By Alex Schmidt
Despite the shower on Saturday, I decided to make my way Downtown for the fourth biannual Taste of Chinatown. I wasnt alone. Huddled around the storefronts of 51 participating eateries, small mobs of visitors sampled $1 and $2 dishes while holding umbrellas or just acquiescing to the downpour.
Theyre all wet and theyre just hanging around to eat. Im, like, impressed, Bonnie Wong said. As president of Asian Women in Business, the organization that conceived the Taste and runs it each year, Wong had been nervous that the rain would keep visitors away. But as she stood outside in a fuchsia waterproof jacket surveying the scene, crowds of people made their way around the heart of Chinatown Mott, Elizabeth, Mulberry, Bayard, Mosco and Pell Sts., all of which had been closed off to traffic for the event.
The group created the Taste of Chinatown as a way to bring business to Chinatown. This year, organizers printed books stuffed with coupons to lure visitors back after the Taste, and added a luau pavilion, a tent with chairs and tables surrounded by inflated palm trees that stood soaking in the rain. Next time, said Wong, they will have more tents to better prepare for storms.
I found it difficult to compete with the crowds in the rain, but I was determined and finally made my way up to a stand that was offering traditional dishes. The proprietor gave me one spring roll for $1 and one fried chicken wing for $1. When I complained about the high price, he plopped three more wings on my plate. The food was good, if a bit greasy.
At another stand that I fought my way up to, they were offering what looked like fat, triangular tamales. The owner unwrapped what he said were eucalyptus leaves to reveal a densely packed pyramid of rice with peanuts and pork in it. He put it on my plate, and for a split second my hand gave way under its weight. This dish, by contrast, cost $2 and I was stuffed after eating it. After the tamale, all I had room for was a superb, perfumed ginger tea.
Dan Corcoran, who was visiting New York from Seattle, got a similar value for his money. I spent $6 on food and Im full, he said. Though typical dishes like lo mein and spring rolls are available at the Taste, Dan Corcoran said he came for the things you dont have where you live. On Saturday, he tasted duck, octopus and Japanese sausage that looked like Spam, all of which he liked.
In addition to food, people came to the Taste for entertainment. A traditional lion dance was cut short due to the rain, but visitors voted for the Best of the Taste of Chinatown, participated in a fortune cookie writing contest, and children did arts and crafts organized by the Museum of the Chinese in the Americas, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Childrens Museum of the Arts.
The results of the votes for Best of the Taste and the fortune cookie writing contest are expected in the next two weeks. At that time, too, organizers will have tabulated the results of surveys completed by the participating businesses. In past years, it wasnt unusual for eateries to make $3,000 selling their tastes, and though the rain made for a smaller crowd, turnout was still good. It means Chinatown does have something to offer people, said Wong. Of the Taste, she added, Its working.