Until recently, New York City’s Chinatown was not a neighborhood that I was well-acquainted with. I had been there a few times, mostly in high school to buy knock-off bags, but my loyalty always went to Little Italy, the neighborhood right next door. It was not that Chinatown didn’t interest me, it did, but I never really had the chance to explore it.
Which is why, when I suddenly had the opportunity to get to know a bit more about the neighborhood, I could not turn it down. The tour itself was further proof that I had only previously grazed the surface of this energetic and bustling community.
A few weeks ago, while browsing the web, I stumbled upon the website Xperience Days, a company that offers the chance to give experiences as presents instead of material objects. They offer everything from cooking classes to flight lessons, spa treatments to jewelry making classes, and so much more.
Immediately, the Chinatown Food and Cultural tour caught my eye. Not only am I interested in food, but I am also interested in culture, especially the culture of a neighborhood in my favorite city. I was sold, and Xperience Days set up the tour for me.
At 10:30am on Saturday morning, I met Bert, my Foods of New York tour guide, at Dim Sum Go Go, in an area of Chinatown that I had never been before. As soon as I got there, I was taken far from New York City, and that’s exactly the feeling I like getting. Having never been on a food tour, I had no idea what to expect, except I knew to come hungry and I’m glad I did.
After arriving at Dim Sum Go Go, we all congregated upstairs in a room we had all to ourselves, giving us the chance to go over introductions over tea. Then Bert gave us an overview of where we’d be heading and what we’d be eating over the course of the next three hours.
Then came the best part, sampling several varieties of dumplings. There were three sauces to use with our dumplings and the first three we were served were steamed – vegetable, chicken, and pork, then a fried duck dumpling, and a roast pork bun. While all were tasty, my two favorites were the vegetable, known as the Jade, and the roast pork bun. I could have stayed at Dim Sum Go Go for the rest of the day, but there were other places for us to go.
After dumplings, we headed over to the square across the street to learn a bit of history about New York City’s Chinatown, and eventually headed over to Doyers Street, for some bar and restaurant suggestions. Even though we couldn’t eat at every place, it was nice to have some ideas of where to visit on my next trip back to Chinatown. We walked a bit further and reached our next stop: Peking Duck House.
Here, we watched our chef carve our peking duck and assemble our pancakes. It was my first time eating peking duck, and I was not disappointed. Everyone else around me agreed, as there was little talking around the table and lots of eating.
From here, we went down the street to a shop that sold teapots, tea, and herbal remedies. Even though I didn’t buy anything, it was still fun to shop around and browse at what was for sale.
Then we made our way over to the Columbus Park, which I had never visited, but it was an instant favorite of mine. As Bert said, if you’ve come to Chinatown and haven’t been in the park, you haven’t really been to Chinatown. There were Chinese musicians playing music, and men and women playing cards throughout the park. If you just focused on the park itself, it was easy to imagine yourself far away from New York City.
I could have stayed in the park all afternoon, but again, food was calling our names. From here, we walked to ABC Chinese Restaurant for a Cantonese meal of Chinese eggplant and golden fried rice. Both dishes not only smelled delicious, but were so fresh tasting and unlike any Chinese dishes I had previously tasted. I was starting to get full, but the food just kept getting better.
Finally, we ended the tour with dessert. Bert told us that it had been a difficult choice to pick a dessert for the tour that was both traditional, but that people on the tour would like. The dessert, from Golden Manna Bakery, was an egg custard tart that was creamy with a flaky crust; it was the perfect last treat of the day.
We all stood on the street corner gobbling up our dessert, and realizing how quickly three hours had passed by; I wasn’t ready for the tour to end. But, we parted ways, some numbers were exchanged, and we all somehow found our respective ways home, food comas and all.
After this tour, it is hard for me to believe that I had never before taken a food tour anywhere in the world. It was the perfect way to try something new, discover a new restaurant or two, make new friends, and learn a little history about a city neighborhood in just three hours.
Whether you are visiting New York City or any other city that offers a food tour, I highly suggest booking one and seeing where your taste buds land you. I’d also highly recommend Foods of New York Tours, not only were the restaurant selections satisfying, but the tour guides are some of the best around.
What to know:
Price: $65 for tastings at four locations
Tour Length: 3 – 3 1/2 hours
Attire: Comfortable shoes and layers, as you will be walking around and going inside of restaurants
A special thanks to Xperience Days for setting up the tour and to Foods of New York for hosting my tour. As always, all opinions are my own.