This Is What It’s Really Like To Live In NYC’s Chinatown

chinatown in new york city

Photo via TravelCoffeeBook/Pixabay

It’s the middle of a New York City summer, and heat is coming from every possible direction; cars, subways, bicycles — even your newly single next door neighbor. You thought you could do without an air conditioner this summer (hey, those Con Ed bills get pricey!) but you were sadly mistaken. Now you’re forced to sleep with the window open, but the car alarms and odor provide an unbearable concoction. Realizing there’s no hope for sleep you go down to your local bodega, get a premium $1 coffee, and proceed to take the first drag of last night’s cigarette and prepare for another interesting day in Chinatown.

Fighting For Sidewalk

Although New York City is a melting pot, these days it seems the only thing in that pot is very expensive ingredients. And almost no matter where you go in New York, you feel like you’re in New York.

This isn’t the case in Chinatown. Here it’s actually possible to feel like you’re in China, or at least the NYC version of what Chinese culture becomes on the USA’s East Coast. Noise usually starts around 6am, which is a perfect time to start construction (said no one, ever). The streets are littered with spit, vendors, food crates, trash and people. Lots of people. Hey, who needs coffee, when you can have an 80-year-old elbow waking you up?

It’s no secret that the area below Delancey Street is a whole other world through every sense. Where one sees a mix of restaurants in the East Village and the Lower East Side, practically all the food here originates from the the Cantonese and Fuzhounese cultures. Street and store signs are all in Mandarin, the official local dialect. You can walk down the street and get lost in your head because you don’t understand the language (unless you speak Mandarin or Cantonese). If you’re an adventurous eater, you’ll have an easy time finding menus you can’t read, though being pleasantly surprised (and sometimes confused) by what’s brought out to you.

Have you visited #NYC's #Chinatown? Here's why you should #travel Click To Tweet

I speak from personal experience, living there myself. Being in a place where you can’t read or understand the language, you learn to live on your gut-feeling and cheap dumplings. Once you get the hang of the neighborhood, you find out that everything you need is right in your immediate vicinity. There were weeks where I never left Chinatown because everything was in arm’s reach. That might sound lazy to some, but in the winter I felt like I won the lotto.

Home Away From Home

The Chinatown that exists today started to come into fruition around the late 1800s. Being faced with discrimination from the West Coast, Chinese immigrants moved to the East Coast in search of a better life. During this time, a lot of small businesses started popping up on Mott Street. Once the immigrants became established, they started bringing over family members from their home country, and Chinatown began to grow. A lot. When you walk into some of the local apartments it’s like human Jenga. I didn’t know ten people could live in a room, though I also didn’t know I could have a pork bun for breakfast.

In America we are shipping people off to the elderly home at 38, with no qualms about it. In Chinatown there is no such thing. I’ve seen people who clearly graduated high school during the Great Depression, still living with their family. At first I thought it was solely a respect thing. But after studying more closely, I believe that all the experience that this person has gained over their lifetime has made them an extremely valuable family member. It’s like having an encyclopedia that is related to you. They are by no means a neglected member of the household, they are running the show. Bosses. Day after day, I saw the same four elderly women with a mouth full of gold teeth, dictating operations of their section of the neighborhood. These women were no taller than 4’9″, but I wouldn’t want to get on their bad side.

The City’s Mistress

During the day Chinatown is a hustling, bustling, working-class neighborhood. But at night, debauchery becomes the norm, and it’s exquisite. Stores and marketplaces that operate as regular business from 9 to 5 turn into raves and dance spots at night. These parties are not advertised, but somehow fill to capacity. The wild behavior is kept inside the venues, so you won’t see loud drunks in the street yelling at their Uber driver. And unlike many neighborhoods in New York, I don’t see gentrification taking over Chinatown.

So if you want to escape from the city without actually leaving it, head below Delancey Street. Just remember to trust your gut-feeling; “massage parlors” are not usually open at 3 am.

#NYC's #Chinatown is so much more than food. Here's why #NewYorkCity Click To Tweet
chinatown in new york city

Photo via Jing/Pixabay

Eating In Chinatown

Of course, I know every Chinatown visitor has one main priority: the food. To an outsider, navigating foreign signs and getting lost in what feels like another country can be overwhelming, and may even induce culture shock if you’re not prepared. In order to make sure you’re prepared for your Chinatown trip, I recommend grabbing a meal and a drink at:

  • Nom Wah Tea Parlor: Known as Chinatown’s first Dim Sum restaurant, this tiny nook located on Doyer Street also serves shrimp dumplings, rice rolls, and their famous “The Original” egg roll.
  • Vanessa Dumplings: This busy Eldridge Street spot serves some of the most delicious, inexpensive dumplings in Chinatown. Their sesame pancakes will surely delight your taste buds.
  • Tasty Hand-Pulled Noodles: Another tiny nook located on Doyer Street, this restaurant takes pride in creating some of the best noodles in Chinatown. This is my personal favorite restaurant in Chinatown.
  • Dim Sum Go Go: Located in the heart of Chinatown, this vegetarian-friendly restaurant has an array of dim sum to choose from.
  • Perking Duck House: Located on Mott Street, this elegant restaurant makes patrons feel at ease. From scallions to pork buns everything is tasty on the menu, and their duck is exquisite.

Have you lived in / visited Chinatown in New York City? Please share your experience in the comments below! 

Recommended:

5 Fascinating Tours That Support Locals In NYC [Blog Inspiration]

Lower East Side (Then and Now) [Great Reads]

Clever Travel Companion Pickpocket-Proof Garments [Travel Safety]

The following two tabs change content below.

Eno Edet

Eno Edet is a children’s author who finds humor and absurdity in the bleakest situations. He's spent nearly a decade in New York City’s underground, and now dedicates his time to creating strange literature. Each one of his books is handcrafted from the binding to the narrative to the illustration. With the support of local bookstores, his titles have become underground favorites.

Post a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *