My Favorite Ethnic Spots in NYC

GUEST BLOGGERS, USA MAINLAND, Historic/Museums, STREET LIFE, WALKING/HIKING — By on September 12, 2011 at 01:15

By guest blogger Samantha Wilson. Photos Copyright © Samantha Wilson.

I LIVE A FEW hours from NYC but any time I have a chance to visit some of the amazing ethnic spots, I take it.

My most recent trip was in the beginning of July when I traveled with one of my sisters for a two-day stay. The two of us are very different, yet in NYC the varied atmospheres, differences in music, and delicious tastes from traditional dishes provide enough diversity for both of us to find something we love.

Though NYC has great public transportation, our preferred method of travel is by foot. As long as you’re equipped with trekking sandals and a water bottle, walking around the different neighborhoods is the best way to see everything.

No need to travel off the island in order to see the Statue of Liberty!
NYC parks do a fine job of providing the local sights.

A Few of My Favorite Ethnic Spots in the City

CHINATOWN in downtown Manhattan is the best one for tourists to visit. It has one of the largest populations of Chinese people in the United States and outside of the country of China. This neighborhood is colorful and vibrant. It is filled with souvenir shops, perfumes, handbags, seafood markets, street vendors selling exotic wares, and newspapers written only in Chinese.

My sister is a big shopper and she always manages to find cheap jewelry or some other great buy in this area. When she was there a few years ago she came home with silk slippers for all of us—at $1 a pair it was a great buy.

In Chinatown all of your food options are on display in the showcase windows. It often reminds me of the reality TV shows where you have to eat all kinds of bugs.

For myself, I prefer learning the history and religion of any area I visit. Chinatown is the perfect place to take a personal guided walking tour to learn the history while experiencing some culinary treats. Columbus Park is the central social gathering place of this population. Here we came across women playing cards and men playing dominoes.

The Eastern States Buddhist Temple has about a dozen small Buddhas, but the free-admission Mahayana Buddhist Temple is larger and has a tall golden Buddha in its main area. Since we were strapped for time and money, we stuck with the free one.

Chinatown in New York City

Welcome to Chinatown


LITTLE ITALY is right next to Chinatown (it used to be much bigger but has gradually been absorbed into Chinatown). Now there’s just the one area of Mulberry Street, between Canal and Broome Street. Since it is right next to Chinatown, and the food is much better, it’s worth walking over. We sat at one of the outdoor tables on a street lined with fire hydrants painted green, white, and red, and ate delicious biscottis and cookies from a local bakery.

Anyone who prefers cookies to eel will appreciate this area!

According to my guidebook, the most exciting occurrence in this area is the eleven-day Feast of San Gennaro, a large street fair in September that celebrates the Italian culture and San Gennaro as Naples’ Patron Saint. Since we were there in July we missed this event, but I hope to make it next year.

Manhattan Bridge

Manhattan Bridge - view from Chinatown/Canal Street

ASTORIA The largest Greek population outside of Greece has been in Astoria since the 1960s. This traditional neighborhood is worth a look and has several Greek Orthodox churches, plus the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Greek and Roman Galleries that had a $220 million renovation. We spent about two hours here looking at a sampling of the thousands of pieces, including human sculptures, coffins, grave markers, pottery, and other relics. I loved the coffins and grave markers as I feel they give you a sense of the people who lived and died there.

For something a bit less morbid try shows at the Greek Cultural Center, which are held in the basement of a row of houses and are only in Greek. My sister doesn’t have patience for Greek so we skipped an authentic show and headed to Broadway instead.

NYC Park off of Chambers street. Find it when you walk up Broadway (S to N) towards Chinatown. A great place to have a picnic lunch!

SPANISH HARLEM is filled with music from mariachi trumpets, salsa bands, drummers and dancers. Though the name “Harlem” has a bad rap, we felt perfectly safe there walking around during the day. We had an amazing home-cooked meal at one of the restaurants, which included roast quail and a seafood salad, followed up with pineapple cakes from the Valencia Bakery that are often used at weddings.

Needless to say, we were stuffed by the end of that little snack. We took a break to let our food digest and sat in Thomas Jefferson Park where they have benches, sculptures and a flower garden.

Once we were able to move again, we took advantage of the great location and visited a couple museums. (You can’t visit NYC without checking out a few museums!)

9-11 memorial across from Ground Zero

9-11 memorial across from Ground Zero

LITTLE POLAND in Greenpoint, the northernmost part of Brooklyn just north of the trendy Williamsburg, may not be the most visited tourist spot but for me it is dear to my heart. My grandmother is Polish so I always feel a special connection to her when we walk around this area.

The small but neat apartments with gardens in the back, meat stores with kielbasas, Polish bread and babkas in the bakeries, and the grocery stores with sauerkraut, pickles, and jams are all essential parts of Polish culture. There may be other places in America that have this authentic atmosphere but I have yet to see them.

If you’re looking for a weekend getaway that provides diversity and fun without breaking the bank, NYC is the place to be.

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Blogger Samantha Wilson's cat Patches

My cat Patches keeps hold of my cell phone so that work can go uninterrupted

Samantha Wilson has been to many exciting places, including New York, Niagara Falls, Texas, Arizona, Ireland, England, Spain, Hungary, Austria, Cyprus and more. Her friends describe her as adventurous yet responsible. She travels a lot—and often “last minute”—but her trips are always researched and planned out. She also enjoys helping other people plan their trips and get ideas of things to do that are good deals or off the beaten path. Samantha likes writing about her travels because it helps her relive the great memories. And she says, “I know from experience that reading other people’s adventures helps with my own!”

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    10 Comments

  • Julia
    Twitter: wordsxo
    says:

    We drive through NYC often on our way to visit family and you’ve given us some great spots and excuses for making a detour into the city on our way! Wonderful!

  • JM Merchant
    Twitter: JMMerchant86
    says:

    I’ve still not made it to the States and have never been overly keen to visit NYC (not sure why!) but I think you may have just changed my mind 🙂

    O and welcome to Milliver’s Samantha
    Jo

    • Samantha says:

      Jo,
      I think NYC has a bad image. It seems to be known for being dirty and crowded but really there are tons of great spots and it is worth the trip! It isn’t even that dirty 😉
      Samantha

  • Ann
    Twitter: AnnHolly
    says:

    Oh, this is AWESOME! I knew about Chinatown and Little Italy, but not all the other ethnic towns-within-a-city! I love it! What a great walking tour of New York! Thanks!

    • Samantha says:

      Ann, enjoy! Let us know if you come across any other great spots on your walk. It seems everytime I am there i discover something new.
      Samantha

  • Lisa Carter
    Twitter: intralingo
    says:

    Hi, Samantha!
    NYC is a place I went to for the first time just a month ago, and I only went to my partner’s aunt’s house overnight! We fly through again mid-November and though it may not be the best time for a walking tour I would definitely like to go to Chinatown for some weird delicacy, followed by a nice cappuccino and biscotti in Little Italy. For me ethnic areas are all about food and you’ve whet my appetite!
    Lisa

    • Samantha says:

      Lisa,
      If it doesn’t rain, Nov. might be good for walking. It is the perfect time to see the leaves change!
      In any case, you could take the subway right to Canal Street and keep the walking to a minimum.
      Thanks for the comment,
      Samantha

  • betsyv
    Twitter: betsy_v
    says:

    I love NYC! This is a great article and the pictures are awesome too!. I would always eat in Little Italy over China town! I just gotta have a cannoli, or some other Italian pastry if I get in that area of NYC!

    We are planning on going again sometime before Christmas! Love the lights and all that time of year!

    Thank you, Great work!

    • Samantha says:

      Haha, the slimy stuff in the windows of China Town doesn’t really appeal to me either. It is nice they are so close to little Italy!
      Have fun in the winter, should be beautiful.
      Samantha

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