After having a huge lunch a J & B Seafood Restaurant, we strolled the streets. Ella really wanted an Asian paper umbrella. This confused our friend and tour guide Meggie.
"What are you going to do with that?" she said, "I'll show you where I used to go shopping when I was a kid. You'll love it."
She directed us down the escalators in The Elizabeth Center Gift Shops. The upstairs of this shopping center features doctor's office and cosmetic stores, but the downstairs is filled with small stores filled with oddities and trinkets. Meggie said this is where students of all ages hang out after school. Her parents used to give her a few dollars and she would roam in and out of the shops, searching the bins for small hair bows, notebooks, pens, and (my favorite) erasers. It took me a few minutes to get a grasp of the stores.
At first glimpse everything looked straight out of the dollar store. But watching Ella jump from bin to bin, digging her hands in the baskets, trying on bows, I could see how a kid would find these stores magical. Everything cost around $1-$3. We spent around $10 and had a bag full of pencils, erasers and bows to bring home. It delighted Ella to no end.
Elizabeth Center Gift Shops to experience an everyday joy for a kid growing up in Chinatown. Next up, one of my joys: Ice Cream!
Her one rule was that we were NOT allowed to get typical ice cream flavors like chocolate, strawberry or vanilla. We had to get flavors unique to Chinatown. She limited us to five options: Black Sesame, Red Bean, Taro, Lychee, and Green Tea. I didn't see Avocado, Wasabi, Zen Butter or Ginger flavored ice cream when we were there, but I'm sure she would approve of those flavors too if I asked. Check out the complete menu here.
I got two scoops! Black Sesame and Red Bean. How those flavors made for a perfect ice cream combo is beyond my understanding, but it was delicious! Ella got Taro and Lychee. She loved it too. Imagine ordering Oreo Cookie or Mint Chip at a place like this? I very well might have if it weren't for Meggie pushing me to try new things.
As if we hadn't eaten enough, after we finished our ice cream, Meggie disappear for a second on the corner of Mott and Canal St. She came back with a small white bag filled with tiny warm cakes. I popped one in my mouth and enjoyed it's slight sweetness. She said the woman's recipe is a guarded secret. Meggie told me about another food cart that made even better cakes down the block. The line for cakes would be endless. Then one day, the woman disappeared. No one has heard from her since and the recipe is gone forever! I wonder what happened?! Spooky.
|I'm putting a pic of the cart for reference :)|
Probably one of my favorite things we did was go to a typical grocery store called New York Mart. I loved seeing all the everyday items. Not a single jar of spaghetti sauce or box of mac and cheese in the whole store. I really felt like I had traveled to China. Meggie started filling my basket up with her favorite foods (treats she had growing up, her favorite frozen meals and sauces). She helped Ella pick out chopsticks. Meggie pointed out the things that even looked disgusting and bizarre to her.
Walking around the grocery store was the most untouristy part of the day. If you really want an authentic experience in Chinatown, go shopping in New York Mart. Before I went in, a woman wished me luck and warned me not to go in. I can't understand why, because it was a great experience! A little packed, but fine.
Next we took a minute to experience Columbus Park. It's worth checking out for sure!
And finally--as if we really hadn't already eaten enough, she took us to get some pork buns at Hop Shing Restaurant. Oh my. GO HERE! It will be your reward for reading this long post! Order roasted pork buns from the counter and eat them immediately. So good, so cheap. I brought a bunch home to the boys. The buns were just as good the next day. I have to go back for more.
Meggie told me Chinatown is all about the food and to truly experience Chinatown, be ready to eat! I couldn't agree with her more. As proof, I was holding a million red plastic bags filled with yummy food. Have you ever noticed all the red bags in Chinatown? Meggie told me she thinks the bags are red for good luck. Before leaving, I grabbed this dragon fruit and gained one more red plastic bag. I was feeling really lucky at this point.
Lucky to have met Meggie. Lucky to exsperience all the food. Lucky to live in such a wonderful city!
Now you know all of Meggie's favorite places to visit in Chinatown. What's yours?
After the jump: My least favorite food I ate in Chinatown. At least I tried it! The name alone gives me shivers.
Fish Balls are the only thing I tried and didn't like in Chinatown.
Have you tried them?
I felt awful, but I couldn't even finish one ball!