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What to Eat in Chinatown, NYC: a Food Tour in 7 Bites

What to Eat in Chinatown, NYC: a Food Tour in 7 Bites

Forget Peking-style roast duck, pho and dim sum: the most authentic foods to try in Chinatown, NYC, are Chinese ice creams and even Japanese-style crêpes.

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The image we generally have of a Chinatown food scene is that of smoky restaurants offering Peking-style roast duck, bowls of pho (Thai noodles) and dim sum.

It is possible, however, to go further afield and discover well established Chinese patisseries and ice-cream shops, or new venues popular with young people where you can drink bubble tea or go sing karaoke, eat ice-cream rolls or crêpe swirls – as if you were actually in China and Japan, not NYC.

Here is the quickest way to the Far East: it leads us to the other side of the world without going back in time. All you need is to grab some cash and take the Underground to Canal Street.

Japanese-style crêpes

The French tradition for crêpe-making can be encountered in Japan, involving rice flour and the love for Western cooking with a new twist. Forget about orange, Cointreau and icing sugar. You can put anything you fancy inside a crêpe cone, whether sweet or savoury.

Banana, whipped cream and chocolate, blueberries and red berry fruits with yogurt, ice-cream and other slightly less conventional flavours such as a whole NY blueberry cheesecake or matcha tea truffles.

Not forgetting the savoury versions like eggs, for breakfast, a traditional Niçoise salad, a dish of teriyaki chicken, smoked salmon or Angus ribeye steaks. There's no limit to where your imagination can take you for less than $8.

T-Swirl Crêpe
2 Mott Street

Chinese ice-cream

The Chinese lay a claim to having invented ice-cream. Or rather, that's what they say at the Original Chinatown Ice Cream Factory, which has been a local-based family-run ice-cream shop for 28 years.

Coffee, pistachio, mint, strawberry … none of the usual flavours are missing, but the real attraction lies elsewhere. Customers flock to try flavours such as avocado, ginger, red beans, wasabi or lychee and longan sorbets. Do what the locals do and add a topping of jelly teddy bears.

The Original Chinatown Ice Cream Factory
65 Bayard Street

Karaoke singing (with a drink)

A cross between a bar and a karaoke room where songs in mandarin Chinese alternate with eighties classics and contemporary pop music.

Choose the song and slip a note to the DJ; when you hear your name being called out, it's your turn and you can get up on the karaoke stage! The afternoon happy hour is ideal for aperitif early birds. This is really a place for a drink, but if you do feel peckish, the kitchen offers a fusion of the two culinary traditions of its neighbouring districts: China and Italy.

Asia Roma
40 Mulberry Street

Roll out the ice-cream

Straight from the streets of Bangkok, Thailand, the ice-cream roll has now landed in America, in Chinatown to be precise. It has already been seen in numerous YouTube videos: a round, refrigerated flat surface on which some very special ice-cream makers tip the creamy base and then mix it with a spatula to incorporate the other ingredients providing the flavour (fruit, chocolate matcha tea).

They handle the mixture very rapidly while the liquid turns into ice-cream, without adding any emulsions or fats – there is no need for them since the result is extremely silky. Then they flatten it and roll it into a curl.

Voilà, the ice-cream is ready to be popped into a traditional bowl, roll upon roll, before being garnished with other toppings and a spoon. What about the flavours? As American as Oreo, peanut butter and key lime pie. When you see the queue, you've arrived but, along with the show, the ice-cream is well worth its price at $7.

10 Mott Street

A sip of cold tea – and bubbles

Wide straws and tapioca balls for sucking up along with cold tea or coffee. Bubble tea is the most popular street drink in Asia – and in Chinatown.

As always, you have to join a queue in NYC to enjoy any delicious food. Kung Fu Tea is a chain of venues offering a wide choice of flavours, sugar levels and, along with the usual tapioca balls, other ingredients such as red beans, azuki beans and jelly.

KungFu Tea
234 Canal Street

The chopstick boutique

A store that specialises entirely in Chinese chopsticks. Here you will find them in all shapes and at all prices, as gift packs, entire sets, portable ones with holders, ready to assemble or plastic versions designed for kids...

There is also a wide choice of chopstick rests for table place settings. You are sure to find the one you like with prices ranging from a few dollars to expensive luxury chopsticks.

YunHong Chopsticks
50 Mott Street

A slice of (steamed) cake

Forget about French or Italian pastry-making and British baking: Chinese cake-making is quite another story. Rather than being imported from the West, this is an ancient and deeply rooted branch of cooking.

The cakes made from a rice flour mixture are extremely soft and the buns are sweet even when filled with savoury ingredients, such as small pieces of pork or cheese.

Either baked or steamed, here you can find plain rolls or fancy steamed ones filled with meat, sweet black sesame or red beans, along with huge mochi made from rice flour that are first steamed and then fried. At little more than a dollar each, you can really afford to try as many as you like.

Tai Pan Bakery
194 Canal Street

Vegan meat, chicken and fish, as well as tofu

Forget pork and chicken as you know it, here the cuisine is strictly vegetarian, as practiced by chef Dong for almost 50 years, along with a selection of kosher dishes. You will not feel deprived of meat, however, when you get up from the table and it would be unfair to think there is nothing but tofu on the menu.

Vegan chicken, vegan fish and even prawns, all of which are 100% vegetable-based are well worth trying – from just a couple of dollars to 15, you can order a soup for four people. Here you can eat well on a shoestring and really taste something different.

Buddha Bodai
5 Mott Street

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