The roots of Chinatown are said to go back as far as 1858, with the arrival of Cantonese businessman, Ah Ken. Ah Ken made his fortune selling cigars and is thought to have set up the first boarding houses for Chinese immigrants.
Vibrant and bustling, in New York City’s Chinatown, you’ll find the biggest population of Chinese people in the Western Hemisphere. Although Chinatown was established mostly by Cantonese speakers, due to an influx of Fuzhounese speaking Chinese immigrants and Mandarin being the official language of China and Taiwan, Mandarin has become vital to the dynamic tableau that is Chinatown.
Centered around Chatham Square and Columbia Park, Chinatown is transportive yet quintessential New York. Traveling the cozy corridors of Chinatown, bask in the varied languages and cultural diaspora, uniquely American and yet universal. Witness the roots of a place where a community was allowed to grow within a community, a world within a world. See it in the statues, architecture, and signage throughout Chinatown. Smell it seeping out from the multitude of dim sum restaurants, noodle houses, and speakeasies that reside here. Pick up a bao and wander the markets for deals and explore the sometimes brutal historic sites.
Chinatown is developing. Much of the lower-income housing once available in the area are being refurbished and sold. As a result, the community and its demographic makeup are diversifying.
MOCA, Founded in 1980, the Museum of Chinese in America tracks the struggles of the Chinese American diaspora, as well as celebrates the accomplishments of its community nationwide. If you want to learn about the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which led to the Geary Act--the only law to exclude an entire community of people from immigrating to the U.S. on the basis of race or ethnicity--this is a great place to start. -215 Centre Street
Canal Street, This one is for the shoppers. If you can’t find it on Canal Street, you may have to confront the possibility that it doesn’t exist. From high-end knock-offs to housewares to jewelry. Canal Street offers a unique shopping experience full of vivacity. You can find all kinds of deals here. How’s your haggling?
Columbus Park, From chess to Tai Chi, Columbus Park has it all. It is one of the best places to people-watch in the city. It offers a little something for everyone: fortune tellers, card games, a 3-acre sports facility, a place to eat, a place to read, a place to meet friends, etc. It serves as a community hub, full of life and space. -67 Mulberry Street
Temple Mahayana, Temple Mahayana is home to New York City’s largest Buddhist Temple and Buddha statue, standing 16 feet tall. Open to the public, it’s a magnificent bastion of Buddhist and Chinese culture. -133 Canal Street
What You Might See
The Lunar New Year is one of the biggest holiday for Chinese people around the world. Chinatown in New York City is no exception. Watch as lions dance and various floats snake their way through the neighborhood. Enjoy the cornucopia of food wafting from street to street, vendor to vendor. It’s a celebration not to be missed. You just need to be able to calculate when it is. Lunar New Year typically happens each year from late January to mid-February.
What’s in the Future?
With its central location, old-world architecture, layered history, and amazing food scene, it’s not surprising to see why young professionals are flocking to this energetic neighborhood. As a result, Chinatown has seen an inpouring of renovations and luxury developments as developers and landowners seek to maximize on the potential of their properties.
What You Don’t Know
The Bloody Angle. Marking one of the deadliest strips of road in American history, the nearly L-shaped turn on Doyer Street, between Mott and Pell, served as an ambush point for warring clans vying for control in the early 1900s. Once stained with blood from hatchets, visitors can now tour part of this corridor near Chatham Square.
What We Love
Chinatowns location, walkability, restaurants, culture, history, old-world charm, world-class food markets, access to transportation, and burgeoning nightlife all make it a wondrous place to live. For breakfast, buy bread from a family bakery that’s been around for generations, have ice cream for lunch from Chinatown Ice Cream Factory, get dim sum from Nam Wah Tea Parlor (now nearly a century old) for dinner, and cap it off with karaoke at K-One. There are few neighborhoods that can match the energy and tenacity for life of Chinatown.