Downtown Manhattan

The Melting Pot in Downtown Manhattan

Lower Manhattan is an excellent place to explore the melting pot history of New York City.  Neighbourhoods such as the Lower East Side, Little Italy, Chinatown and Nolita are all an easy walking distance from each other.  And, the best part?  This historical exploration involves lots of food!

On our April trip to New York City, I signed my family up for the Enthusiastic Gourmet food tours of lower Manhattan.  Lead by Susan Rosenbaum, my kids immediately decided they liked her when our first stop of the day was Economy Candy, an Aladdin’s Cave of candy, gum and other sweets.

The Enthusiastic Gourmet
Susan from the Enthusiastic Gourmet at Economy Candy

We took her Melting Pot Tour from the Lower East Side through Chinatown and ending up in Little Italy.  Along the way, we sampled lots of different food and learned about the culture.  She did such a good job of keeping the kids’ attention, they didn’t even realise they were learning all about the history of the area.

The Melting Pot Tour of Manhattan with the Enthusiastic Gourmet

The Jewish Immigrants

The German and Eastern European Jews settled on the Lower East Side.  What did we sample?

Everyone knows about the bagel but there is also the bialys which are a relative of the bagel.  Bialys originated in Bialystok in Poland.  Although both bagels and bialys are made from unbleached white flour with yeast, bialys have roasted onions in the middle where there would be a hole for the bagel.

Susan was such a thorough tour guide she made us try a bialy as well as a bagel so that we could taste the difference.  The bialys are delicious especially if you are a fan of roasted onions like I am.

Another stop on the Jewish food tour was The Pickle Guys on Essex Street.  They are an entire store devoted to pickled food.  My son was in heaven because he loves pickles.  The items are pickled the old-fashioned way by setting them in large barrels in salt for months.  It’s not only pickles that are pickled but also garlic, celery, mushrooms, turnips, olives etc.

The Chinese Immigrants

In 1859, there were barely a couple of dozen men in New York City’s Chinatown.  At its height though there were 150,000 Chinese people living over an area of 50 city blocks.  Now, the Chinese population is about a 100,000 people.

Chinatown in Manhattan is an assault on the senses – the smell of food, the crowded streets, the chatter of people – all make this neighbourhood seem intensely alive.  There are more than 300 Chinese restaurants in the area!  Everywhere you look there are street stalls selling fruit and vegetables, restaurants with ducks hanging in the window and signs for bubble tea.

The Italian Immigrants

The Italians that showed up in New York City actually self- segregated themselves by their destination of origin.  For example, the immigrants from Sicily lived on Elizabeth Street and those from Naples lived on Mulberry Street. You have to remember these immigrants arrived in the days before Italy was a unified country.  As far as someone from Sicily was concerned, a person from Naples was from a different country.

Although the Italians from different regions originally didn’t talk or do business with each other, These prejudices eventually broke down.  Frankly, they had to.  By 1900 there were 100,000 Italians living in the 18-20 blocks that comprised of Little Italy.  Not talking to your neighbour was not an option in such crowded conditions.

Nowadays there are only a couple of hundred Italians who live in the neighbourhood even though there are still many Italian businesses.  Of course, we stopped by Di Palo, the Italian specialty food delicatessen and Ferrara Bakery and Cafe for their delicious cannolis.

The Podcast Episode with Dish Our Town

On a recent Just Go Places Podcast episode, Andrew Tolentino from the food and travel blog, Dish Our Town, mentioned many of the places that he would rate highly in these neighbourhoods.  In case you missed the podcast, here’s an overview of some of the highlights in video form.

You can find the full podcast episode on iTunes at Just Go Places Podcast or on the blog post which contains its show notes.

Downtown Manhattan
Image credit: Dish Our Town

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This post is part of the #TheWeeklyPostcard and #WeekendWanderlust and #wkendtravelinspiration link-ups.

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Travel Notes & Beyond

Published by

Shobha

I am an American expat based in London with my travel-loving family. I write at Just Go Places Blog about luxury, cultural and family travel.

28 thoughts on “The Melting Pot in Downtown Manhattan”

  1. Wow, all that food brings back memories of many day trips into New York when I was a kid. Bagels, of course, but also canolli! Yum! If you can tear yourself away from all that amazing food next time you’re there, you’d love the Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side. One of the best museums I’ve ever been to! Make an appointment ahead of time, though!

  2. I love Lower Manhattan architecture wise! There is so much color there! Haven’t tried any food though apart from Italian!

  3. I’m heading that way next week. New York has such an eclectic mix of people from all over the world. Some of the best pizza places are in Little Italy. Chinatown is another one of my favorite places to walk around, people watch and eat.

  4. What an awesome tour! Thanks for the bialys lesson. My husband works in a bakery. I am going to ask him if he knows of a recipe like that. During my last visit to New York, I think I visited Chinatown / Little Italy every day. We enjoyed the food so much!

  5. We are going to New York later this year so am loving the articles on the city. Very interesting reading about what a wonderful melting pot of cultures and of course food speaks to me

  6. This looks like so much fun! Of all the places we have visited, we have never been to New York. I would love to do a tour like this with my kids. Thanks for sharing. Found you on #WeekendWanderlust

  7. This what I like about immigration: it brings together so many culture, customs and foods that otherwise would be more difficult to discover. I, for instance, have never been to China, so unless the Chinese would not have opened so many great restaurants in the USA I would have never discovered their food. I love Manhattan and its diversity.

    1. I agree about discovering food locally. We love Afghani food which we found in a restaurant near us but would never travel there in its current troubles.

  8. I forgot to say “Thank You” for linking up to #TheWeeklyPostcard. Hope you’ll come back next week too.

  9. This looks a great way to learn more about the neighborhoods in New York. I’d definitely do a food tour in New York. One food NY is known for that I want to try someday is the knish. I added this to my pin queue.

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