As you may have guessed from our site, we believe Manhattan is a truly fascinating island which offers a huge number of diverse experiences. All of the different areas and districts have their own atmosphere and, whether you’re interested in culture, fashion or food, you are sure to find something you will love.
While it is, of course, impossible to say which area of the island is an absolute must-see, Chinatown has to be up for consideration. While this amazing neighborhood may be the second oldest of its kind in the US behind San Francisco, it is now thought to be home to more than 100,000 people. The enduring legacy of the area is also arguably one of the fundamental reasons why New York now has the largest Chinese population of any city outside of Asia. It has a huge amount to offer and not just the stuff you might expect. Seriously, ask anyone who has tried the amazing Mexican cuisine at Pulqueria or the elaborate cocktail creations of Apotheke. However, while there is a host of treats from across the world to enjoy in the area, we are going to focus on the key things that Chinatown can offer if you are looking to examine Chinese-American culture.
Know your history
When it comes to learning more about Chinatown, the Museum of Chinese in America – or MOCA for short – is an absolutely essential first stop. The museum was founded in 1980 and is home to an array of information and exhibitions detailing the stories of people of Chinese descent who came to call the US their home. The site on Centre Street tells a truly fascinating story and provides a comprehensive look at Chinese-American culture. History can be found on many streets across the Chinatown area too, so keep your eyes peeled for various statues and monuments. Specific ones to look out for include the Kimlau Memorial Arch to commemorate Chinese Americans who fought in World War II and the statue of Lin Ze Xu, a much-celebrated politician from the 1800s. If you are fascinated by religion, another key spot in the area is undoubtedly the Mahayana Buddhist Temple, which is not only the largest temple of its kind in New York but also an exquisite sight to see in its own right.
Fun and games in the park
Another cultural hotspot in the area is undoubtedly Columbus Park. The beautiful green space was actually developed on the site of one of the most violent neighborhoods in the city – the Five Points area depicted in Martin Scorcese’s 2002 crime epic Gangs of New York – but is now home to an array of interesting activities.
As you wander through the park you are likely to see people playing a host of different games, including many traditional Chinese pastimes that have become a core part of modern culture. The tile-matching fun of Mahjong remains as popular as ever, as does the domino-based game of Pai Gow. The latter sees players given a stack of tiles from which they have to form two ‘hands’, with the objective being to beat the dealer’s hands. Considering its style of play, it is unsurprising that the game has been adapted into a card game known as Pai Gow Poker, which is based around the same concept of creating two winning hands. This version of the game has proven to be hugely popular since it was first invented in the 1980s, with it now being a staple on many online casino sites such as Betway Casino. Similarly, the former has also proved extremely successful in a revised, electronic form, with Mahjong being a popular fixture on online gaming hubs such as Zylom. A trip to Columbus Park might give you a chance to pick up some hints and tips on how to play Pai Gow and other games but, if you’re after something a little more physical, you may also wander past a few people enjoying some tai chi or even martial arts in the area too.
Song and dance
Another common sight in Columbus Park is amateur performers indulging in a little bit of Chinese opera, complete with musicians using traditional instruments. It is a fantastic opportunity to not only marvel at the beautiful songs but also appreciate how the legacy of such music lives on. Another cultural landmark can be found on Doyers Street, where the first Chinese language theater east of San Francisco was opened in around 1893. While its legacy lives on, the site closed by 1911 as a result of levels of gang violence, including shootings at the theater itself.
Food for any budget
Of course, no experience of Chinese-American culture would be complete without sampling some of the amazing food on offer. There are a host of restaurants in Chinatown that offer a range of experiences, but one absolute mainstay of the area is Jing Fong, a dim sum restaurant which originally opened in 1978 and now boasts capacity for 800 seats. The bustling, vibrant atmosphere is perfect for trying some the best food you will ever eat. However, if you’re keen to explore something a little more low-budget there is the option of an array of stalls and shops in the area. One simply called Fried Dumpling offers particularly cheap food, with the name somewhat giving away their speciality. Asian cuisine can be weird, wonderful and often wacky, but if you approach it with an open mind you may just be pleasantly surprised by what you find.
Finally, Chinatown has a range of shopping experiences for you to take in, with the hustle and bustle of the busy Canal Street particularly attracting a huge number of people every day. While this area has a market feel, do not ignore some of the fascinating shops which can be found in the neighbourhood too. An essential stop on your trip around the area has to be Aji Ichiban, a sweet shop which is home to all manner of delights. Again, as with all food in this area, it is best to not be shy and keep your mind open to trying anything and everything. You never know what you could find!
A truly unique experience
As all of the above shows, Chinatown is a truly fascinating part of the incredible cultural fabric of Manhattan and spending some time exploring its streets can be a richly rewarding experience. Whether you are seeking vibrant shopping, exquisite food or stunning culture, this is the place for you.
References for Further Reading & Sources of Inspiration:
point2homes.com/neighborhood: Chinatown Demographics
mocanyc.org/about: About the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA)
betway.com/casino: Range of Casino Games Online
zylom.com/mahjong games: Range of Mahjong Games