Manhattan's Little Italy and Chinatown have been home to Italian and Chinese immigrants since the 1870s and retain much of their nineteenth and early twentieth century feel both in the scale of the buildings (many are four or five story tenement-style structures) and in the sights, smells and sounds that immediately envelop one when walking the bustling streets. Bilingual street signs, the cacophony of shouted languages, and scores of open markets and pushcarts spilling onto the sidewalks vividly evoke the 'old country' while acting as living testament to the American melting pot.
As a major gateway for immigrants, these areas were and continue to be home to some of New York's most fascinating stores, restaurants, and cafés. This two-and-a-half hour walking seminar explores the immigrant experience of Little Italy and Chinatown through the food that these neighborhoods produce. Along the way we'll sample a variety of dishes, discuss their origins and meaning, and paint a portrait of how these immigrant communities have shaped New York City and American cuisine as we know it today.
Our walk starts on the northern fringe of Little Italy, at Prince and Mulberry Streets, in front of Old St. Patrick's Cathedral, the first Roman Catholic church in New York City. Old St. Pat's is a reminder of the successive waves of immigrants that came through lower New York: although only few visible vestiges remain, Little Ireland originally covered much of the territory now occupied by Chinatown and Little Italy and at times had more Irish residents than Dublin.
We then move south, passing New York's first pizzeria, founded in 1905, and head into Little Italy, perhaps stopping for authentic espresso and pastry before venturing into two of Little Italy's finest food shops, one featuring homemade pastas and another specializing in extraordinary imported Italian meats and cheeses. The heady fragrance of wheels of parmigiano reggiano pervades this small, crowded store, founded by great-grandfather DiPalo in 1910. His descendants love to talk about their products (one has moved back to Italy to manage the export business) and are generous with tastings. As we proceed to Chinatown, we'll pass dusty kitchenware shops stacked to the ceiling with crank pasta machines, rolling pins, and other culinary exotica, dry goods stores, and restaurants, where we will likely be accosted by waiters promising the best pranzo, (lunch) a custom imported from the streets of Naples and Palermo.
If Little Italy feels frozen in time, Chinatown is perhaps New York's most vibrant, evolving neighborhood. Although founded in the 1870s, Chinatown remained a relatively small bachelor enclave until 1943, when the jingoistic Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was repealed. It has grown explosively since the late 1960s, when immigration quotas were further relaxed, and in recent decades has become pan-Asian, with Vietnamese, Burmese, Thai, Cambodian, and Japanese immigrants, each contributing their own culinary heritage to the smorgasbord.
Restaurants have always been critical to the Chinatown economy: few tenements had kitchens, making cheap cook shops essential. Chinatown's markets are the city's most intriguing, with ingredients ranging from dried herbs and roots used medicinally, every variety of rice and noodle imaginable, to exotic fruits and vegetables. Chinatown's butchers offer Silky Black chickens and pig's blood, and the fish vendors have live fish swimming in tanks, awaiting the customer's selection. As whim dictates, we will meander down Mott and Mulberry Streets, noshing steamed dumplings, giant almond cookies, or barbecued duck, expertly chopped to order from the window displays tantalizing passers-by. As we make our way past Columbus Park, the scene of the riots portrayed in the motion picture Gangs of New York, we will conclude our walk in front of the oldest extant dim sum parlor, dating to the 1920s.
Note: The price of this walk (both small-group and private versions) includes light tastings and samplings along the way.
|Duration: 2.5 hours|
Cathy Kaufman is a trained chef and food historian with extensive experience in the food world in New York and beyond. After working as an attorney in New York for more than a decade, Cathy gained multiple degrees in cooking from Peter Kump's New York Cooking School and the School for American Chefs at Beringer Vineyards, California. She has worked in catering and restaurants in New York, and has been on the faculty at the Institute of Culinary Education. Since the late 1990s, she has written and taught extensively on the history of cuisine, including numerous articles for the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery. She is senior editor of the Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America and author of the recently published Cooking in Ancient Civilizations (Greenwood Press).
Danielle Oteri is an active lecturer and researcher on late medieval and Renaissance art. After a degree in graphic design, she moved to Florence, Italy where she discovered a painting by a Florentine master hidden in the collection of a noble Tuscan family. She completed her graduate work at Hunter College and has been lecturing at the Cloisters for over a decade. Danielle also works with the International Center of Medieval Art on programs, lectures and publications. She is the co-author of "The Insider's Guide to Little Italy" and is working on a book titled "Feast: Rituals and Recipes on the Brink of Extinction" about the celebrations of Italian saints in America.