Monday, October 12, 2009

New York, NY - Chinatown

Okay, not be so whiny and to keep harping on this point, but we had a terrible time finding our hotel, but I won't belabor that point (i.e., driving in New Jersey).

Now even though we were in Jersey, we still had to pay for parking, which I find amazing. Sure, in NYC you expect it, but Jersey? Come on! They're trying to be like the city, but I don't totally buy it, especially when there's this massive BJ's wholesale club parking lot next door. I'm guessing there's always the danger of a break in, because the outlying area looked a bit rough.

Either way, it was late afternoon, and we figured we had time to hit the big city, not getting too ambitious, of course. We figured Chinatown was a reasonable goal, and dinner at one of my favorite places, Joe's Shanghai. Now hardcore Chinese New Yorkers will disparage Joe's because that's where all the tourists go, but I've eaten at other places, and you just can't beat Joe's steamed buns. A definite must-see stop for any tourist.

And you can't beat it for the experience. They sit you at communal tables that seat about 12 people, where you're dining with tourists and Chinatown locals. The food is great, and not too expensive, and you can't beat the overall experience. And then, of course, there are the buns. They make these amazing dumplings with crab and pork, and then wrap them up with hot soup inside. When you bite into it, you get a flood of killer soup, and then you get to eat the meatball.

We were a little wary of the kids eating them, because when they're fresh off the steamer, the soup can be scalding, but A&N did a fantastic job. A was great with her chopsticks, she loves a challenge, and N tried but finally resorted to his fork. For the record, he was not alone.

We feasted for under $25, which is a huge feat for four people in NYC, and then went for a walk. For the true down-and-dirty Chinatown experience, it's probably best to go on a weekend during the day. That's when you really get to experience the insanity of the place. The place is wall to wall people, selling and buying everything under the sun. Personally, I think it's overwhelming, but that's New York for you. Night is a little less crazy, but being night, brings out the scary people. It's mellower, though, and with kids, that's more desirable.

So keeping A&N close by, we braved the means streets of Chinatown and checked out the sights, which include lots of tourists and Chinese people, as well as an assortment of foods that you can't imagine people would actually eat. Of course the kids loved it all, especially the kitschy gifts and toys that every store seems sells, and got to introduce them to some unique treats. A&N are wonderfully open to trying new foods, and they might not like them, but they're adventurous enough to at least give them a try. It opens up entire worlds of culinary possibilities, and kudos to them for it. We sampled a few of our favorites, some they liked, some they didn't care for, but at least they went for it.

We stopped for ice cream at the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory, which is famous, but I personally think is mediocre. You have to go for the experience, because they have crazy flavors. Afterward, we were beat, and decided to head for home. Now when you stay in NJ, this becomes an adventure in and of itself, because you have to find the PATH trains in the city. This is not always an easy thing to do. The easiest thing would be to simply catch a cab and tel the driver to take you to the nearest PATH train. But that would be too easy, not to mention more costly. In the interest of frugality, and to get the true New York experience, which means walking, we hoofed it, and of course eventually found it.

One of the downsides of staying in NJ is that there is one additional step to get home. It's not huge, but enough to make it not as appealing, at least in my eyes. Either way, we were glad to get back to the hotel and get some sleep.

Just a quick note-I've noticed that the nicer hotels seem to nickel and dime you in terms of little things. I don't have a great deal of experience, but I seem to notice that the nicer hotels don't offer things like free internet and free bottled water. Makes me less inclined to stay there, but maybe they figure if you make an issue of it, then you can't afford to stay there. We saw this in Rome, as well.

Either way, until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to Herman Brinkman for the pic.

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