Did you know that New York has not one but three Chinatowns? Sure, there’s the one in Manhattan centered around Canal St and the enormous one in Flushing, but a third Chinatown lies just south of Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn. Actually you could argue there are three Chinatowns in Brooklyn alone with large communities centered throughout south Brooklyn in Sunset Park, Sheepshead Bay and near Avenue U. The largest Brooklyn Chinatown in Sunset Park is not as limited by space as its more tourist-friendly Manhattan counterpart. The two and three story buildings that line 8th Avenue between 45th and 60th Street don’t block out the sun so the streets are bright. On a weekday, the streets are relatively quiet but families swarm the streets on the weekends to done together and do their food shopping for the week.
Can anyone identify this plant? Is it bamboo? Burdock?
I like Brooklyn Chinatown because I feel so out of place. The low buildings don’t feel very city-like and most of people you encounter are not there to gawk at the large vegetables (like I am). They are there to shop for food to feed their families. In fact, the population has recently exploded (since 2000) due to an influx of immigrants from the Fujan province of China. Fuzhou is the capital city of the Fujan province located in the south eastern corner of the country. Think of Fujan as the Florida of China. Just across the South China Sea is Taiwan. The mandarin-speaking Fujanese population first settled in Manhattan’s Chinatown (historically Cantonese-speaking Chinese) but shifted to the 8th Avenue area in Sunset Park at the start of this century due to rising rents.
So thousands of Fujanese people have built up a community in just under 20 years. There are restaurants, community centers, bars, tea houses, dim sum houses, clothing stores, banks, video stores and really anything you’d find on Main Street, USA. Oddly, amidst the hundreds of Chinese businesses is an Irish pub simply named Soccer Tavern. Their website boasts, “An Irish Pub in the Heart of Brooklyn’s 8th Avenue Chinatown.” Soccer Tavern was opened by Norwegians in 1932 and who made up most of the area’s original population as they manned the docks just a few avenues away. If your interested in the history of the area, listen to this radio clip.
The gist is that in the late 1980s the Norwegian bars and shops began to close. Nowadays Soccer Tavern is a place for older Irish regulars to mingle with the newer Chinese regulars. There’s cheap beer and off track betting if that’s your thing.
We stumbled upon Soccer Tavern with bellies full from dim sum. There was a pot of stew in the corner and fresh baked bread offered to us by the sweet Irish bartender. Us young ladies were treated with chorus of friendly hello’s when we came in and sad laments when we left. It’s a truly lovely place and feels like stepping back in time. Take a moment to laugh at the review from New York Magazine who so hilariously miss the mark and the charm of this place, “The kitchen-esque linoleum floor contributes to the underlying depressing-ness of this place. An American flag slumped in the corner and a jukebox playing old Coolio jams complete the picture. Also: no one here seems to particularly like soccer.”
So about the dimsum. We came here to eat and eat is what we did. The destination was Pacificana, one of the larger and fancier dimsum places along 8th Avenue. It may not be the BEST, I’m not at liberty to say, but it’s certainly delicious and I would highly recommend it. We arrived around 1pm, arguably late for dimsum and that was clear from the few roving carts of dumplings. It seemed like a lot of the specials had sold out. Still, we got our fill of congee, dumplings, shumai and chinese broccoli. Serious Eats has an informative visual guide...I was too embarrassed to take pictures with my SLR so I snapped a few with my iPhone. The highlight was these little fried balls of dough dipped in frosting, or properly referred to as “Fried Mantou with Condensed Milk.” I haven’t tested it, but this recipe looks like it might work.
Visit: Pacificana, 813 55th St Brooklyn, NY 11220
Full from dim sum we headed to a supermarket for sauces and produce.
My choice market in Brooklyn chinatown is Fei Long Market on 63rd St. If you have wheels, there’s a parking lot. And if you still have room in your stomach after dimsum there’s a full food court. From fresh durian to littleneck clams, Fei Long has it all. The produce section is particularly extensive, cheap and well-labeled! Without a grasp of Chinese characters (I have zero) I’m always skeptical of the labels on fresh fruits and vegetables I purchase in Chinatown, but Fei Long does a very good job of labeling its produce for white people.
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