Exploring Manhattan’s Chinatown
A visit to Manhattan’s Chinatown is one of the most memorable things to do in New York City. The neighborhood is bursting with food, shopping, and culture. New York City tour guides often say one can have three different Chinatown experiences: Tourist Chinatown, New Yorker Chinatown, and Cultural Chinatown. While the Tourist Chinatown centers around shopping, the New Yorker Chinatown centers around food, and the Cultural Chinatown centers around institutions such as MOCA (Museum of Chinese in America) and the Mahayana Buddhist Temple. Whichever experiences you seek, be sure you wear comfy shoes, so you can happily invest hours exploring the vibrant streets and shops of Chinatown.
Manhattan’s Chinatown is famous for its unique shopping experience. One of the most popular things to do in NYC is to walk down Canal street and buy directly from vendors on the street. Many of these vendors are selling fruits, vegetables, and even small baked goods. Other street vendors are selling watches, hats, purses, and sneakers resembling those from high-end luxury designers.
Unlike Fifth Avenue, many of the products sold by these vendors are knock-offs, so only look-alike Gucci is available here. The prices are also much lower than the prices of Fifth Avenue, but so is the value.
Shopping in Chinatown often includes the tradition of “haggling” or “bargaining” for a price. Chinatown-style bargaining is an art, and almost even a science, but can also be a lot of fun. Here is how bargaining works:
Step 1: Ask the item’s price
Step 2: Give a counteroffer (usually about 60-75% of the original offer)
Step 3: See if the vendor accepts, or offers another price.
Step 4: Continue until you agree on a price, or walk away.
Some helpful tips for bargaining. Many Chinatown vendors only take cash, so make sure you bring plenty. Only show the vendor the amount of cash you’re willing to pay, as those are your last $20 bills in the world. If the vendor stays above what you’re willing to spend, feel free to walk away and try another vendor. If every vendor is refusing your offer, your offer might be too low. Always be respectful in your interactions.
If Louis Vuitton knock-off bags aren’t your style, Chinatown is also a perfect place to purchase NYC memorabilia, such as an “I LOVE NYC” tee-shirt, or fancy fun foam Statue of Liberty Crown. For a more authentic souvenir, check out stores on Mott and Mulberry street for artisanal tea sets, and even chopsticks.
Manhattan’s Chinatown is famous for its delicious and shockingly affordable food. You can feast like royalty for less than $20 a day. Every corner is brimming with hidden gems or delectable Asian cuisine, and it’s literally the birthplace of Chinese (and other) restaurants, today!
Spicy Village is always a Chinatown food tour favorite. The Pancake with Beef is a proven hit, with an almost magical bread that is light, and fluffy, with a satisfyingly crunchy exterior, and with soft and flavor-flooded beef inside, which is seasoned to perfection with He Nan spices. The Spicy Big Tray Chicken is pure heaven for those that enjoy a kick of heat with their food, and it is indeed spicy and big!
Joe’s Shanghai arguably has the best soup dumplings in the five boroughs. Soup dumplings, for anyone new to the dish, are dumplings with soup inside of the dumplings. They are served piping hot and are perfect on a cold NYC day.
Nom Wah Tea House is the oldest continually operating restaurant in Chinatown, offering a multitude of freshly-made dim sum options. Go earlier in the day to avoid long lines.
Joe’s Steam Rice Roll located in the Canal Street Market offering up hand-made rice rolls crafted using the techniques of Chinese masters. The Joe’s Signature Rice roll is heaping with beef, pork, dried shrimp, eggs, and vegetables. For an extra special experience, make sure to cover it with red chili oil.
Keki’s Modern Cakes is home to a “Bouncy Cheesecake.” While NYC cheesecake often has a dense and creamy texture, bouncy cheesecake has the texture of a spongy cloud. It’s so light and delicious that one person can easily eat an entire cheesecake in a single sitting. Try their ube cream puff for a unique and very purple Manhattan Chinatown experience.
One of the most memorable things to do in NYC is a visit to one of Chinatown’s cultural centers.
The Mahayana Buddhist Temple is both a spiritual center and a gathering place. Founded in 1962, it is the oldest Chinese Buddhist temple on the East Coast. The temple is home to the city’s tallest Buddha, and, for a small monetary donation, visitors can pick a fortune printed on a tiny scroll. While visiting the Mahayana Buddhist temple, please make sure to dress respectfully.
MOCA, the Museum of the Chinese in America, is dedicated to the research and preservation of the history of Chinese in America, creating an ongoing historical dialogue with the public, and cultural outreach to the community. The museum contains a wealth of knowledge through permanent and rotating exhibitions. MOCA offers tours and events, such as the Lunar New Year Family Festival. MOCA also offers impressive online resources to learn more about the Chinese-American experience, wherever you might be located.