The streets of New York City’s Chinatown are teeming with bakeries, restaurants, boutiques, snack shops, herbal pharmacies, temples, and bars and nightclubs, which retain Shanghai flair, making visitors feel as if they have just stepped foot in a foreign land across the globe. For history enthusiasts, the gorgeous galleries, informative museums, and landmarks within the community capture the Chinese-American experience and tell the story of the immigrants’ history, growth, and successes within our nation.
The Museum of Chinese in America, founded in 1980, is devoted to preserving and presenting the history, heritage, and culture of Chinese immigrants in the United States. The museum has earned its place as being a national archive for the narratives of diverse Chinese-American communities. The permanent exhibition space is entirely dedicated to sharing the hardships that Chinese-Americans faced within our nation, beginning with the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, as well as demonstrating the growth and success that the Chinese population has contributed to our nation today. The range of exhibitions at the museum vary year-round and include floating projections, stunning photography, and interactive scenarios, which allow visitors to feel as if they are being questioned by immigration authority.
The towering, vibrantly colored Mahayana Buddhist Temple, lying near the iconic Manhattan Bridge, is New York City’s largest Buddhist temple. The interior of the holy institution, which is guarded by two majestic golden lions at the entrance, features a 16-foot tall statue of Buddha sitting atop a lotus flower, photos surrounding the walls portraying his various pivotal life events, and a large urn with aromatic incenses floating throughout the room. A special area with tables is also available for families and friends of deceased relatives to offer their prayers and sentiments. The temple provides a number of other services such as formal ceremonies on the weekends and fortune-telling, which is available for a low price.
Aji Ichiban, an Eastern-influenced confectionery shop originating in Hong Kong, functions as an Asian snack paradise for New Yorkers wishing to satisfy their sweet tooth with foreign treats. The shop sells a large assortment of dried goods, including fruits, nuts, ginger, and jerky, as well as wasabi peas, Japanese rice crackers, shredded squid, and cuttlefish. More exotic, hard-to-find savory treats include lychee milk hard candies, sweet pickled plum, flan-filled marshmallow, haw-flavored candy, loquat candy, and kumquat pellets as well as nostalgic Western candies such as Pop Rocks. Fortunately for customers, Aji Ichiban is very liberal with in-store munching and sampling and lays out bowls of snacks throughout the store, so visitors leave with their absolute favorite treats of the stock. Also, products are sold individually instead of in packages, which allow visitors to mix and combine a large variety of their favorite snacks rather than having to choose one out of many.
New York City is a haven for fashion lovers and style enthusiasts, offering a seemingly endless selection of chic boutiques and trendy clothing steals. However, for those who think they have seen it all, Chinatown’s Canal Street offers an exciting new shopping experience, with its open-air-bazaar feel, vendors willing to bargain and haggle, and an impossibly wide assortment of goods for sale. This overwhelmingly long strip of stalls and shops is known for its gray-market vendors selling knockoff designer purses (they have it all: Louis Vuitton, Prada, Coach, Gucci, Chanel, Michael Kors, and more!) alongside bootleg DVDs and unique jewelry pieces at ridiculously low prices. New Kam Man, a two-level marketplace located on the strip, sells knick-knacks, kitchenware, beauty products, home décor, cheap New York City souvenirs, specially displayed for tourist eyes, and cuisine from around the globe.
Bar, Cocktail Bar, American, $$$
Apotheke, Doyers Street | Courtesy of Raines Law Room
Inspired by the history and art of the apothecary tradition, which originated in Europe, Apothéke is far from your average New York City bar experience. The bar resembles a theatrical chemistry lab, with old vials dotted around the interior, and over 250 cocktails, which are referred to as ‘prescriptions’ and are separated into categories such as health and beauty, painkillers, stimulants, and aphrodisiacs. Bartenders who are dressed as the role of mad scientists in white lab coats mix margaritas rimmed with Himalayan salt and ignite flames onto Apothéke’s signature drink, the pyromaniacal absinthe. The interior space, made from imported Carrara marble, features a hand-carved back bar, as well as medicinal jars and bottles collected from foreign lands.
Chinatown Ice Cream Factory | Courtesy of Chinatown Ice Cream Factory / Carol Yu
The Original Chinatown Ice Cream Factory (CICF) is a family-owned business that adds a unique twist to one of America’s favorite desserts by introducing new Chinese-influenced flavors. Existing for over three decades and unfailingly satisfying customers’ sweet teeth and taste for foreign treats, CICF mixes together typical flavors with one-of-a-kind options to create an irresistible menu that will appeal to any dessert lover! Almond cookie, made with Chinese almond cookies from the Fung Wong Bakery soaked and blended into a delicious ice cream, black sesame, coconut, ginger, green tea, durian, coconut fudge, taro, and Zen butter (peanut butter ice cream with toasted sesame seeds) are a few crowd favorites. The Chinatown Ice Cream Factory also creates customized ice cream cakes within a day’s notice, alongside the Neapolitan and signature Chinese ice cream cakes, which both contain three layers of premium homemade ice cream.
This historically significant park located in the heart of Chinatown is the ideal demonstration of the neighborhood’s rich diversity and mingling of residents from all different backgrounds and walks of life. The north side of Columbus Park is reserved for Asian card players and masters of mah-jongg, while amateur troupes of Chinese-opera performers are found throughout the park, and tai chi and kung fu practitioners strike a few moves on the grassy lawns. The park’s three-acre sports facility includes an Astroturf field for soccer, volleyball, and impromptu baseball, as well as a basketball court and a well-equipped playground with sprinklers and a wading pool to occupy the children while the parents relax and lounge about.
Jing Fong is New York City’s premiere dim sum and traditional Cantonese restaurant and banquet hall, with over 120 large round tables and a long escalator transporting diners to the massive second floor dining room. It is especially difficult to land a table during the restaurant’s peak time, near noon, as Jing Fong’s scrumptious fare and extensive menu, which offers 100 dishes, attracts large crowds eager for a taste of Asia. From savory rice noodle rolls, large sheets of steamed rice noodles filled with bits of dried shrimp, pork, or beef, and rolled up and dipped into sweet soy sauce, to fried sticky rice loaded with Chinese sausage, mushrooms and peanuts, Jing Fong’s delectable Cantonese cuisine will leave diners’ mouths watering and taste buds exclaiming in delight.
This neighborhood favorite has been serving Chinese delicacies since 1968, and it is famous for its unbeatable roast pork buns, which will have customers lining up at all hours of the day. Mei Li Wah Bakery’s tasty variety of buns, pastries, and sweets has earned the bakery a star reputation over the years. Neighborhood locals sit cozily in the small booths and counter stools, munching on egg-yolk buns, baked yam with cheese, tofu pudding, salty pancakes, congee with shredded calamari, cocktail buns, beef rice noodle rolls, and stuffed fried fritters, all while slurping up wonton noodle soups or taro tea with sago.