Chinatown

 


 

When a you buy a stranger a beer and in return he offers a gastronomic tour of Manhattan's Chinatown, you can't say no. Well you could, but you'd be an idiot. There are other Asian communities in NYC such as Koreatown and Little Tokyo, and there are neighbourhoods in Queens that look like scenes straight out of Shanghai, but most visitors think of the swathe of streets and avenues in the east of Manhattan, south of the Lower East Side and north of the Financial District. New York City has the largest ethnic Chinese population outside the native continent, and Manhattan's Chinatown is a sprawling mess of city blocks that can intimidate the first time visitor.


So at the invite of a Chinese American called Erik that I met in a Hell's Kitchen bar, we took an afternoon out to explore the sights and tastes of Chinatown. We started at Joe's Shanghai on Pell St, a popular call for locals and visitors alike. Give your party name to the waitress and expect a wait on the sidewalk for your table. It's nothing special in terms of decor with bad lighting and scrappy furniture, but the reviews are consistently good. Their speciality is the soup dumplings; we tried two types, one with filled with pork, the other with crab. The meats are wrapped in a thin dumpling wrapper so wrestling them onto your plate with the spoon requires a delicate touch. The meats are good, but what makes them moreish is the savory 'soup' (the fat) that oozes down your chin when you take a bite and burst the wrapper.

We also tried other traditional dishes: drunken chicken (chicken marinated in a white wine sauce), fake duck (a soy bean wrapper filled with mushrooms, then braised in a soy based sauce), and Shanghainese green beans (dry fried in spices). Perfection to a mouthful. 

From Joe's Shanghai we turned left towards Mott Street and walked past Doyers Street
 , one of the more unusual streets you'll see in New York City. Aside from the low-rise buildings with side, what catches your eye is that this street has a tight curve - you don't see too many of them in Manhattan. This is the “"Bloody Angle", the site of many street battles and gang murders in the dark days of the late 19th and early 20th century - behind the store fronts are said to be a network of tunnels where gang members could make a quick getaway. Take a moment to look at the trinkets and oddities in the window of Ting’s Gift Shop on the corner of Doyers and Pell.

Our stomachs still wanting, we walked on to Ping's Seafood on Mott St for dim sum. This would traditionally involve elderly Chinese ladies pushing steel carts around the restaurant, shouting out what each cart has to offer. With space being limited, Ping's does this with tray service instead. We tried traditional dim sum staples including har gow (shrimp dumplings) and shui mai (pork, shrimp, and mushroom dumplings, as well as zha leung (Chinese fried doughnut wrapped in rice noodles and dipped in oyster sauce & scallions) and Chinese sticky rice wrapped in lotus leaves (you don't eat the leaves, as I was informed after the first attempt to). Everything is tender and fresh, nothing is overpowering; courses aren't served in a jacuzzi of sauce as seems mandatory for the British palette.
 

I wasn't sure about the next stop. Ping's Famous Beef Jerkey
 on Mulberry St isn't much more than a hole in the wall behind which is a junkyard of knackered televisions and furniture, something that might have once blow-dried hair in a salon and oh yes, a lot of raw meat. "You're a good sport to check out this," said Erik. It turned my stomach over more than once. The jerkey here is made from a family recipe and offered in several different flavors. "It's so popular, they're usually completely sold out before 3pm," said Erik. 

Our final stop is Fried Dumpling
 on Mosco St. A tiny waiting area overlooks two very hot and bothered Chinese ladies hand-making and frying dumplings. Their English isn't good, but it's infinitely better than your Chinese, so don't ask questions or be difficult - it's $1 for 5 pork dumplings with optional hot sauce, take it or leave it. It's not the only place you can eat street food for a dollar in Manhattan, but it's probably the tastiest.

 

 



   
"Twitchhiker – How One Man Travelled the World by Twitter" is Paul's book about his social media adventure around the world, published by Summersdale and available on Amazon.
 
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