Exploring Little Italy & Chinatown – with Food
By Shari Hartford
The five boroughs of New York are a warren of neighborhoods. Each community is unique in its inhabitants, cuisine and culture…they are their own microcosms. Some are instantly recognizable and some require a more in-depth journey. Recently, I explored two of the most iconic and food-oriented such hoods: Chinatown and Little Italy.
Ahoy Tours does one thing and they do it perfectly—food tasting and cultural walking tours. There are no double decker buses, no guides with umbrellas and no rushing along from one tourist trap to another. Here, you walk at a leisurely pace with a small group of like-minded foodies, a superb guide and nibble your way through two these cultures.
We began our exploration on an over cast Sunday morning at Ferrara’s Bakery and Café, a Little Italy institution since 1892. Here, the group assembled and we were given our introduction to Little Italy by Liz, guide extraordinaire. And, of course, a sampling of Ferrara’s famous cannolis set the mood. We bundled up and were off, winding through the local streets and stopping along the way for some pasta, some mozzarella, some prosciutto and some ravioli. And this was only Little Italy.
And we were educated. This is not just a stroll through the streets…this is an eye-opening adventure where we learned how these neighborhoods came to be and were given a glimpse into the past inhabitants that made them what they still are today.
The line of demarcation between Little Italy and Chinatown has blurred over the decades. We crossed a few streets and suddenly the signs were different, the faces were different, but more important for us, the smells were different. Nom Wah Tea Parlor, the first dim sum parlor in Chinatown, circa 1920, was our next sit-down stop. The dumplings kept coming and the succulent flavors and authentic surroundings on twisted Doyers Street were, for me, reminiscent of a long-ago trip to Hong Kong. Mustering on, we had two more dumpling stops before our final tasting of crunchy almond cookies; a most fitting ending to a day of noshing.
I can’t praise Liz, our guide, enough. Not only was she knowledgeable about every nook and cranny of these two neighborhoods, but she made seemingly impersonal buildings come alive with stories of their origins and the people who lived there. And she cajoled shop owners into just another piece of mozzarella, just another plate of ravioli and just another dumpling, or two.
Ahoy Tours operates rain or shine, all year round. What a terrific way to spend a few hours…eating, walking and learning.
For more information, contact ahoynewyorkfoodtours.com.