If you grew up in any major metropolis in the North East, there was never a question as to whether you had a good Chinese restaurant, the question was where was it and do they deliver?
New York City has the largest concentrated population of Chinese in the US. Jump over a dozen states and settle in San Francisco and wander around the second largest Chinatown in the US.
Betwixt and between there are dozens of other smaller concentrations. Successful in business the Chinese-American population of New York have given new title to the expression nepotism, the mom and pop store, the local laundry, take-out counter, the Asian shops stuffed with statues of Buddha, satin slippers or kimono, Chinese restaurants and green grocers.
Most converge on Canal Street and Broadway.
Today I give you an ode to the Manhattan Chinatown of my childhood, the neighborhood where my kids wander, and a fast trek over the Brooklyn Bridge to the newly transformed neighborhood of Sunset Park, referred to as Brooklyn’s Chinatown.
Chinatown in Manhattan …
Lifted from another time, there is no other place in The City whose sights, sounds and aromas come close to the mystery of Chinatown. You will find her between Little Italy and the lower east side, skirting the southern tip of Manhattan.
Her narrow, cobblestone streets wind around from one intriguing shop to the next. Ducks, plucked, roasted a bright red and hanging upside down in shop windows, small basement restaurants, dim sum parlors and specialty stores, the mystique and incomprehensible individuality of the culture fascinate those who visit there.
Chinatown is physically located in Lower Manhattan, though culturally it is twelve thousand miles away in the distant and unknowable expanse of China. The residents of Chinatown consider their excitable visitors the foreigners.
Reprint from Wikipedia:
Unlike most other urban Chinatowns, Manhattan’s Chinatown is both a residential area as well as commercial area. Many population estimates are in the range of 90,000 to 100,000 residents. It is difficult to get an exact count, as neighborhood participation in the US Census is thought to be low due to language barriers, as well as large-scale illegal immigration. A minority of Hakka was also represented. Mandarin was rarely spoken by residents even well into the 1980s.
Immigration reform in 1965 opened the door to a huge influx of Cantonese speakers from Hong Kong, and Cantonese became the dominant tongue. But since the late 1980s and 1990s, the vast majority of new Chinese immigrants have come from mainland China, especially Fujian Province, and tend to speak Mandarin along with their regional dialects. Most Fuzhou immigrants are illegal immigrants while most of the Cantonese immigrants are legal immigrants in Manhattan’s Chinatown.
As the epicenter of the massive Fuzhou influx has shifted to Brooklyn in the 2000s, Manhattan’s Chinatown’s Cantonese population still remains viable and large and successfully continues to retain its stable Cantonese community identity, maintaining the communal gathering venue established decades ago in the western portion of Chinatown, to shop, work, and socialize — in contrast to the Cantonese population and community identity which are declining very rapidly in Brooklyn’s Chinatown.
Introducing Sunset Park, a mid-sized public park in Brooklyn’s Chinatown.
I was born and raised in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Sunset Park, where as teens we grazed along the grassy slopes under giant oaks. Today you can stroll though the park and see instead, small groups of adults doing their daily Tai Chi, or families enjoying a Sunday picnic.
When you visit New York, take a walk through the lower east side neighborhood of Chinatown, stop to eat at one of the dozens of restaurants, shop in one of its unique shops, stock up on Asian spices, buy a trinket for a friend.
Do you agree that every major metropolis
has at least one great Chinese restaurant?
What, if any, are your favorite Chinese dishes?