Miami Chapter of the American Culinary Federation
Michael [F. Michael Bennett, editor] asked me if I could give you a feel for some of the ethnic neighborhoods of New York that are noted for their food. We decided to start with Chinatown, mostly because it’s an easy walk from my office here in the East Village.
Chinatown is not an easy place to get a feel for without seeing, hearing and being in the middle of one of the busiest neighborhoods we’ve got. You have to imagine a place where the streets are barely wide enough for a car to pass by with someone parked at the curb. Where sidewalk stands selling trinkets, watches, food stuffs and underwear sit in front of shops selling the same and more. This is a place where banks stay open long hours, seven days a week, if they want to get the business of any of the local residents and businesses.
There are many back streets to Chinatown, and one could spend days exploring all the nooks, crannies and alleyways. I decided to stick to the main streets that run through the heart of the district, which, for food shoppers, mostly means Mott Street. You’ll just have to close your eyes and picture this…
As we walk south on Mott Street, we come first, at number 164, to the Lin Hong Bakery. This is “THE” spot in Chinatown for wedding cakes. There are more tiers here than at Shea Stadium, and the white and red roses do better at your typical wedding than do hot dogs and beer. Across the street and down a couple of doors, at number 139, is Shing Hing Fruits and Vegetables. The profusion of colors and smells here is enough to astound the most veteran market shopper. Don’t miss their special deals on starfruit and lotus root. Competing for the wedding cake business is Manna House Bakery, at 125 Mott – they have more interesting pastry work going on here, but just don’t seem to draw veiled crowds.
A little farther along, at 75, is Ten Ren’s Tea & Ginseng Company. If you didn’t know that there are several dozens or more types of green tea, this is the place to find out. It is also pricey. On down towards the end of the road, at number 30, is Golden Feng Wong Bakery, the in-the-know spot for picking up moon cakes – double, single or no yolks. Off down the side street, at 104 Mosco, is the Bangkok Center Grocery – with every Thai ingredient you can think of, and then some. Right at the corner of Mott and Mosco is a little sidewalk stand called the Hong Kong Cake Company, serving, what else, but fried Hong Kong cakes – a great snack, for wandering, well, gee, only 3 blocks.
At the very end of the block is the Chinese Museum – no food, but interesting just the same – and one of a few places to watch a live, dancing chicken. Around the corner and over to Mulberry Street, on the side of the Chinatown History Museum, is the gathering spot for sidewalk repair folk – they don’t repair the sidewalks, they fix your watch, re-heel your shoes, and counsel you on what your future holds – all for the price of a couple eggrolls.
Up along Canal Street, which officially, if not effectively, divides Chinatown from Little Italy, we find Kam Man grocery. This is a giant supermarket of Asian food goodies – if it isn’t here, it probably isn’t in Chinatown. At least not legally. Up at the corner of Elizabeth and Hester we find the Dynasty Supermarket – new, bigger and brighter and giving Kam Man a run for their money.
And finally, since we didn’t want to carry around a bag full of fish filets, we’ll stop at Lien Phat Fish Market, at Grand and Elizabeth Streets – you want a fish, they have it. And if they don’t, wait a few minutes, they’ll go catch it for you.
I say let’s go eat.
Dan Perlman, if you have not read earlier, is a well read northern food writer. Someone specializing in the libations that we all love. Dan has been touted as one of the Eastern Seaboard’s best sommeliers being involved in this past year’s “best sommelier in the country” contest.