Once upon a time, I rode the subway for almost an hour, on a chilly Saturday afternoon—it must have been early March—to have a late lunch at a Cantonese restaurant off Canal Street. It was an elegant, old-fashioned place, with faux-leather chairs and wooden screens. The waiters politely stayed away as I dawdled, studying the menu as if I were trying to spot an error. I ended up ordering a few things I always get: garlicky stir-fried lettuce and crispy calamari covered in salt and pepper. It was the last time I ate in Chinatown.
More than four months into quarantine, I often find myself thinking about that meal, and many others I’ve enjoyed in Chinatown. Inside the great hall of Jing Fong, friends, families, and strangers shared big round tables under elaborate chandeliers, and less patient customers, like myself, chased after waitresses pushing dim-sum carts to track down the chicken feet or precise type of dumpling that we were craving. In hot-pot restaurants, the steamy air and smell of chili-pepper oil conjured up a cozy warmth that could drive away the tug of loneliness. On the streets, venders selling bright lychee, spiky durian, and hefty mangosteens in mesh nets and plastic containers offered a little tropical sweetness you could bring home to relish before your next visit.
Restaurants, groceries, and bakeries are the heart of Manhattan’s Chinatown—one of the oldest in the country, a community that dates back to the eighteen-seventies. They have long fed New Yorkers with their wide-ranging cuisines, from northwestern China’s Lanzhou-style hand-pulled noodles to Malaysia’s Hainanese chicken rice. These businesses are also, for many Chinese immigrants and their families, a way of life: people from all walks of life come to America and shuffle around Chinatowns across the country, washing dishes or delivering meals, dreaming of owning their own restaurant one day.
Since the coronavirus broke out this spring, the plummeting foot traffic from tourists and residents has hit Chinatowns especially hard. President Trump has insisted on calling the disease “the Chinese virus,” and racism explicitly targeting Asians has been on the rise. “Some of the seniors are afraid to go to the grocery store,” Wellington Chen, the executive director of the Chinatown Partnership, tells The New Yorker欧洲杯买彩票, in the video above. But, in the midst of all of these challenges, many of Chinatown’s businesses are preparing to reopen. In the video, chefs and small-business owners share their perspectives on how the pandemic has changed the neighborhood, and how they are planning to adapt and evolve.
Since March, many restaurants have shut down or pivoted to takeout and delivery. A new Chinese-language app, Hungry Panda, gained popularity to deliver Chinese dishes and desserts from different boroughs of New York. But to some, the in-person experience of dining at a restaurant is irreplaceable. Chen Lieh Tang, the chef at the white-tablecloth Hwa Yuan Sichuan, has been skeptical of delivery apps; he would prefer for customers to eat his dishes—like a signature braised fish with hot bean sauce or the cold sesame noodles that his father introduced to the American palate—at the restaurant, properly plated and not ferried across town in a plastic bag swinging from a bicycle’s handlebars. But even Tang is adapting: his restaurant is now offering delivery on several apps. In the video, we see him carefully sprinkling a garnish into a takeout container. The emotion is evident in his voice when he talks about the challenges the pandemic has brought to his business and his beloved community. “Chinatown is so beautiful,” he says, a fist waving in the air. “New York City doesn’t belong to New York,” he adds, urging those who have the power to shape the city’s reopening and recovery to keep the neighborhood’s unique significance in mind. “It belongs to the whole world. It’s history.”