Chinatown: NYC Local Favorites Part 2

*cont' from yesterday:

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.
Go to the Elizabeth Center Gift Shops to experience an everyday joy for a kid growing up in Chinatown. Next up, one of my joys: Ice Cream!
Meggie disapproved of most touristy places like Dim Sum Go Go and Nom Wah Tea Parlor, but she adores Chinatown Ice Cream Factory. In fact, she had no idea it was in every tourist book. I did of course!

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 :)
Then we continued to walk around and see the different open markets. My favorite was a bucket of frogs and a shelf of snails. I asked her if anyone ever takes them home for pets. She looked at me like I was insane and laughed, "No, never." Good to know.

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!
We were able to get a glimpse of how the older generation spent their days. They were mostly playing card games or making music or sitting quietly. I felt really awkward taking pictures in this park. Almost like an intruder making a spectacle out of it. So I pretended I was taking pictures of Ella. I wish I was bold enough to take more. I asked Meggie if any of the people ever venture out to Central Park. She told me that they know it exists, but they never go. They are happy here.

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! 


  1. This looks like such a good time! I def. want to take my kids and do something like this. Beautiful pics. I love all the bright colors in China town.

  2. I tried fish cakes at a Korean barbecue once and I'm guessing the fishball's taste about the same. Blech!

  3. I love fish balls!! They are unique though and you have to have a certain palate. Sharon did you ever run around Chinatown in SF? Good Meng Koh has the best pork buns. I absolutely adore them and there is always a line. It reminds me very much of SF Chinatown. And the Chicken Boullion you have in one your first pics in this post. Dynamite for broths, soups, just about anything. I'm glad you enjoyed!

  4. What were some of the treats that Meggie loaded into your basket? I'm curious and always liking to try new things!! Please share.

  5. love those fish balls! we also have it here in the Philippines! yum!

  6. I have a few favorite Chinatown spots I HAVE to visit whenever I find myself in NYC. Most of them aren't touristy spots either but feel more authentic. I love visiting Chinatowns in different cities because I instantly feel at home. The food is familiar...I can speak the language (you always get better service if you do! Ssshhh...) and everyone looks like they could be my grandma/grandpa/aunt/uncle. =P

  7. Awww, I love Dim Sum Go Go, which oddly enough my husband and I always call Go Go Dim Sum. We live in LA and there is great Dim Sum in Orange County and Arcadia, but we miss our New York days and the stuff so easily accessible in Chinatown. Have you ever had Pho? There are a million places near SoHo that are soooo delicious. It's Vietnamese and you're obviously talking about Chinese food, but Dim Sum and Pho are two of my ultimate favorite "asian" meals :) So great that Ella got to experience this world within a world in New York at such a young age.

  8. OH! And, a place you should definitely try - John's Shanghai on 46th between Broadway and 7th. It's a knock off of the "original" Joe's Shanghai, but we think their signature dish "juicy buns" are SO delicious, we never bothered to try the original.

  9. AWESOME posts! Love all the exploration! Looks like such an amazing time, I think I will try to copy this day exactly. Thanks for the inspiration to get out of Brooklyn!

  10. I laughed so hard. Loved this post, too!

    On ice cream: I make lavender ice cream for SONshine's birthday each year (his favourite.) Last August, our neighbors came over for the celebrations, and their son, one month old than SONshine, took a bowl of the vanilla-colored ice cream. He tried about 2 bites, maybe three, then politely said, "Miss Kate. Umm. I think there's medicine in here. I'm not allowed."

  11. My parents are coming to town next week and we are definitely going to China Town ... Meggie style :) Thanks for the good documentation. It will pay off huge for me and the rest of your readers!

  12. I think it's so great that you were open to trying new experiences and new foods. Your children are so lucky to be exposed to different things at a young age.

  13. I loved reading your adventures in Chinatown. I've always wanted to go and next time I'm in NYC, I will. Poor froggies though, all crowded in that bin :(

  14. Whoa this was an awesome post! I have my own version of a food crawl in Chinatown but I love how your friend Meggie added some local stores into her tour. Will definitely check out the pork bun place and that Chinese "dollar store".

  15. I loved green tea frozen yogurt when I was traveling through Japan, red bean is popular there too!

  16. NY Taught Me taught me about my own neighborhood. Who knows, I could have been in New York Mart, trying to find linguini, the same time you were there.

  17. Thanks! We went to the Elizabeth Center Gift shops today and my 4 (and 3/4) year old daughter bought some stickers and a stuffed bunny. She was happier than a trip to FAO. We went to Nam Wah Tea Parlor. I know it is touristy, but it was just the 2 of us and I wanted her to actually eat something so I think it was a good dipping your toe into Chinatown. I am going to Shanghai next week and hope that some time in Chinatown will help me feel at least a little less intimidated in China. We had fun! Thanks for the inspiration.

  18. NY Taught Me taught me about my own neighborhood.

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