Where to Experience Chinese Culture in NYC
By Emma Steven

Where to Experience Chinese Culture in NYC

January 24, 2017   |   Regional Highlights  

 

New York City is home to the biggest Chinese-American population in the U.S., so it’s a great place to explore Chinese customs, history, and of course, food! 
 

Take in a festival, check out can't-miss spots in Chinatown, eat some delicious food, and more—just follow the guide below to experience Chinese culture throughout NYC in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens.

Chinese Festivals

There are many festivals and celebrations throughout the year, but Chinese New Year, the Dragon Boat Festival, and the Mid-Autumn Festival have the biggest celebrations in New York City. As they follow the Chinese calendar the dates change every year.

Chinese New Year is the biggest with the famous Chinatown Lunar New Year Parade being on the NYC must-see list. Every year thousands brave the cold to watch lion dancers and cultural performers at the parade starting around Mott and Canal streets in Chinatown. This year the 18th Annual New York City Lunar New Year Parade and Festival is on Sunday, Feb. 5 with the parade kick-off at 1pm.

If you don’t mind loud bangs you’ll enjoy the New Year's Day Firecracker Ceremony, which is supposed to scare off evil spirits. Held at Sara D. Roosevelt Park, this year it takes place on Saturday, Jan. 28, with the firecracker kick-off at 12pm.

There are also big parades and celebrations in Sunset Park and Flushing, alongside events in cultural institutions across the city like The Met, the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA), China Institute, The Bronx Museum of the Arts, and Flushing Town Hall.

Over the summer don’t miss the famous Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival in Flushing Meadows Park, which features traditional Dragon Boat Racing as well as performances and food. 

In early fall have fun eating moon cakes and watching the lantern parade to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival.

RELATED: Where to Celebrate the Lunar New Year in the New York City Area

chinatown postcard

A postcard from Chinatown, courtesy of the Museum of Chinese in America.
 

Chinatown Highlights

If you want to find out more about Chinese culture, one of the best places to start is the original Chinatown, home for immigrants arriving in New York City since the 1800s. Its chaotic streets are packed with historic landmarks, markets, restaurants, and stores. You can explore yourself using a sightseeing map or take part in one of the many walking tours available. Below are some area highlights.

The Museum of Chinese in America
MOCA holds a large archive of Chinese American history and also celebrates Chinese culture today. Stop by to see exhibits as varied as Chinese stage design or the history of Chinese food or to take part in one of its popular Chinatown walking tours. The museum has a regular kids art program as well as family events to celebrate Chinese holidays.

Chatham Square
Over the centuries this small square has evolved from a marketplace to a seedy destination of sorts, to a tourist stop. Here you’ll see the Kimlau Memorial Arch, erected in memory of Chinese Americans who died in WWII, and a statue of Lin Ze Xu, a pioneer in the war against drugs. Close by is the statute of Chinese philosopher Confucius.

Columbus Park
The park is famous for its mahjong (a traditional Chinese game) and chess tables, which you’ll often find full of players in all weathers. If you’re up early you’ll catch people starting their day with tai chi; there are plenty of places to play sports and a great kids playground.

Mahayana Buddhist Temple
Home to what is believed to be the largest Buddha in New York City. Take a moment of calm in front of the 16-foot gold statue or attend a weekend public service. This is the second house of worship founded by the Eastern States Buddhist Temple of America. Their first has served the local community at 64 Mott Street since 1962.

moca general store
The Heritage Chinatown Shop at MOCA.
 

Church of the Transfiguration
A self-styled “Church of Immigrants." Many different immigrant nationalities have prayed in the Church of Transfiguration's pews since the early 19th Century including the Irish, Italians, and Chinese. Today it has a busy congregation and aims to serve people who may speak any Chinese language or dialect.

Edward Mooney House
A local butcher built the Edward Mooney House in 1785 after the Revolutionary War. As one of the oldest townhouses in New York City, the building has lived many lives and has served as a tavern, a store and hotel, a pool parlor, a restaurant, and Chinese club. It currently serves as a bank.

The Five Points
At the south of Columbus Park you’ll find what’s left of The Five Points. This notorious slum neighborhood was made famous in the Gangs of New York movie. It’s now opposite to the New York County Supreme Court.

Other NYC Chinatowns
The two biggest Chinatowns outside Manhattan are in Flushing, Queens and around Sunset Park, Brooklyn. With Chinese populations growing in these areas more quickly than Manhattan they are also a great place to visit to explore Chinese stores and restaurants.

Chinese Food: Restaurants, Bakeries, and More

Xi’an Famous Foods
This New York success story specializes in Northwestern Chinese cuisine, which is a mix of Chinese and Middle Eastern flavors. It started out at a tiny stall in a Flushing food court and now has seven locations across Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens. Star dishes are the hand-pulled noodles and the spicy cumin lamb burger.

Dim Sum and Then Some
Whether you’re cha siu bao addict or pork shumai newbie, every New Yorker should swap brunch for dim sum at least once. It's often served in large, noisy dining halls where waiters push carts piled with dumplings in bamboo baskets. Dim sum halls get busy on weekends (expect to wait!) and may not appeal to toddlers with picky appetites.

Well-known spots in Manhattan are Chinatown’s Golden Unicorn Restaurant, Jing Fong, and Dim Sum Go Go. Upper West Side families love Han Dynasty and if you’re in Union Square look out for Vanessa’s Dumpling House (which also has locations in Williamsburg and Chinatown). In Flushing don’t miss Dumpling Galaxy and in Sunset Park, bun fans rave about East Harbor Seafood Palace and Bamboo Garden.

Bubble Tea and More
Originally from Taiwan, bubble tea has become ubiquitous across Southeast Asia. Bubble tea is a drink with a tea, fruit, coffee, or milk base that has chewy tapioca pearls at the bottom. Curiously addictive, try Ten Ren's Tea and Ginseng Co., Kung Fu Tea, and Vivi Bubble Tea, all which have locations across Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn. 

chinatown nom wah tea parlor sara kelly
Nom Wah Tea Parlor in Chinatown.
 

Nom Wah Tea Parlor
Claiming to be the oldest dim sum and tea parlor in Chinatown, this retro marvel has been serving customers since 1920. Throughout the years many movies and TV shows have filmed at Nom Wah Tea Parlor, including Reversal of Fortune, Premium Rush, and Law and Order, perhaps because of its vintage charm.

The Original Chinatown Ice Cream Factory
A popular tourist spot that’s worth the line, this tiny ice cream shop has been serving exotic flavors since 1977. Choose from a variety of Asian-inspired tastes at this Chinatown shop, such as durian, lychee, red bean, and taro, alongside chocolate, strawberry and vanilla fare. Locals also rave about the ice cream cakes.

Chinese Bakeries
Chinese baked goods have a cult following. In Manhattan's Chinatown try Fay Da Bakery’s (locations throughout Manhattan and Queens) faro puffs, custard tarts from Golden Manna Bakery, and chicken pot pie from Taipan Bakery (which also has locations in Flushing). In Queens give New Flushing Bakery a try and in Sunset Park, Jade Food, Inc., where you can buy freshly made sponge cakes along with pineapple buns and more traditional sweets.

Chinese Grocery Stores
Enter another world full of oft-affordable Asian staples and exotic foods you won’t find in Trader Joes. Explore the multi-level Hong Kong Supermarket (Manhattan and Flushing), New Kam Man (Manhattan) which also has a noodle bar, and Fei Long in Dyker Heights.

Also known as “Munchies Paradise,” the Chinatown store Aji Ichiban is a treat for your eyes as well as your sweet tooth. More than just sweets, the place is packed with Asian snacks that are sweet, sour, salty, chewy—and everything in-between. From wasabi peas to pickled plums, you’re sure to find it here.

Chinese Cultural Institutions

There are several cultural centers across the city where you can immerse yourself in Chinese and Asian arts. Most put on performances and celebrate the big festivals through events and more. Many offer classes on everything from Mandarin to traditional brush drawing and calligraphy to kung fu and fan dancing. You've already read about MOCA in Chinatown, here are some other places to check out to learn more about Chinese culture.

The China Institute was founded in 1926 and is located in Lower Manhattan. Its mission is to advance a deeper understanding of China through educational programs as well as programs in culture, business, and art.

John D. Rockefeller 3rd founded The Asia Society in 1956. The Asia Society and Museum is located on the Upper East Side, near Museum Mile and has family programs, exhibits, and more.

The New York Chinese Cultural Center is based in the LES and was founded in 1974. The institution provides over 3,000 classes and workshops to more than 10,000 NYC public school students in the boroughs and has a weekend School of the Arts on site. 

In Flushing one of the best places to watch Chinese arts and performers is Flushing Town Hall. In Brooklyn, BAM also features Chinese performers, choreographers, and shows on a regular basis.


Main image: Excitement from a past Lunar New Year Parade.
Courtesy Better Chinatown

 

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