A New Taste of New York City’s Chinatown
Two egg rolls, pork fried rice, wonton soup and mixed vegetables has always been my Chinese food order. It was ingrained in me throughout my childhood, and I always know what to expect. Glimmering sauces, the crunch of fried flour dough and a stuffed belly after eating at a rapid pace with no intention of stopping until the dishes were cleared.
In Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations,” he seems to agree. To Bourdain, his Chinese food order came with an overwhelming sentimental attachment. Bourdain and I were raised loving and looking forward to our cliche orders that have withheld the tale of time.
It was not until a tour through Chinatown did I realize that my Chinese food dinner lacked true authenticity. Chinese food boomed in the 1970's due to its reasonable price and exotic nature. Chinese restaurants grew in response to American lifestyle and changing economic times in New York City. They catered to Wall Street workers and to surrounding communities.
According to Peter Kwong’s, “The New Chinatown,” Chinese food’s authenticity has been “eroded by the dictates of American taste.” In fact, an authentic Cantonese restaurant in Chinatown will not offer its American visitors certain items because they are aware that they are drawn to certain flavors and have preconceived notions of how Chinese food should taste.
I arrived at “Dim Sum Go Go” in a sweltering New York City heat. Fried food and hot green tea was not at the top of my to-do list, but it did not take much convincing once the smell of garlic and black tea hit me. I sat down and was immediately greeted by an array of colorful dumplings.
Without hesitation or questioning the ingredients, I dove in. I ate and watched as the waiters darted by, filling up their customer’s stomachs and turning over tables one-by-one. They were working fast and hard while my New York University class enjoyed the unfamiliar tastes. Dim Sum Go Go was an ethnic enclave, giving Americans a taste of immigrant lives back home. Throughout the meal, I kept in mind what Peter Kwong wrote:
To Kwong, Chinatown is a place “where they are protected by kinship and mutual-aid networks.” With the blossoming of Chinatown’s population overtime, I tend to think about their economic welfare in conjunction with the ever-rising prices of owning a business and living in Manhattan.
“Almost all modern-day Chinese communities have been affected by similar problems, such as rapid growth of population, economic expansion into manufacturing and consumer industries, the influx of overseas Chinese capital and the continued existence of traditional institutions,” said Kwong.
Just a few blocks from Dim Sum Go Go is SoHo- a luxury shopping hub with some of the most expensive real estate in Manhattan. It is clear that elements of SoHo are beginning to trickle into Chinatown. An underground, upper-class tequila bar resides in the middle of Doyers Street, which is one of the most historically-significant streets in Chinatown.
Once known as “the Bloody Angle” due to numerous shootings among the Tong Gangs of the 1930's, Doyers Street has trickled into a nightlife hotspot with a modern-day speakeasy and other trendy bars. The infiltration of Manhattan luxury markets could be trouble for Chinatown but one thing could always be assured: That the sense of community cannot be undermined.
Today, Chinese is the second largest immigrant group in America and traditions run strong. Walking through Chinatown will always carry an element of defiance through economic hardships, the overcoming of social barriers and a sentimental importance to me.