Welcome to Undiscovered New York. Considering this past Monday was the traditional start of the Chinese New Year, now seems as good a time as any to celebrate one of New York City’s most interesting and diverse neighborhoods: Chinatown.
Upon moving to New York, my initial impression of Chinatown was an overwhelming feeling of the unfamiliar and mysterious. Everything about it seemed so at odds with what I knew and what I understood: huge piles of fish and strange produce glistening on the sidewalk in cardboard boxes, the pungent smells, impenetrable language and strange customs.
Yet as I grew more comfortable with this intriguing neighborhood, its many charms were slowly revealed. It was no longer an area of cheap designer knock-off handbags and pork-fried rice. I saw it as an indispensable part of my city – a neighborhood that was just as integral to my view of New York as the Statue of Liberty or the East Village.
What I also soon discovered is that the Chinatown in Manhattan is only one of three distinct Chinatowns in New York City, with another in the Flushing section of Queens and the newest slowly expanding in Sunset Park in Brooklyn. Each of these three Chinatowns is a unique city-within-a-city, offering a completely diverse array of regional cuisines, interesting stores and unique sights.
Want to learn about some out-of-the-way spots in all three Chinese enclaves? Step inside Undiscovered New York’s guide to exploring the Chinatown(s).
Centered just east of Broadway and Canal, Manhattan’s Chinatown is definitely New York’s biggest and also its best-known. But there’s still plenty of secrets waiting for the interested visitor. Given the timing of this post, it’s only fair that we mention the Chinese New Year festivities taking place this coming weekend. The big event is arguably the Dragon Parade on Sunday 2/1, which features dancers parading in elaborate dragon costumes down the area’s sidestreets.
Anybody with a hankering for some authentic Chinese food need only point his nose towards one of the area’s many eateries. Dim Sum is one Chinese tradition that’s not to be missed. The meal typically features a variety of small plates like dumplings, spare ribs and Jin deui served in a communal, buffet-style setting. Head over to the Golden Unicorn, grab a seat and watch the servers roll by in a constant parade of carts with interesting foodstuffs. Joe’s Shanghai is another area favorite – they’re known for their soup dumplings filled with steamy broth. Make sure not to put the whole thing in your mouth all at once!
It’s often said that the Chinese are experts in non-traditional herbal medicines. If you’ve ever been curious about Chinese herbal remedies, Chinatown is a great place to learn more. Kamwo Herbal Pharmacy markets itself as the “Largest on the East Coast.” The store feaures over 1,000 different traditional Chinese herbs and ingredients as well as treatments from a licensed acupuncturist.
Though Manhattan may have the most famous Chinatown, Queens’ Flushing area may have its most diverse. The area boasts residents from neighboring Taiwan and Korea as well as areas of China as far-flung as Fujian to Lanzhou. One of the best ways to experience it all is by stopping in to one of the area’s numerous food courts. The Flushing Mall features a particular favorite – this otherwise mundane shopping mall features a mouth-watering food court in its basement spanning Sichuan, Taiwanese and Cantonese cuisines.
Flushing also boasts all kinds of quirky shopping sure to please even the most jaded visitor. Magic Castle is a Korean (one non-Chinese pick, sorry!) pop culture store that sells Korean pop music as well as stationary and toys like Hello Kitty. World Book Store features all the latest magazines straight from the Shanghai newsstand.
New York’s “newest” Chinatown is probably also its least-visited. Tucked into Brooklyn’s more remote Sunset Park neighborhood it tends to escape notice from visitors but is still well worth a visit.
Like the other Chinatowns, one of the principle attractions is the amazing, authentic Chinese cuisine. Start your visiting by gawking at some strange Chinese foods at the Hong Kong Supermarket, one of New York’s biggest Chinese supermarkets. Sea Town Fish & Meat Market is another interesting local retailer, offering one of Brooklyn’s biggest selections of Chinese specialty seafood items. When you get tired of “looking” at Chinese food and want to eat some, make sure to visit one of the area’s many street vendors for some authentic street food.