10 places to celebrate Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year occurs in the early months of our calendar year, typically January or February and this year falls on January 23rd. This is the first of 15 days of celebration and the start of the Year of the Dragon.

Chinese New Year (also called the Lunar New Year) is the longest and most important festivity in the Chinese calendar and a time to welcome longevity, wealth and prosperity and to eliminate any negative chi from the past.

The origin of Chinese New Year taps several myths and traditions and is officially celebrated in countries and territories such as Mainland China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Macau, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, and also in Chinatowns elsewhere. Chinese New Year is considered a major holiday for the Chinese and has had influence on the lunar new year celebrations of its geographic neighbors.


Chinese New Year is also celebrated just about anywhere there are significant Chinese populations too.

In the UK, many shops, bars and restaurants in London will be participating in the celebrations, with big events held in Leicester Square, Trafalgar Square and most importantly, Chinatown.

In the United States, the San Francisco Chinese New Year celebration is now the largest Asian event in North America as well as the largest general market event in Northern California. The celebration includes two major fairs, the Chinese New Year Flower Fair and Chinatown Community Street Fair. All the festivities culminate with Chinese New Year Parade.

Flickr photo by xiquinhosilva

Eating historically in New York’s Chinatown and Little Italy

As a native New Yorker, I’ve spent many afternoons wandering the streets of Chinatown and Little Italy, stopping to get some dumplings or some pasta and wine. While I had always kind of thought of these places as tourist hubs with delicious food, I never realized just how much history belongs to these areas, and how much of this history is still alive today.

After going on a walking tour with Ahoy New York Tours and Tasting, I now look at Chinatown and Little Italy with a new appreciation. Alana, the tour guide, led the group through each area, speaking about how the regions came to be and letting everyone sample from historical eateries.

As Alana likes to say, “If a restaurant has been around for 40 years or more, you know it’s good because it has stood the test of time.”

Around the time of the United StatesIndustrial Revolution, southern Italians began coming over to get away from high taxes and low wages. In order to help ease their culture shock they began importing foods from their homeland and opening restaurants that reflected their heritage. Lucky for us, a lot of what was created back then is still around today.The first stop on the tour was Alleva Dairy to sample prosciutto and homemade mozzarella. Opened in 1892 by the same family that runs it now, this is the oldest Italian cheese shop in America. Fun Fact: Mozzarella originated in Naples, Italy, when a monk accidentally dropped a cheese curd into a pail of hot water.

Ferrara Bakery & Cafe was the next stop, where the group got to taste their world famous cannolis. My grandmother, who is from southern Italy, actually used to swear by these, and my father still refuses to eat cannolis from any other bakery. This eatery was opened in 1892, and during WWII many Italian families would purchase Torrone, a nougat confection, from here to send to their loved ones who were fighting because the treat wouldn’t spoil.

After our sugar indulgence, the group traveled to another continent and headed over to New York’s Chinatown. People first started to notice the Chinese coming into the United States in the 1840’s. While they first tried to settle in California, they were not socially accepted there and so they came to New York in an attempt to better assimilate. While the original Chinatown was made up of only 3 streets (Mott, Doyers, and Pell) and consisted of mostly immigrants from southern China, today the area has grown to encompass 2 square miles and 200,000 Chinese-Americans from diverse backgrounds.

A family-style lunch at Pongrsi Thai Restaurant, the oldest family-run and operated Thai restaurant in New York City, allowed the group to sample 40 years of delicious hard work with rice, Orange Chicken, Pad see ew, and a spicy Chicken Pra Ramm.

In order to let the group digest, Alana took us to visit Columbus Park, a cultural hub for the Asian community where people go to play Mahjong and checkers, practice Tai Chi, and relax. Standing there today, you would never know that the area was once considered the worst slum in the history of the U.S., and possibly even the world.

No tour of Chinatown would be complete without eating some dumplings. What many people don’t realize is that dumplings aren’t just delicious, they’re an important part of the Chinese New Year as they symbolize wealth with their ancient silver and gold ingot shape. If you’re looking for taste, try Tasty Dumpling on 54 Mulberry Street. However, if you want a front-row view of how they are made, go to Fried Dumpling on 106 Mosco Street. Hint: It’s actually a lot more complex than you probably think.

To end the tour, the group was taken to a place that isn’t known for its history but for its flavor. Everything Frosted sells cupcakes with an Asian flair with choices like Lychee, Red Bean, Jasmine Tea, and Black Sesame.

While the tour tells a lot about food and its historical significance, you will also see a lot of other notable points of interest, such as the Transfiguration Church, which services the most Chinese-Americans than any other church in U.S., the former Bloody Angle, which is said to be where the most murders in America have ever occurred, and the oldest tenement building in New York at 65 Mott Street.

For more information or to make a booking with Ahoy NY Tours & Tasting, click here.

Review: Chinatown Chow Down iPhone app

One of the best things about living in New York City is that you can experience the foods from all over the world without ever leaving town. And one of our favorite ways to do that is by heading to Chinatown. There’s one problem with selecting a place to eat in Chinatown, however: how do you choose from the hundreds of restaurants? It’s easy to be paralyzed by choice as you see block after block of ducks hanging in windows, dumplings steaming and dim sum carts rolling along. While there are several websites and mobile apps out there that provide restaurant reviews and assist with the selection process, none specialize solely in Chinatown. Given the incredible number of restaurants focusing on various types of Chinese cooking, we were in need of an expert to help us navigate through the organized chaos of this Chinatown. That’s why we had high hopes when we heard about Chinatown Chow Down. The brainchild of Craig Nelson, an editor at Not For Tourists, the app has some serious credentials behind it. We put it to the test to see if it truly can help us make sense of Chinatown.

%Gallery-124014%The app first allows you to select the type of cuisine that you’d like to eat. If you’re thinking that it’s all “just Chinese food,” you’re sorely mistaken. From dumplings to seafood to some of the best Malaysian and Vietnamese restaurants in the city, each Chinatown restaurant has its own specialty. Once you make a selection, you can sort by name, distance from your location or cost. Given that Chinatown isn’t all that large, the distance option is not as helpful as it would be in an app that covers an entire city rather than just a neighborhood. Still, it’s a useful feature if you’re not familiar with the neighborhood.

Once you select the cuisine and sort method, you are presented with a list of restaurants. Tap on a restaurant and you get a fairly comprehensive writeup. All of the copy was written by Craig Nelson, and his experience with Not For Tourists shows both in the tone and thoroughness of the text. Links in the text go to reviews from outside sources, writeups of other restaurants in the app and even YouTube videos that play seamlessly on the iPhone. Each restaurant entry includes fantastic photos and a map that immediately displays both your location and the location of the restaurant. All of these items might sound simple and basic, but when we’re attempting to decode a chaotic and frenetic neighborhood like Chinatown, simple and basic is what we want in an app.

Users can leave comments about restaurants similar to leaving tips on Foursquare. You can also add restaurants to your Favorites, which you can then find in the Favorites category in the list of cuisines. The Share feature only allows users to email a restaurant writeup (it opens automatically in the iPhone’s mail app). We’d like to see more integration with social media in future updates.

Chinatown Chow Down includes over 100 restaurants at the moment (each one of them personally visited by Nelson during his research). There’s talk of including the Chinatowns of New York’s outer boroughs (here’s a tip: head to Flushing, Queens right now!) in the future, and updates should push through more reviews, as well.

Chinatown can be intimidating, but with Chinatown Chow Down, it’s suddenly much more accessible. The app is like having an expert in your pocket, which, while sounding cliche, is exactly what an app like this is supposed to be. The user interface is clean and simple, the information is comprehensive without being overwhelming and, at $1.99, it’s priced like much of the food in the neighborhood that it covers.

Unlike many of the restaurant apps that we’ve tried and then forgotten, we can legitimately see ourselves using Chinatown Chow Down regularly when we find ourselves in the neighborhood. It’s singular focus allows it to excel and it truly helps users satisfy their cravings even when they can’t read all of the signs.

Chinatown Chow Down is available in iTunes now.

GadlingTV’s Travel Talk – Torontonian Exploration!

GadlingTV’s Travel Talk, episode 30 – Click above to watch video after the jump

For those of you that attended this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, you may already know just how cosmopolitan Canada’s largest city is. Upon arriving, it’s safe to say that we completely underestimated the fifth most populous municipality in North America, but quickly realized its vast cultural offerings upon exploration.

There’s more than meets the eye in Toronto, so watch as we shake off the Virgin America party from the night before and explore the exciting neighborhoods of the world’s ‘most diverse city’!

If you have any questions or comments about Travel Talk, you can email us at talk AT gadling DOT com.

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Check out Gadling’s own guide to budget travel in Toronto!
Visit the tallest free-standing structure in the Western Hemisphere! The CN Tower.
And whatever you do, don’t miss out on Kensington Market – full guide available here.

All images used under a Creative Commons license. All music used courtesy of Nonstop Music.

Flickr’s New York: A tale of two cities

Tourists photograph Midtown and Lower Manhattan, while locals click their cameras in the East Village and Chinatown. So, it’s clear: tourists and locals don’t mix in New York.

Eric Fischer, a computer program, used geotagging data from Flickr and Picasa to plot maps of New York and 71 other cities, using a system he created for determining which shutterbugs are locals and which are from out of town.

Using this system, we can divine the following:

  • Tourists shoot Yankee games, while there are more locals snapping away when the Mets are playing at home
  • Locals prefer the Manhattan Bridge, and tourists flock to the Brooklyn Bridge … yet Brooklyn itself is packed with local photogs
  • Nobody goes to the Upper West Side (unless he or she lives there)
  • Governors Island is about as tourist-free a place as you’ll find in New York