A college student’s guide to NYC’s Chinatown

By Jeff Mitchell

Jeff Mitchell/Collegian
Jeff Mitchell/Collegian

Leaving the typical sights of uptown New York City to head downtown is a move not many tourists make. Many would rather remain in the Upper/Mid-town area, which holds such famous sights as the Empire State Building and Central Park. If you are feeling a bit adventurous, however, Chinatown is absolutely worthy of a visit.

 

There is no questioning where you are when you enter Chinatown. While this might throw some out of their comfort zone, most residents are happy to give advice to any lost tourists.

Traveling the streets is an adventure in itself; the roads are narrow, busy and filled with trucks slathered in graffiti and other artwork, and the buildings have a wide assortment of colors. The citizens themselves are in a constant movement; you will have trouble finding anyone simply standing around texting or enjoying a cigarette. The area of Chinatown isn’t exactly filled with restaurants, but it does hold a bastion of laundromats, massage parlors, fruit stands, savings banks and markets. Chinatown is nestled next to Little Italy, so do not be surprised if you see the occasional pizza place amidst traditional Chinese restaurants.

The streets of Chinatown are bustling – not with shoppers clenching bags, but with a different kind of rush. Workers scrambling around, hauling boxes of goods from trucks to their stores is a very typical sight; unloading and unpacking is a common task. The streets are also normally devoid of tourists, which is definitely a plus for anyone looking to get something more out of the typical New York City experience. This section of town is, for the most part, bereft of any chain stores. Small family-run businesses dominate, which is without question good for diversity and quality.

A place that offers not only a memorable experience but a delicious variety of food is the Deluxe Meat Market on 79 Elizabeth Street. It will be hard to find this market from the street if you do not know the address (as there are no signs in English), but one of the giveaways is the abundance of skinned, small animals hanging from the store’s windows.

As you enter, you are immediately overwhelmed by the ever-expanding nature of the single room which houses all of the markets. The congestion is almost unbearable at first as there are no dividers to separate the sections from one another. It is very easy to get pushed around and lost, as this area operates simultaneously as a meat, fish and sushi market – while still maintaining a section for prepared food.

If you can manage to power through the mob of customers at the lunch counter, you can consider the cornucopia of options that you have available. For the lunch special, you are allowed a selection of eight types of noodles, as well as many different varieties of dumplings, goat, chicken and beef; virtually any kind of familiar and unfamiliar Chinese food you could want. A strong reason Deluxe Meat Market stands out is the price tag. A whole meal only runs $3.25, perfect for anyone travelling on a low budget. The portions are fair, but a recommendation: If you are with a group of people, everyone should order different dishes and split them, so you can truly appreciate all the various kinds of food.

The food itself is well worth the price. It holds the rich, satisfying texture that Chinese gourmet is known for, but also utilizes vegetables and spices in its dishes that distinguish it from that of any Chinese restaurants in the same price range. This meal is great in that it offers a nice sampler to those who are not already heavily experienced with Chinese food.

Chinatown is a perfect example of the rich clusters of culture that are easily overlooked by tourist brochures, but are well worth the venture. It is within walking distance of Wall Street (as well as Little Italy), and offers new flavorful cuisine and great deals to an adventurous traveler.

Jeff Mitchell can be reached at [email protected]