I’ve been lucky enough to visit Chinatown in both San Francisco and New York City multiple times. I say lucky, because it’s such a unique peek into an extremely different culture from my own.
It’s also a foodie adventure, as much of the food isn’t even recognizable to me.
When I’ve visited Chinatown, it’s never to shop, because I’m typically staying at a hotel and not cooking. My visits are all about observing, learning, and taking photos.
The produce, whether on the sidewalks, or inside shops, is gorgeous. And just like in Europe, it’s impeccably arranged.
The seafood variety is always impressive, and extremely interesting.
Dried seafood is ubiquitous.
Inside the shops, you see a multitude of boxes and cartons of goodness-knows-what, from teas to herbs, tinctures to rubs. I remember when deer antlers and other now illegal items were in full view.
One gentleman who was stacking fish decided my camera was in his way and he yelled at me. I felt badly, although I really didn’t feel like I was in his way, as someone who is an expert at respectably visiting markets as a tourist.
Plus, I’ve not ever been the only non-chinese person walking through Chinatown with a camera. But still, I felt badly, because I’ve managed to say “photo?” in many a language, and it is the polite thing to do. Before my next visit to Chinatown I will learn how to say “photo” in Chinese/Mandarin.
Exactly 20 years ago, my husband and I took our daughters to San Francisco, and of course Chinatown was on the agenda. We had a favorite dim sum restaurant that was our lunch destination, but before that we showed our daughters the entrance to Chinatown, and walked some of the main streets.
At the age of ten, my younger daughter had somewhat of a negative reaction to Chinatown. It had to do with the many window displays of hanging plucked chickens and ducks, live turtles in buckets, and so forth. That day she became a vegetarian. I kid you not.
We really didn’t think she’d follow through with it, but twenty years later, she’s still a dedicated vegetarian.
Being that she lives close to Chinatown, she is familiar with restaurants there, and joined us for dim sum at Nom Wah Dumpling Shop, a restaurant she recommended. It was excellent, although I do miss the little metal carts that used to be pushed around between tables in the old days. I guess these were deemed unsanitary.
So now you look at a photo menu of dim sum items, and then check off what you want on a piece of paper.
I really wanted to try chicken feet, but with a vegetarian and a really food-squeamish guy at the same table, I knew I’d be the only one eating them. So we stuck with the basic dumplings, fried rice, pancakes, and greens. All were fabulous.
The reason I posted on Chinatown, is because there really aren’t that many in existence except in big cities. So if you don’t live in these cities, or don’t visit them, you don’t get the fabulous experience of seeing how other people live and shop for food. Shy of actually visiting China, that is.
Except for being yelled at this one time, I will continue to visit Chinatown, wherever it might be. And you should too. Don’t let it feel intimidating.
I really wanted to buy a durian and really see what one tastes and smells like, but I was afraid we’d get kicked out of our hotel!