Chinatown Food Crawl, NYC
It all started when a friend wanted to compare all the Papaya hot dogs in the city, and we went to almost all of them in a single evening to finally declare a winner: Gray’s Papaya! Since then, my fellow wannabe foodie friends have embarked on the occasional “Food Crawl” or if you want to sound fancier, “Foodie Tour.”
NYC is the ideal place for food crawls due to the sheer abundance of restaurants and hole-in-the-wall specialty shops lining the streets. We all meet up in a designated neighborhood on a lovely weekend afternoon and follow our noses and stomachs! We will only order one item usually per stop (usually will ask the staff whatever is known to be their specialty) and indulge! From these delicious experiments, we have discovered so many off-the-beaten-path places, and rediscovered old classics.
This past weekend, my friend Doc and I went on a Chinatown food crawl. Doc had never tried dim sum before, nor any other authentic Chinese dishes, so I decided to give him a crash course in NYC’s Chinatown.
Our route for the crawl is mapped out below:
Our beginning and end destination was Columbus Park, which was one of the city’s first major urban parks. The beautifully landscaped park is lined with lush greenery, which stands in stark contrast to the towering metal skyscrapers surrounding the park. This is a great starting point to get into the Chinatown spirit, as the park provides visitors with unique glimpses into the idyllic lives of the local Chinese community.
Fried Dumpling (106 Mosco Street, New York, NY)
On our way to our first dim sum spot, we passed a tiny dumpling shop that was appropriately named “Fried Dumpling.” This shop offers 5 dumplings for $1, 4 pork buns for $1, and hot and sour soup for $1. Not the best quality dumplings in Chinatown, but definitely one of the cheapest.
Ping’s Seafood (22 Mott Street, New York, NY)
Yum cha, which literally translates to “drinking tea” in Cantonese, refers to a dining experience that includes drinking Chinese tea and eating dim sum, which is a varied range of traditional small dishes (essentially Chinese tapas). Yum cha is basically how Chinese people do brunch, as dim sum is usually served in the morning to early afternoon.
Ping’s Seafood is a good place to introduce dim sum to first timers as it is very tourist-friendly. The dim sum selection is extensive, walk-ins can get seated fairly fast, and they also have a dim sum guide book with color photos of each dish and English descriptions to help the ordering process. There are no carts as the restaurant is fairly narrow and small, but servers do walk around with trays of dim sum so it’s a similar “point and choose” experience. You will have to share tables probably, but you can request to wait for your own especially if you are a group of 4… for 2 probably not.
Har gau: steamed shrimp dumpling
Siu mai: steamed pork dumpling with mushrooms and shrimp
Char siu bao: steamed buns with bbq pork filling
Ja ha kau: fried shrimp balls
Ja leung: fried dough wrapped in steamed rice noodles
Har cheong: steamed rice noodle roll with shrimp
Recommended dim sum alternatives in Chinatown:
Red Egg (my fave! a little more expensive than most, must order off checklist)
Dun Huang Seafood (very traditional and cheap, all Chinese clientele)
Hop Shing (very old school, greasy dim sum shop)
Jing Fong (huge bustling banquet hall with their iconic escalator entrance)
88 Palace (old school Chinatown)
Hsin Wong (72 Bayard St, New York, NY)
Hsin Wong is one of the best places to get delicious Chinese BBQ items. The pork, beef, chicken, and peking duck are all savory and perfectly roasted. Chinese BBQ joints are easy to spot as they all tend to carry a distinctive window display of the hanging roasted poultry and meats.
I love ordering take out at all these shops, but Hsin Wong also offers a pleasant dining-in experience. Service at Chinese restaurants is notorious for being rushed and rude, but Hsin Wong is very much an exception!
Siu jyu: roast pork with yummy crispy skin…
Siu pai gwat: barbecued spare ribs
Tai Pan Bakery (194 Canal St, New York, NY)
As the mother of all Chinese bakery chains, Tai Pan is one of my favorite Chinese bakeries simply because of it boasts the largest selection. In one shop you can get all the popular Chinese pastries and dessert: cocktail buns, pineapple buns, bbq pork buns, several varieties of egg custard tarts, fruit cakes, and the ever-so-popular coffee cake rolls. Also, don’t forget the bubble teas!
Dan tat: egg custard tart, Portugese-style has a caramelized crème brûlée like consistency. Tai Pan also serves traditional egg custard, egg white custard, green tea egg custard, and mini egg custards.
Fruit tart: light cream filling topped with fruit in a pastry shell
88 Natural Food Inc (88 Mulberry Street, New York, NY)
I only mapped out this stop here because along this street, you can find plenty of fruit stands to buy fresh, ripe, and CHEAP fruits. I do stop by 88 Natural Food occasionally to buy some Chinese vegetables, and this shop is also popular for its bubble tea and freshly roasted chestnuts.
There are piles of coconuts at stands throughout Chinatown, and for a couple of bucks you can enjoy the natural sweetness of coconut water. I only wish they cut the fruit further so we could also scoop out the coconut flesh to eat!
We continued to walk down Mulberry Street to head towards Columbus Park, and we passed more fruit and vegetable stands, as well as butcher shops and seafood stalls, along the way.
Columbus Park (67 Mulberry Street, New York)
We ended our Chinatown food crawl back at Columbus Park, and plopped down at an empty stone table to rest as we basked in our respective food comas. There were many other places I had wanted to go to (like getting Shanghai style soup dumplings) but our stomachs would not allow it; however, there’s always the next food crawl!
As we rested in the park, we took in all the unique sights of the young school children, the old retired Chinese seniors, the resident locals, and the visiting tourists that all had congregated at the park. Columbus Park is always overflowing with activity, from the Chinese orchestras playing the erhu (Chinese violin) and zither in accompaniment with amateur Chinese opera singers, to the graceful movements of the tai chi practitioners in the wooden pavilion. There are stone tables with engraved chess boards on the surface that are always surrounded by large gatherings of men playing Chinese chess and those active observers who constantly shout out moves to the players. The women also do their fair share of gambling and hustling through games of mahjong nearby.
The park also contains a large AstroTurf field where exuberant youths from the local Chinese schools will engage in a variety of field games as their family watches from the under the cool shade of the bamboo trees.
It was the perfect way to conclude our Chinatown food crawl!