Apr 28, 2010

Discover Colorful Chinatown on a Family “Staycation”

Is your family’s budget tight? Do vacations seem like a luxury of the past? If so, consider planning a “staycation” – a vacation at home or close to home. Being a tourist with your preteen is a great way to rediscover your city. What better place to start than Chinatown?

Start your day with a Chinatown photo scavenger hunt. Challenge another family for extra fun. The family with the most photos of found objects wins the hunt, and the losers buy dinner! Your scavenger hunt list might include:

  • A Hello Kitty t-shirt (a popular Japanese character – but should be easy to find in Chinatown)
  • Live eels/turtles/crabs (eek!)
  • A golden cat figurine (a symbol of good luck)
  • Green guava candy (delicious!)
  • Dragon fruit (hint: it’s hot pink with green tips)
  • A Chinese magazine (bonus points if you recognize any Chinese celebrities)
  • Dried squid (a pantry essential)
  • A hand-painted scroll (China has a rich tradition of symbolism – locate a scroll with a black dragon for luck and wealth)
  • A kung-fu video (an ancient meditation and art)
  • The number 8 (on a storefront – 8 is lucky in Chinese culture)
  • A bamboo shoot (boil or braise for a stir-fry or a hearty side dish)
  • A historical landmark (bonus points if you uncover some of the history behind it)

Exploring the winding streets of Manhattan’s Chinatown is a vibrant and delicious journey. Chinatown is bustling with crowds and energy and is well suited for tweens, who find the liveliness exciting. If it’s food you’re interested in, you’re in the right place. Within Chinatown is an array of seemingly endless markets and restaurants. If you and your tween are game for something different, try the beef tripe or oxtail – many restaurants and street vendors offer these Chinatown menu staples.

There are a few streets (and treats) that shouldn’t be missed.

  • Mulberry Street is home to Lung Moon Bakery (83 Mulberry, South of Canal); with classic Chinatown treats such as elegant moon cakes, buns, and sticky rice balls that are too good to pass up.
  • Bayard Street will bring out the kid in you. At UiUi Bubble Tea (49 Bayard) Homer Simpson greets you with a smile, and at The Original Chinatown Ice Cream Factory (65 Bayard) flavors like Red Bean, Lychee and Peanut Butter and Jelly will pique your youthful curiosity. Find a street vendor for some fish balls – a favorite snack of many Chinatown kids.
  • Mott Street is the soul of Chinatown, with amazing restaurants, bakeries and shops, all worth exploring. If you’re in the market for a set of chopsticks with a back-story, then you can’t miss Yunhong Chopsticks (50 Mott). Off Mott Street is Pell Street, and off Pell Street is the narrow Doyers Street…a secret passageway that will lead you to Chatham Square, the heart of Chinatown.
  • From Chatham Square, wander along East Broadway and check out the offerings at the East Broadway Mall. If you are on the scavenger hunt, you’ll find many of the items here under one roof.
  • Don’t miss Aji Ichiban (23 East Broadway; another location at 37 Mott Street) for endless snacking fun. From wasabi peas to spicy dried shrimp, try as many new munchies as you dare.
  • Dim sum, Chinese cuisine with a wide range of light dishes served with tea, is a good option for sampling. There are great dim sum places all over Chinatown; try The Golden Unicorn (18 East Broadway) where most of the dim sum dishes and desserts are $3.75 each.
  • When you reach Allen Street coming from East Broadway, head North to make your way back to Canal, but before you do, take a Lower East Side detour over to Hester Street (off of Allen; North of Canal) and head East to 63 Hester Street. There you’ll find The Sweet Life, an adorable candy store with a whimsical Wonka-like feel. So if your tween wasn’t thrilled by the assortment at Aji Ichiban, some familiar treats from The Sweet Life might be a nice break.
  • When you finally make your way back onto Canal Street, take one last detour up Bowery, where you can pick up a carbon steel wok at one of the many restaurant supply stores, and then go East on Grand Street. Turn South on Elizabeth Street to find one of Chinatown’s hidden gastronomic gems, Malaysian Beef Jerky (95 Elizabeth).
  • One last stop at the new Hong Kong Supermarket on the corner of Hester and Elizabeth, for some fresh fish to take home for dinner, concludes your Far East Side adventure.

To get to Chinatown, take the N, R, W, J, M, Z or 6 trains to Canal Street, and head East on Canal to Mulberry Street. On your way, you can stop at the intersection of Canal and Baxter, cross over to the big information booth in the middle of Canal to pick up a map for more highlights of Chinatown.

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