelphia

We headed over to Philly to use a free night certificate at the Kimpton Hotel Monaco, see the Chinese Lunar New Year celebrations, and to eat some good Chinese food that we can’t get at home!

Kimpton Hotel Monaco Philadelphia

We had a free night with IHG that was about to expire so we needed to stay somewhere over the weekend. We decided on the Kimpton Hotel Monaco in Philadelphia as it is located just a few blocks away from Chinatown and happens to be right next to the Liberty Bell.

We arrived fairly early in the morning, around 9am, but we were still able to check into a room. It is a King Premium Spa, an upgrade over the King Premium Parkview that we had initially been assigned.

Not much of a view as we were facing the building to the north, though we could see a bit oof the street to the west.

The room had a large bathroom with a huge tub, the primary feature of this room type over the lower categories.

Independence National Historical Park

We didn’t stay long though. We headed out across the street to visit the Independence National Historical Park, home of the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall.

The Liberty Bell is kept in this modern looking building. It is visible here just beyond the large glass wall that we’re facing here.

In the opposite direction is Independence Hall, where the Liberty Bell was located when it was in use.

We went inside to first take a look at the Liberty Bell. The entrance to the building is to the north. There were a few informational displays that talked about the Liberty Bell and its significance.

It wasn’t too busy as it was still relatively early in the morning and it is in the middle of the winter when visitation is low. We were able to get a nice clear view of the bell with Independence Hall in the background.

After taking a look at the bell, we headed over to Independence Hall. There is only one entrance at the northeastern corner of the block. Like the Liberty Bell, there is a security checkpoint with X-ray machine and walk through metal detector.

Independence Hall can be visited by ranger led guided tours. There was one starting just a few minutes after we arrived.

Independence Hall was formerly the Pennsylvania State House and was the home of the colonial government. This room housed the judicial branch and held the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.

The assembly room was on the opposite side of the building. This is where both the Declaration of Independence and Constitution were signed. George Washington presided here over the Constitutional Convention where the contents of the constitution were debated. He would have sat in what is now called the Rising Sun Armchair at the far end of the room, which is original.

A statue of George Washington stands outside.

Independence Hall from the norht.

We headed away from Independence Hall on this path, back towards the building that houses the Liberty Bell.

The area just at the northwest corner of the block that contains the Liberty Bell was the site of the former President’s House.

We continued walking to the north, to the Independence Visitor Center. This very large structure has an extremely expensive gift shop, the magnets were all $9 each, more expensive than Switzerland, which is quite ridiculous! It also has a small movie room and National Park Service information desk as well as a cafe. We walked through and exited via the doors on the north side of the building. From around there, we had a view of Independence Hall to the south.

The National Constitution Center is to the north. It is relatively new, having opened in 2003.


We walked a few blocks to Chinatown for lunch. We first went into a small shop, Heung Fa Chun Sweet House, for a snack.

We got two youtiao, though they were rather short, about half the length of a normal one. We also got two doujiang. Everything was fresh and ridiculously hot!

We considered trying Jiang Nan, which we walked by, but decided to go to EMei 峨嵋 for lunch.

We ordered two small noodle dishes, dan dan noodles and sour and spicy sweet potato noodles. Both were good and had much more noodles than we anticipated.

We also ordered the house special spicy grilled fish. It was decent but not as good as when we had it a bit more than a year ago in Singapore. We were pretty stuffed after eating the fish and the two bowls of noodles.

Lunar New Year at The Rail Park

After lunch, we started to walk over to The Rail Park, a few blocks away. The Rail Park is new to us as it just opened in 2018.

This large mural is on the west side of a tall building just to the northwest of Chinatown. This apartment building, The Crane, seems to be new and opened in 2019.

I don’t remember there being much here, on the north side of I-676 across from Chinatown, other than easy free parking. It always seemed like a bit of a sketchy area.

It took us a bit to actually find the entrance to The Rail Park, mainly because we missed a rather big sign! We originally tried to walk in via the west but encountered a construction zone with crane that was blocking access. We backtracked, saw the sign, and walked to the east where there were stairs going up to the elevated former railway.

It was somewhat busy when we arrived and there were a few tables setup. The number one concern seems to be the construction of a new arena next to Chinatown for the 76ers, the Philadelphia basketball team. The Chinese community here does not want Chinatown to end up like the Chinatown in Washington, DC. Basically, a dead community.

We watched for awhile at the west end of the park as a local ballet studio demonstrated some K-Pop dancing as well as more traditional ballet, including chances for the audience to be involved.

Soon, we saw a dragon arrive! It went up and down the street a few times next to the park.

Eventually, more people arrived along with some lions.

They went to the west end of the park where there is an entrance. We weren’t in the best spot to see exactly what was going on over there.

Soon, they started walking through the park. The local Philadelphia Chinese Lunar New Year activities are performed by the Philadelphia Suns, a local community organization.

We watched as the lions paraded by.

The lions, along with the dragon, went over to the east side of the park. The park is curved so we could see them at the far end. We stayed put as it didn’t seem likely that they would walk down the stairs at the opposite end, the only other exit.

We saw them again after they eventually came back.


We headed back to Chinatown for dinner, though it was still too early to eat, particularly as we were pretty full from lunch.

We noticed a queue at CHICHA San Chen, a Taiwanese bubble tea shop. A bit of Internet sleuthing reveals that they are from Taichung, Taiwan with two stores but are primarily focused on international franchises.

We passed by a bit of nonsensical English as the queue slowly advanced.

We noticed a little blue flag with yellow seal from the International Taste Institute in Brussels, Belgium. We’ve seen it once before, at Tao Tao Tea in Taipei 101!

They also had a 招き猫 maneki neko with a ridiculously muscular arm.

We eventually made it to the counter and ordered. It took a bit of time for our order to come out. We got a tea with milk cap as well as a passion fruit tea. The passion fruit was unfortunately a bit too strong and overwhelmed the tea flavor but the other tea was nice.

It was still too early so we walked back to the Independence Visitor Center. We watched the video that they had and sat for awhile until they closed at 5pm.

We returned to Chinatown to meet up with a local friend and went for a pre-dinner snack.

We visited Chuan Kee Skewer, a rou chuan (meat skewer) restaurant. We got a small variety of chicken, pork, lamb, and beef items.

After our not so light snack, we went over to nearby Dim Sum Garden for dinner.

One of their specialties is their xiao long bao. They are larger and soupier than Din Tai Fung in Taiwan, but not as soupy as Nan Xiang from Flushing, NY. And despite the very thick skin, we did have some soup loss.

Their sheng jian bao (pan fried pork buns) were excellent and very soupy. We think this is the best thing we had here!

We had some other items as well. The biggest disappointment was the meat moon cake. The skin seemed to be undercooked. The scallion pancakes were overcooked. But everything else we had was decent.

After dessert, we walked over to Matcha Panda Cafe. We discovered this place back in December. Of course, we had to get their matcha soft serve!

We also got a chocolate mille crepe cake as well as a drink with three layers, matcha, berries, and mango. It was a bit weird as the flavors really didn’t go well together.

Chinese Lunar New Year Parade

The next day, we woke up late and checked out of the Kimpton Hotel Monaco, leaving our bags to pick up later. We walked back to Chinatown to find a spot for the Lunar New Year activities.

We decided to stand near the gate at the southern end of Chinatown. There were less people here when we showed up compared to the northern end.

The gate from around where we were standing. The road was closed to vehicular traffic.

Quite a few fireworks were being laid out in front of Penang, a Malaysian restaurant chain from New York which is in decline. I don’t recall if I’ve eaten at this location but have at others in New Jersey more than 20 years ago.

Each spool has 16,000 firecrackers, it says so on some of the boxes! There were at least four boxes, meaning 64,000! That is quite a bit. It was all on the ground right in front of us.

It eventually got fairly crowded. We could see the activity to the north but nothing was coming close to us.

Eventually, about two hours after we showed up, we could see and hear tons of firecrackers going off nearby to the north.

Soon, the Philadelpha Suns banner advanced and stopped right by all the firecrackers on the ground.

Soon, the smoke from the firecrackers advanced towards us!

Soon, we could see two lions nearby.

One or more lion goes inside of the business to bring good luck and prosperity.

Then, the firecrackers in front of the business are lit. They explode in sequence, eventually leading up to a larger bundle that is attached to commonly a lettuce, but possibly some other food item. There is a red envelope attached to the food item. In Chinese culture, red envelopes are used for gift giving and typically contain money. The lions tear into the food item and take the red envelope. This is repeated at each business.

The lions eventually reached Penang, the restaurant that we’ve been standing across from. The crowed is backed away from the fireworks using bamboo poles, leaving sufficient space for the firecrackers to explode safely as well as for the lions.

The firecrackers in front of Penang were all attached together at one end so they could all be lit at once. It seems most businesses just had one line of firecrackers. It quickly became exceptionally smoky. It was incredibly loud and the red paper wrapping around the firecrackers were flying everywhere!

Eventually, all that was left was the one special line of firecrackers leading up a ladder to a nice green lettuce. Boom!

There were actually many lions of various colors. These three are different from the ones we saw in front of Penang. They were all covered in red firecracker bits!

We watched as the process was repeated at the business just to the south of us.

It was definitely past lunch time now and we wanted to eat. We walked over to Jiang Nan where we joined the text based queue.

We had walked around the block the long way as the direct route was blocked by a horde of people and the lions. Soon, the lions caught up to where we were and we watched them again.

The guy with the mask is the 大頭佛 big head Buddha, a literal translation from Chinese. The Sydney Lion Dance Team offers a concise explanation1:

The big head Buddha (Dai Tou Fut) is an accompaniment to traditional lion dances.  The Buddha acts as a comical diversion, sometimes teasing the lion, sometimes leading it with the fan, sometimes interacting with the crowd.  Besides the rattan fan, the Buddha has a long yellow robe.

A closer look as the firecrackers explode up reach the lettuce. The red envelope is clearly visible here.

The big head Buddha is pointing out the lettuce to the lions.

You really can’t be afraid of firecrackers to play the role of the big head Buddha or the lions!


We got the text message that our table was ready at Jiang Nan earlier than expected. We had been walking around in another part of Chinatown and rushed back.

Jiang Nan is a upscale Chinese restaurant chain from NY. They self-describe as Chinese Fusion.

They had these interesting chopsticks where the pointy ends are disposable. They come sealed so you know they are clean. An interesting pointless (hah!) design.

The first plate to arrive was the pork belly appetizer. It was pretty good with thinly sliced meat that would have been suitable for hot pot.

Tomato is not really a typical ingredient in fried rice. It worked well.

The fish dish was interesting. The fish texture was a bit like octopus or squid. Very different from what we expected.

This dish was very interesting! The sauce was sweetly flavored, almost like General Tso’s Chicken, which is a recent, as far as Chinese history goes, invention from Taiwan. Like any good origin story, there is a competing claim2. Anyhow, this beef dish was interesting because it seemed to be made without any batter, the beef was made to be crispy itself like the shell of a well made General Tso’s Chicken.

We also got xiao long bao. Xiao long bao is almost universally terrible at places that don’t specialize in it. But, we figured this could be an exception given that everything we had was well executed. They were good and soupy, similar to what we had yesterday evening at Dim Sum Garden.

Like our dinner yesterday, we once again ordered some sheng jian bao (pan fried pork buns). They were very good as well!

Overall, a very good meal. Everything we had was well prepared and the surprises were good ones. The pricing was also very reasonable for this type of food with decent portion sizes.

After lunch, we went to CHICHA San Chen again to get some tea before heading back to the garage to get our car and the hotel to pick up our bags.


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