We’re heading into the final stretch of summer, and you may be running out of time to squeeze in a vacation abroad. But if it’s cultural experiences you’re after, there’s no need to go further than your closest subway stop. Read on for our tips on how to swap out your passport for a Metro card and take a vacation in your own city.
Chinatown, Downtown Manhattan
OK, if you live in New York you’ve probably been to Chinatown before. But you probably didn’t know that it’s home to the largest concentration of Chinese and Chinese-Americans in the Western Hemisphere. That fact alone merits another trip to Mott Street for some further exploration.
To eat: Most blocks in Chinatown are packed with amazing, cheap food, so here’s a great opportunity to forgo Yelp and take the chance go with your gut. Or, go with our gut and grab a seat at Wo Hop, one of Chinatown’s longest-standing establishments at almost 80 years old.
To see: Most visitors to Chinatown stick to Mott Street, but venturing throughout the rest of Chinatown bears geographical similarities to wandering through China itself. Just like in China, if you head South (on East Broadway) in Chinatown, you’ll find a growing Fujanese community. Here, you’ll find the stuff your wildest grocery dreams are made of — from fresh bok choy to shrimp paste to fly agaric.
If you’re ready to experience Chinatown in a whole new way, start with a group glass or private lesson in Mandarin. See our class listings here.
Little Odessa/Brighton Beach, Brooklyn
This oceanside area of Brooklyn used to be a summer getaway for the super-rich, but during the 40’s and then later in the 70’s, huge numbers of Jewish Ukrainians began moving there, followed by many more Russians. Now, it’s a wonderful enclave of Russian food and culture very worth visiting, especially on a sunny day.
To eat: You can find pekaren (Russian bakeries) on every street. Try out a pirozhok, a flaky croissant-esque pastry that you can find in every flavor imaginable, from poppy seed to cherry to beef and mashed potato. They go for ~$1.50 apiece!
To see: The boutiques in the area are definitely worth some window shopping, especially if you are interested in boots adorned with (faux) fox heads. For a quick tour of everything Russian, pop into Saint-Petersburg Global Trade House. It’s a little touristy, but between the mugs in the shape of Putin’s head, the goat’s hair scarves, and the hand-painted matryoshka nesting dolls, you’re sure to find some treasures. And — of course — if you’re there at the same time as the warm weather, go down to the boardwalk to take a dip in ocean.
If you want to place your pirozhok order in Russian, check out some of our upcoming classes here.
Little Italy, Belmont, The Bronx
You may have been to Eataly, but have you been to Arthur Avenue? Just off the B/D/4 Fordham Road is the Bronx’s Little Italy, where you can find European charm and red sauce like nothing you’ve tasted in New York before.
To eat: Pasta and cheese are no-brainers here, but don’t miss the spreadable ‘nduja sold at Calabria Pork Store. Spoiler alert: not for the chili-shy. You can’t go wrong in Little Italy. Come hungry, wear loose-fitting pants, and don’t skimp on the mozarella.
To see: Just wandering along the Avenue itself, it’s easy to forget you’re in New York in the 21st century. Italians started moving to this area of the Bronx in the late 1800’s, and it’s retained a lot of that old-world feel. The tables lining the streets in the summer are decorated with red-checkered tablecloths, and you can smell fresh pizza from every nook and cranny year-round. There are pushcarts along the sidewalks, passed down from generation to generation, and the vendors are chatty and kind, so don’t be shy!
Want to be able to ask that chef about her secret recipe? Find our Italian classes here.
Le Petit Senegal, Harlem, Manhattan
Uptown, at 116th Street, you can find the neighborhood of Le Petit Senegal, or “Little Senegal.” Here, you can find everything from Tam Tam music to heated soccer-viewing congregations.
To eat: For affordable, authentic Senegalese food, check out Africa Kine, one of the first Senegalese restaurants to ever open in Harlem. Order the thieboudienne — the national dish of Senegal.
To see: Make sure not to miss Malcolm Shabazz, an outdoor marketplace selling everything Senegal-related you could imagine, and more on top of that. Here, you will see colorful dashikis, beaded jewelry, Afrocentric artwork, shea butter and soaps… and that’s just the start of it.
If you want to get in on the soccer game trash talk, or learn more about the jewelry vendor’s work, see our French classes here.
Little Egypt, Astoria, Queens
During the 1970’s, as the Arabic population of New York grew, Steinway Street became home to more and more Egyptian immigrants. Take a stroll between 28th Ave and Astoria Boulevard, and you can find restaurant patrons watching al-Jazeera, swanky hookah bars, and high-quality, low-cost shawarma.
To eat: Take a tip from us (and Anthony Bourdain) and get dinner at Mombar, where you can eat all the molukhia and fatta your heart desires while surrounded by the restaurant’s collection of Egyptian art.
To see: This micro neighborhood only takes up a few blocks of Astoria, a neighborhood with plenty to offer, especially for film buffs. Head South to check out Kaufman Astoria Studios or, for a more interactive experience, the Museum of the Moving Image. But small as it is, take the time to soak in the streets of Little Egypt itself. In recent years, Middle Eastern communities all over the United States have come together in solidarity and fortification against Islamophobia and xenophobia. Little Egypt is a particularly moving example of that effort. Even within the past six months, organizations offering services like immigration advocacy and Arabic-language legal support have opened. Walking through Little Egypt is a reminder of what communities have the power to do when they come together.
Take the chance to connect, and check out our Arabic classes here.