Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Eating My Way Through Chinatown, NYC

Everyone has their own idea of what they want to do and see once they land in NYC. Go to a Broadway show, shop on 5th Avenue, take a stroll through Central Park, spot a few celebrities or indulging in a meal at one of the famous top chef restaurants. All these things are at the top of my list when I think about visiting NYC.

But at the very top of my list is a visit to Chinatown. I can feel my ancestors stir in me when I immerse myself in the culture, pushing and shoving my way through the crowds and feeling comfortably confused listening to the boisterous language of the Chinese that sounds more like shouting than talking. Attempting to blend in with the crowd choosing not to speak too often and give away my American roots.

The streets in Chinatown are littered with small stores and restaurants providing every service imaginable including an herbalist who can subscribe a cure for just about anything that ails you by looking at your tongue and feeling the pulse in your wrist.

The excitement of eating my way through Chinatown is what calls me there. I love the challenge of hunting down delicious flavors at ridiculously low prices while discovering small mom and pop shops that could easily be overlooked. I work my way through the busy streets as if on a mission, tasting as many different foods as I can physically manage without bursting at the seams.

The problem is that there are so many choices and not enough time to get a taste of it all. So, I always leave Chinatown stuffed to the gills anticipating my return the next day to do it all over again.

Here is my list of must SEE’s, DO’s and EAT’s in Chinatown, NYC.

Saigon Vietnamese Sandwich Deli
369 Broome Street
New York, NY 10013
(212) 219-8341

The Saigon Vietnamese Sandwich Deli is a small no frills hole in the wall on the outskirt of Chinatown. According to some of the reviews this is the best Vietnamese sandwich in NYC. I will have to agree, even if I haven’t tasted all the Vietnamese sandwiches in NYC.
They have about 12 stuffing choices but I always order the #1 House Special (Banh Mi) a little spicy. A light and crispy fresh from the oven French baguette split open and spread with their secret sauce (Vietnamese mayo) filled with thinly sliced pork, minced pork sausage, crisp strips of cucumber, cilantro and shredded picked daikon and carrots. All for the amazing price of $4.25.

New Wonton Garden
56 Mott Street
New York, NY 10013
(212) 966-4886

I’m not sure how long ago the “New” Wonton Garden opened but I can assure you that there is nothing new about this place. The worn out tables and chairs packed into a tiny noodle shop that seats about 25 people max are a dead give away to the word new on the sign. They have about 4 or 5 Chinese speaking waiters all wearing Hawaiian Aloha shirts and one cook. Considering the size of the cramped open kitchen, the one cook gets the food out pretty quick. This is not the place to go for ambiance. The only reason to search out this place is for the delicious wonton noodle soup. Pork filled dumplings with a chunk of shrimp in the middle floating above a pile of perfectly cooked egg noodles in a tasty broth.

They have an extensive menu with several different authentic, to not so authentic items. My husband likes his wonton noodles with the soup served on the side and topped with the roast duck and I always order the soup over my noodles topped with the beef stew. I literally crave this. Depending on what you order, you will spend $5 - $7 for a bowl of noodle soup.

Deluxe Meat Market Inc.
79 Elizabeth Street
New York, NY 10013
(212) 925-5766

The name Deluxe Meat Market does not tell the whole story about this market. Yes, they do sell meat and just about everything else you could imagine. Their unassuming frontage could be easily missed if you happen to be walking a bit too fast, which I have done more times than I would like to admit.

As you enter the front door you will find yourself in a crowded market that is lined with ready made foods like roast duck, fried fish, dim sum, fresh baked pastries and sushi. As you push your way through that crowd you will step into a clean full service Chinatown market lined with customers shouting in Chinese (or maybe they are just talking) trying to get the attention of the butcher or fish monger. While others are zig zagging their way through the crowd packed like sardines to pick up other items that are stocked on shelves and in freezers.

This unassuming market spans from Eliazbeth Street to Mott Street with hot ready made foods on both ends. I have gotten turned around many times because I entered on one street and exited on another. The Deluxe Meat Market is a shoppers paradise if you are looking for fresh ethnic foods.

Jing Fong Restaurant
20 Elizabeth Street
New York, NY 10013
(212) 964-5256

If you want to experience a dim sum banquet this is the place to go. The hustle and bustle of the streets flow into this packed restaurant filled with Chinese speaking patrons and a sprinkling of tourist such as myself. I have only been there on the weekend when it has been crazy busy. According to some of the reviews, it is best to get there early for the freshest dim sum and best selection.

The entrance is basically a door and a small lobby with a hostess who speaks mostly Chinese at a podium handing out numbers. To get to the restaurant you have to travel up a steep long escalator that takes you to a massive room packed with round banquet tables that seat 10. Be prepared to sit with strangers if your party is less than 8. This restaurant is so chaotic that the only way you are going to get your favorites is to take your card and hunt down the carts by foot exchanging a stamp on your card for the food. No card, no food. Go to Jing Fong for the great dim sum and the experience. This is not a restaurant to go to for their service because it doesn’t exist. Asking for a glass of water seems to be an inconvenience, but you are in Chinatown, so don’t worry about being polite and get aggressive and keep asking and you will eventually get everything you want. This Hong Kong style experience will cost about $10 - $15 per person.

Visit the New York City Food Guy at http://nycfoodguy.com/2009/03/09/introduction-to-dim-sum-at-jing-fong-restaurant/ he did an amazing job describing the experience at Jing Fong.

Tai Pan Bakery
194 Canal Street
New York, NY 10013
(212) 732-2222

The Tai Pan Bakery is a must for anyone who has a sweet tooth. Pure eye candy of colorful cakes and fresh baked pastries line the shelves of this well stocked bakery. As you walk in you will be immediately drawn in by the incredible smells of the fresh baked rolls and cakes screaming freshness. Their selection is enormous with taste that ranges from sweet to savory. You can get anything from an individual custom decorated carrot cake to a fresh baked Chinese style pig in the blanket.

I find it amusing that with all the choices at the Tai Pan Bakery my husband always chooses the simple but exceptionally tasty custard bun. A ponduce style sweet bread with a slight crunch, filled with creamy custard. I would have to agree that there is nothing quite like it.

Yu Zu Tang Foot Spa
12-C Pell Street
New York, NY 10013

What better way to end my journey through Chinatown than with a stop at the Yu Zu Tang Foot Spa.

After the hustle and bustle of exploring NYC Chinatown and the satisfying feeling in my belly from all the wonderful food, it is now time to relax. Step into the Yu Zu Tang Foot Spa a legitimate massage parlor “no hanky panky” as seen on a sign outside of another massage parlor down the street.

You will be greeted by a Chinese speaking person who will invite you to sit in one of their comfortable recliners. Followed by another person who brings out a large wooden tub filled with hot water for you to soak your feet. After the soak, prepare yourself for an amazing 30 minute foot massage that will rejuvenate your entire body. This laborious service is a mere $20.





1 comment:

  1. Thank you for posting on this and the Tai Pan Bakery. I agree. Good to get an update.