New York City: Places to Explore

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Chinatown

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Chinatown is a living, breathing, anything-but-quiet ethnic enclave: a quarter of the city's nearly 700,000 Chinese residents live here. The neighborhood started as a seven-block area, but now covers some 40-plus blocks above and below Canal Street (encroaching on what was once a thriving Little Italy), with 200-plus restaurants serving every imaginable regional Chinese cuisine crammed into about 2 square miles. Head to Mott Street, south of Canal, Chinatown's main thoroughfare, where the first Chinese immigrants (mostly men) settled in tenements in the late 1880s. Today, the street is dense with restaurants, hair salons and barbershops, massage parlors, bakeries, tea parlors, and souvenir shops, as well as Buddhist temples, herbalists, and acupuncturists. The few blocks above Canal overflow with food shops selling vegetables and fish (some still alive and squirming). Walk carefully, as the sidewalks can be slick from the ice underneath the eels, blue crabs, snapper, and shrimp that seem to look back at you as you pass by. If you plan it right, you can create a movable feast, starting with soup dumplings, a specialty from Shanghai, and continuing with Peking duck, a yellow custard cake, and a jasmine bubble tea, each at a different place. A city tourist-information kiosk on a traffic island where Canal, Baxter, and Walker streets meet can help you with tours, and also has a map that's very useful for unraveling the tangled streets in the area.

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