This past weekend I went to Chinatown by myself, just to explore. I’d been to the one in San Francisco and thought myself pretty well versed as far as Chinatowns go, but I stand corrected. New York truly rules them all.
After weaving my way past slow-ambling tourists and stalls of knock-off knick-knacks, I found a street that had less foot traffic on it. I took the street. And then another. And another.
Pretty soon, I was exactly where I wanted to be—out of the touristy section completely. I started going into grocery stores with ducks in the window and wandering into bakeries to check out the black bean pastries.
And then I found it.
An unmarked bakery/meat place/lunch spot. There was no English on the signs, but there were prices, and they seemed cheap. Of course, I went in.
Along one wall were these pastries that, I’m assuming, were filled with meat. I must have been admiring them long enough (and looking lost enough) that a worker took pity on my and pointed at the dishes, saying what they were. Unfortunately, I had never heard of them before.
And then she said it—that magic word. Chicken. Now THAT is a word I understand well. I politely listened to the rest of the display case worth of mysterious names, and told her I’d take it. She put three chicken rolls into a bag and gave it to me. In return, I gave her $1.25. It was a beautiful thing.
I walked outside and dove in as I walked. There was a mystery sauce smothering a mysterious part of the bird, so far as I could tell. But it was so worth it—absolutely delicious.
After my culinary adventure, I started doing what I do best: venturing into grocery stores. I found a fairly busy one, in whose window I recognized…nothing. It was perfect.
Immediately when I walked in, I had to circumnavigate a large display of painter’s buckets filled with unidentifiable liquids and even more indistinguishable meat. It was a sight to see, and a smell to behold. What a glory. From octopi legs (hazarding a guess here) on the floor to pig skins (maybe) hanging from the ceiling, it was a warning sign warding off tourists who stumbled in. People better than I would have high-tailed it out of there.
I was not deterred.
I wandered up and down the aisles of this Korean grocery store in Chinatown, finding along my way Indian incense and Japanese seaweed–what united them was their pricing.
So to sum up: an inventory of my purchases. One delicate porcelain dish, painted with blue in a floral pattern all along the inside. A bag with a pound of crystallized ginger in it. A roll of foil cupcake liners. I spent less than 5 dollars, and walked out past the mystery display feeling proud.
And then it happened.
In a small shop on the same street, I found the most beautiful Yankees baseball cap (I have wanted one for months now). I had promised myself I would come back on a weekday in pursuit of the best bargaining price, but this was it. Love at first sight. I bought it on the spot—even throwing in all my pennies—for about $13.59 (the asking price was $20).
In doing so, I exceeded my self-imposed, arbitrary price limit of $7. But I found exactly what I was looking for. It is grey and looks worn in—need I say more?