- The Washington Times - Friday, January 28, 2005

NEW YORK — The year of the rooster begins Feb. 9, and the Lunar New Year will be observed all over Chinatown during the first two weeks of February. Firecracker demonstrations, lion dancers, a parade and a flower market are among the festivities planned to mark the holiday.

Lanterns are strung throughout the streets, and the Chinese characters for good fortune and prosperity are posted on many buildings.

You don’t have to be here for the new year to experience Chinatown, though. The neigh-borhood’s hustle and bustle; exotic markets; and authentic, inexpensive food can be sampled any time of year. Just take the subway to Canal Street and start walking.

Head in any direction for some of the city’s best shops and restaurants as well as a close look at a living, breathing part of New York’s long history of ethnic migration and cultural transformation.

You’ll quickly find yourself in the midst of a typical Chinatown scene — throngs of people cutting every which way; vendors manning sidewalk tables and tiny stalls, selling everything: Gucci purses (ersatz or otherwise), tofu cakes and fruit you didn’t even know existed; and enough traffic to make you think you’re in a parking lot.

The pace of the neighbor-hood is so frenetic that it sometimes can be hard to flag down busy passers-by for directions, so pick up a map at the Chinatown Visitors Kiosk at the intersection of Canal, Walker and Baxter streets.

Along with other parts of downtown Manhattan, China-town experienced an economic downturn after September 11, from which it has not fully recovered.

The kiosk and an informative Web site that lists New Year’s events and other attractions — at www.explore chinatown.com — are part of an effort by city officials to make the area more accessible to out-of-towners.

If you’re looking for an elegant gift (or a rest from the chaos on the street), a good place to stop is Kam Man Food Products at 200 Canal St., near Mott Street. The store is primarily a supermarket, so don’t let the hundreds of jars filled with things you’ve never seen before put you off.

Make your way downstairs, and you’ll find a cornucopia of beautiful and wonderfully inexpensive Asian-style plates, cups, teapots, cookware and other goodies. For even more gift items, go to the Mall of Great Wall at Broadway and Canal.

Stroll farther down Canal Street to Mott Street, the heart of one of the nation’s largest Chinese enclaves. Both sides of the street are lined with stores overflowing with all types of merchandise — postcards, bamboo plants, toys and electronics, Buddhas, jewelry, silk jackets.

Chinatown is a miniature Asian melting pot, attracting immigrants from mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Vietnam and elsewhere.

Keep an eye out for the large Taiwanese flag at 62 Mott St. over the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association, an umbrella group for the many family and village associations that dot the neighborhood.

Many of the area’s political decisions are made behind the association’s doors, and its president is sometimes referred to as the mayor of Chinatown.

If you’re thirsty, stop at any of the tea cafes that line Mott Street. They specialize in bubble tea — milky iced tea with balls of tapioca at the bottom. It’s not everybody’s cup of tea, but it’s worth trying.

When you reach Bayard Street, hang a left, and you’ll find the legendary Chinatown Ice Cream Factory.

Yes, it has flavors you can get anywhere else, such as rocky road and pistachio, but not every ice cream parlor carries litchi, almond cookie and mango.

Before you have ice cream, though, how about a main course — or two or three? Chinatown is renowned for its restaurants, and with so many to choose, your biggest problem will be settling on one place. Here are a couple of good rules:

• Don’t let looks fool you. The food might be fantastic even if the lighting is dingy.

• If the locals are eating there, odds are that it’s good.

• Be adventurous in what you order. You might be pleasantly surprised.

• Go with two or three others. Entrees usually are served family-style in the expectation that everyone in your party will share.

Chinatown is a particularly good place to sample traditional dishes that may not be available at your hometown Chinese restaurant.

For Peking duck, try the Peking Duck House at 28 Mott St., a longtime neighborhood establishment.

For dumplings, make your way east to the aptly named Dumpling House at 118 Eldridge St. Although it’s a bit of a walk from the heart of Chinatown, this place is worth the trip. At five exquisitely fried or steamed dumplings for $1, you can’t go wrong.

Then there’s dim sum. Served between roughly 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., primarily on weekends, dim sum attracts neighborhood families, curious tourists and sophisticated gourmands alike. Instead of ordering off a menu, diners simply point to small sampler-size plates of various dishes that are wheeled around on carts inside the restaurant.

At Jing Fong, 20 Elizabeth St., expect to walk out very full and with plenty left in your wallet. A meal for two averages $15 to $20. You won’t have to worry about getting a seat, either: Jing Fong has room for 900 people.

At some smaller restaurants, you may be seated with strangers at a large round table. Don’t worry; you’re not expected to share food — or the bill.

To learn more about Chinese restaurants, walk over to the Museum of Chinese in the Americas, 70 Mulberry St., which is hosting an exhibit through June titled “Have You Eaten Yet? The Chinese Restaurant in America.” The museum is also one of several outfits that offer walking tours pointing out local historical and cultural sites.

You don’t need a tour guide, though, to glimpse people doing tai chi in Columbus Park on Bayard Street or to check out the Church of the Transfiguration on Mott Street — where Catholic services are held in Cantonese, Mandarin and English. Just keep your eyes open and explore the neighborhood for yourself.

Celebrations in Chinatown

For more information on New York’s Chinatown, visit www.explorechinatown.com or call NYC & Co., the city’s visitors bureau, at 212/484-1222. Free maps and brochures are available at the Chinatown Visitors Kiosk at the intersection of Canal, Walker and Baxter streets.

The closest stops to Canal and Mott streets are along the A, C, E, J, M, N, Q, R, W, Z and 6 trains to Canal. From the 1 and 9 stop at Canal, walk east. From the B and D stop at Grand Street, walk south to Canal, then west. From the F stop at East Broadway, walk west.


m Feb. 5 and 6, flower market in Sara D. Roosevelt Park, at Grand and Chrystie streets.

• Feb. 9, firecracker ceremonies, at noon at Mott and Bayard streets and at 2 p.m. at Market Street and East Broadway. Dancers and singers perform at both locations, noon to 4:30 p.m. Dance troupes costumed as lions, dragons and unicorns march along Mott, Bowery, East Broadway, Bayard, Elizabeth and Pell.

• Feb. 13, parade, noon to 4:30 p.m., featuring floats, bands, acrobats and dancers, along Chatham Square and Mott, Canal, Bowery, East Broadway, Forsyth, Division and Worth streets, with performances by musicians, dancers and martial artists.

Museum of Chinese in the Americas, 70 Mulberry St.; visit www.moca-nyc.org or call 212/619-4785. Open noon to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; until 7 p.m. Friday and until 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Adults, $3; free on Fridays and for children younger than 12.


m Museum of Chinese in the Americas, www.moca-nyc.org or 212/619-4785.

• Big Onion Walking Tours, www.bigonion.com or 212/439-1090.

• Discover New York Walking Tours, 212/935-3960.

• Jami Gong’s Walking Tours, www.chinatownnyc.com.


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