You say you’ve been to Chinatown in New York? Which Chinatown?
The fact is, New York City now has three separate Chinatowns. The oldest is in Manhattan. The largest is in Queens. And the smallest and newest is right here in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.
Brooklyn’s Chinatown is centered on 8th Avenue between 50th and 60th Streets. It is commonly believed that the Chinese moved here because they consider the number eight fortuitous for business and “8th Avenue” can be interpreted as “the road to wealth.”
But a more plausible explanation is that those seeking to escape from Chinatown Manhattan’s crowded, twisting alleys, noisy factories and overflowing tenements appreciated Sunset Park’s clean, grassy recreation areas, the relatively wide streets, an abundance of retail space and a direct subway connection to friends and jobs in the old Chinatown.
As with the other Chinatowns, many of the most visible businesses here are focused on food – preparing it, serving it, selling it. The curbs are lined with baskets of skittering crabs, tubs of fat, bobbing bullfrogs and Styrofoam coolers of flopping, freshly-caught fish. Vendors stand in tiny pushcarts, transforming thick, eggy batter into hot, puffy cakes ($1 a bagfull) and transforming skewers of marinated meat into hot, sizzling satay ($1 each). Bakeries fill the air with the scents of fresh-browned chestnut bread, lotus cakes, cinnamon crisps and pork buns.
In terms of charm and quaintness, Chinatown Brooklyn comes in dead last, which means that it is almost completely free of hulking tour buses, pushy sightseers and cheap, tacky souvenirs. If you go, instead of t-shirt shops and Starbucks, you’ll see hundreds of businesses that cater to the residents’ daily needs: insurance agencies, banks, bakeries, pharmacies, acupuncture clinics, hairdressers, tutoring services, cell phone centers, internet cafes, restaurant uniform and supply stores and florists.
Want to know which shops have just opened? Look near the doorway for an array of green plants festooned with red ribbons, traditionally thought to bring luck to a new enterprise.