Throughout my travels in North America, I’ve had the opportunity to visit a few different “Chinatowns” or “Little Italy’s”. I’ve seen firsthand these little enclaves of culture in Victoria, Vancouver, and San Francisco, and have spent much time in our own versions right here in Toronto. These neighbourhoods act as reminders of the different waves of immigration experienced by these large metropolises over time, many of which still reflect their historical significance through their architecture, preserved cobblestone streets, tiny alleyways, and original street layouts. Of all these neighbourhoods I’ve been able to visit, New York’s Chinatown and Little Italy have left the biggest impression on me.
This isn’t to say that these areas of Victoria, Vancouver, San Francisco and Toronto aren’t spectacular in their own right (especially the Chinatowns on the West Coast, such as Victoria’s, which is historically the oldest Chinatown in Canada), but I’ve got to hand it to New York for making you feel like you’re in another world when you’re walking through these areas.
Before I made my way to these two neighbourhoods, I took a quick detour to visit one of my favourite bakeries, Sugar Sweet Sunshine. Situated on the Lower East Side on Rivington Street between East Houston and Delancey, this little gem of a bakery acted as the perfect refueling spot for my next tryst with New York.
I normally get a cupcake whenever I’m here, however when I walked in I was unsure of what to order. I asked one of the girls behind the counter what she’d suggest — her response was handing me a sample spoon of something I’ve never tried from them before, their Chocolate Chip Cookie Pudding. It was incredible. I ordered a “shot”, which was basically the size of those little paper cups that accompany water coolers, and ate it with the tiny sample spoon that the girl had given to me, savouring every little morsel.
I wish I could have gotten a picture to share, but the place was packed both inside and on their tiny sidewalk patio. Instead here are some photos I borrowed from the bakery’s page on yelp:
Refuelled on cookie pudding goodness, I made my way back a few blocks west to continue my walk down Bowery. From here, I’d first enter Chinatown, which spills onto Bowery and continues eastwards towards the Williamsburg Bridge.
I picked a random side street and turned right. I was immediately thrown into the winding chaos that is Chinatown. The streets are so small they might as well be alleys, and they’re all lined with a plethora of markets and shops with overhanging fire escapes extending down from the apartments above.
Look closely, I managed to get a shot of some sailors 😉
Chinatown and Little Italy abut each other, with Chinatown slowly encroaching upon Little Italy more and more each year. I made my way to Mulberry Street (which I’d say is the backbone of this entire area, and even made up one of the “points” of the “Five Points” back in the day), made another right, and headed up to my beloved Little Italy.
My inaugural visit to New York’s Little Italy occurred in 2009. Without knowing it, we had arrived during the Feast of St. Anthony of Padova, held by the Society of Saint Anthony of Giovinazzo and sponsored by the Most Precious Blood Church located on Mulberry (a church, which we found out on that first trip, had a priest that was originally from Toronto). The actual dates of the festival varies per year, but it generally lasts from late May into early June. During this time Mulberry Street is closed to traffic and becomes filled with street vendors, pedestrians, revellers, and a life-sized effigy of St. Anthony that is often paraded through the festival on the shoulders of men.
History repeated itself on this trip, as I once again found myself in the midst of this street festival without any forethought.
I love Little Italy. From its cobblestone streets, to its gelato stands, to its overhanging sign welcoming you as you set foot into the neighbourhood, I always feel like I’m actually in Italy when I’m here, and it particularly reminds me of one of my favourite cities, Naples.
I walked amongst the stalls, slowly making my way up the street, taking in as much of it as I could. I said a silent “hello” to the statue of Saint Anthony, purchased some cute scarves from a street vendor (two for $12!), all the while mentally bathing in the aroma of all the amazing Italian food I was smelling.
If I could stand on one of Little Italy’s street corners and bask in its energy all afternoon, I would have. However, my body was slowly becoming so tired that it was difficult to continue walking if I stopped and lost my momentum. So, I trudged on, making my way through SoHo to the 1 subway line to head uptown.
Day one in New York was waning, and I needed to make a pit stop to drop off the bags I’d been lugging around the city all day. Plus, I had to freshen up as I had more than a day’s worth of dirt on me, including that obtained from the overnight bus ride and all the walking I had done up to that point. Hopefully I didn’t make any bad impressions on anyone with my bag lady appearance and accompanying “eau de toilette”.