Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Explore Chinatown Food And Culture Walking Tour: See (And Taste) Chinatown As You Never Have Before!

By: Anne M. Raso

I recently went on the three-hour Foods Of New York Tour called the Explore Chinatown Food And Culture Walking Tour that can be booked on www.foodsofny.com for $65! Considering how cheap the food in Chinatown is, I wondered if it would provide good bang for the buck, and I am happy to say it did--and not just because of the food. I found out so much about Chinatown, from the unusual items mourners place on the altar at funerals to insure the deceased has a good afterlife to secret side streets that no one seems to know about and that offer great souvenirs and other mementos. I never had so much fun in Chinatown and it was great to learn about each dish as I was eating it.
Manhattan Chinatown

First stop was Dim Sum Go Go at 5 East Broadway where we our group of about 16 had our first food items at 10:30 AM; we got the entire top floor to ourselves. Five different dumplings were served to us in wicker steam baskets and they included a Fried Pork Dumpling, Jade Dumpling, Chive & Shrimp Dumpling, Duck Dumpling and a Steamed Pork Bun. All the dumplings were had thin skin that you could almost see through--and that's the way an authentic dumpling is supposed to be (as opposed to the large Americanized chewy dumplings). I guess that the Steamed Pork Bun did not officially count as a dumpling but it was served in the same wicker steam basket and was so stuffed with pork and tasty spices that it made other Steamed Pork Buns that I have had seem downright empty! If you go to dim sum on your own there, each unit is prices at $1.35 to $1.75 a piece--a real bargain, especially for this high quality level. (By the way, Dim Sum Go Go serves dim sum all day long, every day.)
Dumplings at Dim Sum Go Go
We then took in some local color and found the oldest Jewish landmark in America-- a graveyard called First Shearith Israel Cemetery from 1683--right behind Dim Sum Go Go. We also visited the grand statue of legendary Chinese figure Lin Ze Xu who helped battle drug abuse in the homeland. As we walked around Chinatown, we hit Mosco Street where we discovered an unmarked restaurant that sold dumplings five for $1 and a cut grocery store next door. We even found a store that sells funeral offerings made out of joss paper--items to provide a blessed afterlife that seem to represent necessities as well as luxury items from this world--and a funeral parlor called Wah Wing Sang Funeral Home at Mulberry between Mosco and Worth Streets, where unusual funeral flower arrangements were being brought in. We next hit Columbus Park, site of the original and notorious "Five Points," where we caught locals playing Mahjong and playing Chinese instruments that peaked our tour group's curiosity.
Lin Ze Xu
Next we went to the legendary Peking Duck House at $28 Mott Street, which appears to have been remodeled in a chic modern style, but still has great quality and prices (it's $33 per person for a complete banquet and you can BYOB). The name of the duck served is actually "Pekin Duck" (leave off the "g") and the birds are so tender because they are free range, well-massaged and well-fed--and the fat is rendered off them via being held over boiling water immediately after they are slaughtered. The result is super-tender meat with no gamey taste. The skin is roasted to a perfect golden glow. Chefs slice the duck at your table and serve it in Mandarin pancakes with green onions and the best homemade Hoisin sauce you will ever have.
Whole Duck at Peking Duck House
After the delightful duck, we hit the wonderful Aji Ichiban at 37 Mott Street, which features scoop it yourself candy and Chinese snacks, most at about $12 a pound. The garlic mung beans won my heart but there is a whole lot of fun gummy candy and licorice here that are not typical in the American self-serve candy stores. Fascinating tour guide Raheem gives you a good 15 minutes to pick out your goodies and there are free tastes of everything (and no one screams at you for taking too many free tastes)! There is actually both Chinese and Japanese candy here...and I spotted some English imports in the rear left corner.
Candy, nuts and dried fruit at Aji Ichiban
Next we stopped in for some wonderful Malaysian roti bread with curry sauce called Roti Canai at New Malaysia, 48 Bowery. Hidden in a dark alleyway, you'd never expect such fine fare but it's the most "real" Malaysian I have ever had. The still-hot roti bread was buttery and golden and the curry sauce was creamy with just the right spices and juicy chunks of chicken. You felt the heat after you tasted the sauce but it was not painful. This was just the perfect degree of spiciness in my book! Our wonderfully funny and informative guide Raheem told us about other items he recommends at eat eatery we visited, and he mentioned places to go for the best beef jerky, soup dumplings and more! We then walked down the Bowery to a hole in the wall bakery called Golden Manna at #16, where we had warm Don Tat (Hot Custard Tarts). Our group ate them standing up in the bakery as there are minimal seats and it is especially crowded on Saturday afternoons, and we could not believe how rich and flakey they were. Raheem gave us five or ten minutes to pick up our own baked goods that included golden breads and colorful pastries that seemed much less sweet then their American and French counterparts.
Egg Custard Tart at Golden Manna Bakery
Questions about this wonderful Explore Chinatown Food And Culture Tour can be answered by going to www.foodsofny.com, emailing info@foodsofny.com or by calling 212-209-3370. The groups are attended by New York natives and tourists alike, and people get acquainted quickly. Be sure to tip your guide ($5 or $10 per person is recommended) and you will leave with a guidebook that represents your tour and beyond so you can go back and do your own foodie tour of the 'hood. Foods Of NY also offers foodie tours of Original Greenwich Village (West), Nolita Noho, Chelsea Market/Meatpacking District and the Central Village, and they've been doing this 15 years, so you know that you are in experienced hands!

Photos by Anne Raso / Gail Worley

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