Chinatown is situated in lower Manhattan, bordering Little Italy, another neighbourhood of the city. Walking around its bustling streets, I felt teleported to a tiny corner of Beijing. Columbus Park, located on Bayard Street bustles with the banter of elderly gentlemen enjoying rounds of mahjong. You can also spot quirky street bands singing traditional Chinese songs. I’ve been told that free tai chi lessons are held in the neighbourhood park on several mornings of the week.
My leisurely jaunt through this picturesque area brought me to Mott Street. It is regarded as Chinatown’s unofficial main street, where you will often find hordes of people bargaining for meat and vegetables at its open markets. Simply watching them negotiate is entertaining, but from a safe distance — it’s advisable not to interrupt a heated vendor and a shopper. Negotiation here requires concentration and any disturbance is not taken too kindly. I made my way deeper into the market. The air was infused with the smells of meat and raw seafood including Chinese specialities like dried scallop, abalone and the controversial shark fin.
On my exit, I spotted a vibrant store called Aji Ichiban (153A Centre Street; open daily 10am-8pm), selling authentic Asian candies including sugar-coated dried fruits, nuts and other crystallised sugar items. A friend had recommended a visit to the popular Nom Wah Tea Parlour
(nomwah.com; open daily 10:30am-10pm) to sample some traditional grub. It is a vintage dim sum cafe that was founded in 1920, and its specialities include mooncakes and various types of dim sum such as pork siu mai and minced beef dumplings in soup.
Shortly after, I found myself on Chinatown’s Pell Street. As I walked through the lane, I came across shops with colourful window displays drawing in tourists. Sold at these stores are Chinese pottery, tea ware, Buddha statues and other ethnic goods. After struggling to communicate with a Chinese salesman, I bought myself a little Buddha souvenir that’s reminiscent of my adventure in Chinatown.