Report From Chinatown


Last Friday, a long line waited for the National Guard to arrive and distribute food and other disaster relief.

Meanwhile, trucks — some bound for Chinatown — are loaded at the 69th Armory on lower Lexington Avenue.

Friday at 4pm Chinatown was a mess. A long line waiting for distribution of disaster relief ran down the east side of Bowery from the Manhattan Bridge, took an abrupt turn at the statue of Confucius, and continued two blocks further up Division Street. Thousands stood patiently on line for hours for MRE-style emergency meals, usually eaten in combat situations. Other than that, New York’s oldest Chinatown was a ghost town. Nearly all restaurants, markets, dumpling houses, ginseng shops, curio stores, greengrocers, beauty parlors, and bubble tea parlors were shuttered, and only a few pedestrians scurried through the streets under still-threatening skies. The outlook was bleak, and power would not be restored till the next day.

[See Where to Eat, Donate, and Volunteer for Sandy Relief This Week]


Friday, Doyers Alley was nearly deserted. Nam Wah Tea Parlor on the left

What a change was to be seen on Sunday, after the electricity had returned. At that point, 95 percent of the businesses had reopened, and there was lots of activity going on, though the fact that few tourists had returned meant that most restaurants yawned emptily.

The produce stands and fishmongers of Grand Street had once again raised their awnings, as had the cafés and bakeries of Mott Street below and above Canal. Less activity was to be seen along Fujianese East Broadway, and especially farther east along Henry, Monroe, and Madison streets, which where directly affected by the hurricane’s surge. Most of Chinatown had been above above the flood line — though torn awnings and storm detritus were to be seen here and there.

Still, a half-full Chinatown is a sad Chinatown. Wages there are low, and often directly dependent on the volume of customers. Real estate costs are among the highest in the city. Many of the usual visitors who go to Chinatown for food, shopping, or just the general experience have problems of their own and might not be returning soon. Tourism has slowed to a trickle in the storm’s wake.

The good news is that the neighborhood is up and running and unbowed. The sellers of $1 Hong Kong cakes are lining up on Canal Street with $2 noodle carts. Duck shops, dim sum parlors, and dollar dumpling stalls are all ready and waiting. Please make a point of visiting soon.

Sunday at 4 p.m., with electricity restored and the sun making its premature Daylight Savings departure, Chinatown stood ready to receive visitors. Unfortunately, few came.

Next: More photos


The fishmongers and grocers of Grand were all open for business yesterday afternoon.

The Golden Steamer was ready for business . . .

. . . while Sheng Wang stood ready to whip you up a plate of stir-fried peel noodles with baby bok choi and egg.

About half the usual number of market tables were set up on Mulberry Street, just below Canal, selling longans, dragon fruit, star fruit, and red spiny rambutans.

On Bayard, Homer beckons you in for a bubble tea.

Congee Village on Allen Street remained shuttered.

Best dim sum in Chinatown: Royal Seafood

See a post-hurricane report from Coney Island