Manhattan's Chinatown is a great food source. Especially for fish.
To the uninitiated, food shopping in Chinatown can be intimidating. But after just a few visits and getting acquainted with some of its quality fish and produce stores, this neighborhood can be a rich and value-packed resource.
Don't think of Chinatown as a place only for Asian ingredients, although it's certainly the place to find both familiar and exotic foods for Chinese, Thai and other Asian dishes. But you can equally buy beautiful fish and shellfish here and cook it in the Greek manner, with just a little olive oil and fresh oregano. While Chinatown is, in many ways, a closed community, it is also welcoming to city cooks looking for both quality and great prices. After all, business is business.
The best way to start is by taking the subway to Canal Street and walk to where Canal, Baxter and Walker Streets intersect. There's a tourist kiosk there where you can pick up a map of Chinatown. The neighborhood has hundreds of fish markets, produce stands, Chinese butchers, and pan-Asian grocers and all merit a visit. Wander the streets, enter the markets, engage the fish guys, and look. Much of Chinatown's commerce takes place on the street and sidewalk. Local knowledge advises not to buy produce or other food from sidewalk vendors only because you can't be sure how it's been kept and handled. But you'll see that many established and good quality markets spill out from their storefronts into the streets. It's how it's done there.
Using the same criteria for good, fresh food as you would for any market anywhere, here are some tips:
- Bring cash. Most of these markets don't take credit cards.
- Look at how the food is presented and stored. For the fish markets make sure that the fish is kept really well iced everywhere in the store.
- Check to see if the store is clean. Since these are fish stores and not Italian tie shops, expect to see water and signs of butchering the fish. But still it should be mopped up and washed down and smell briney, not unpleasant.
- Only buy fish that looks fresh and smells like sea water, not fishy. Fresh whole fish will have clear eyes (as opposed to cloudy) and shiny skin. A piece of cut fish will be firm and with uniform color, no bloody dark spots, and a nice sheen to the skin.
- Ask the fish monger when and where it was caught. If you have any doubts, don't buy it.
Chinatown Fish Markets
- Wing Ly Trading Inc.
87 Mulberry St. between Bayard & Canal
Smaller selection than some other markets but well-kept, very clean, high quality, good salmon and deep water white fish, live tilapia swimming in large tanks, live lobsters, shellfish, helpful English-speaking staff.
- Hong Keung Seafood & Meat Market
75 Mulberry St. between Bayard & Canal
Fish area in front of a larger market that also has a meat department and large grocery section, including a huge array of frozen foods. Good shellfish, filleted and whole fish cut to order. They'll pack in ice to make it easy to bring home.
- New Hai Cang Seafood, Inc.
71 Mulberry St. between Bayard & Canal
A smaller fish store with a quality, very well-kept selection. The fish aren't always labeled so you may have to ask what's what. Very helpful staff.
- Win Choy Food Market
218 Canal St. between at Walker & Baxter
A very large, very busy fish and shellfish market with incredibly low prices. On many days they offer 15 different types of shrimp in all sizes, from prices as low as $1/pound. Unlike most fish markets, here it's bag your own from the wooden trays holding whole fish, which is then cleaned and bagged by the workers. It's a bit chaotic and messy, but the inventory moves fast, the store's always crowded, and you can't beat the prices.
These are just a few from one section of this sprawling neighborhood. We'll be telling you about more Chinatown merchants in the coming weeks. But don't be shy to explore on your own.
And if you find fish, meat or produce markets in Chinatown that you love, please let us know so we can share the information with all our readers.
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