Perhaps the most well-known of New York’s many ethnic enclaves, Chinatown stands out as an area where Chinese and American cultures merge to form something entirely unique. Home to everything from traditional fish markets to dive karaoke bars, old and new ways of life meet in this world-famous neighborhood. Here, we’ve rounded up 11 reasons to get lost in New York City’s Chinatown.
This informal market, comprising a line of shops selling fresh-caught fish and seafood, is a popular destination for Chinatown locals and in-the-know foodies everywhere. Mott Street Fish Market offers only the freshest catches, an unconventional array of dried seafood snacks, and some of the best prices in the city. Not so comfortable in the kitchen? The market’s lively atmosphere, abuzz with enthusiastic haggling and activity, is an attraction in itself.
Karaoke is a favorite pastime in East Asian countries such as China, Korea, and Japan. While Chinatown offers an abundance of karaoke spots, dive bar Asia Roma stands out as an ideal destination for both first-time performers and stage regulars. Creative cocktails, affordable Asian bar food, and boisterous youths abound at this basement lounge, where patrons belt out everything from Chinese pop songs to American classics.
This intimate pocket-park, measuring at a mere 3.2 acres, is a “locals only” sort of spot, making it a perfect people-watching destination. Rest up before tackling the nearby Manhattan Bridge, and observe Chinese elders enjoying games of mahjong, groups doing tai-chi, and performers playing traditional Chinese music.
Whether you’re vegan, vegetarian, or simply an open-minded eater hungry for a meat-free meal, Chinatown is a premier destination for plant-based dining. At foodie-favorites Vegetarian Dim Sum House and The Original Buddha Bodai, locals and tourists alike devour preserved Cantonese cabbage buns, barbecue “pork” fried rice, pan-fried dumplings, and much more.
Feel like a kid in a candy store at Aji Ichiban Candy Store, a Chinese chain selling Asian sweet, savory, and natural snacks. This popular local spot, which slings free samples of its durian chews, candied baby crabs, wasabi peanuts, and more, invites you to make eating an adventure.
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The East Coast’s biggest herbal dispensary since 1973, Kamwo Meridian Herbs is one of the country’s top destinations for Chinese medicine and natural remedies. Stocking more than 500 raw herbs and thousands of herbal products, the pharmacy (which also offers on-site treatments from licensed acupuncturists) is a one-stop shop for alternative healing. For shoppers with a particular interest in wellness, Kamwo’s extensive selection of loose-leaf teas and aromatherapy and natural skin-care products is not to be missed.
Opened as a tea parlor-cum-bakery in 1920, Nom Wah Tea Parlor has been feeding Chinatown locals for nearly a century. Lines for a seat at this historic spot are longer than ever, but patient dim sum seekers will find super-sized egg rolls, leaf-wrapped sticky rice, crispy turnip cakes, and more. This local hot spot, racking up more than 1,000 Yelp reviews, deserves a place on any New York itinerary.
You could happily get lost exploring New Kam Man, a tri-level mega-store specializing in Chinese and Japanese products. Featuring a can’t-miss grocery section, a noodle bar serving up Asian café staples, and an eye-catching array of tea sets, chopsticks, and more, this one-stop shop guarantees you won’t leave empty-handed—or hungry.
One feature of Manhattan that may surprise out-of-towners is the borough’s abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables, available for purchase from the city’s many sidewalk stands. In Chinatown, these ordinary outfits transform into something excitingly unfamiliar: spindly rambutans, mangosteens, and super-sized soursops are just a sampling of the exotic natural treats that the area offers.
Highlighting one of the many ethnic groups helping to make New York City unique, the Museum of Chinese in America dedicates itself to preserving and presenting the Chinese-American experience. This neighborhood fixture, founded in 1980, features surveys on the group’s history in America, exhibitions by contemporary Chinese-American artists, and exciting panels, programs, and events. Time your visit right, and you’ll be able to explore the museum’s offerings free of charge thanks to its Free First Thursday policy.
Inside an unassuming building on a Canal Street corner hides a religious wonderland, complete with a 16-foot (4.9-meter) golden Buddha, Asian artworks, and the heady scent of burning incense. Free and open to the public, the Mahayana Buddhist Temple is an attraction beloved by tourists and locals alike. Boasting breathtaking décor, a meditation space, and an altar devoted to offerings for departed loved ones, the temple serves as a piece of authentic Chinese culture in New York City.