Attention New Yorkers: There’s more to Chinatown’s culinary scene than Peking duck and pork buns.
The neighborhood is paradise for bargain-hungry food shoppers, according to chef Joey Campanaro, whose new Mediterranean-American restaurant, Kenmare, recently opened blocks from Chinatown.
“You can get things in Chinatown that you can’t find anywhere else — and they’re going to be better and less expensive,” said Campanaro, who lends his time to Market Table and The Little Owl, in addition to Kenmare.
The chef said he goes to Chinatown when he’s looking for inspiration, exciting ingredients and fresh fish at jaw-droppingly low prices.
Keep your eyes peeled for well-priced red snapper ($4.39 per pound) or fresh skate on the bone ($1.59 per pound).
“Whatever you cook that’s on the bone you’ll get a little more flavor, but it’s a little more work,” he said.
When shopping for seafood at Chinatown’s numerous fishmongers, it’s important to know a good fish from one you should throw back.
“You want to see clear eyes, red blood, and firm flesh — that means it hasn't been dead for too long,” said Campanaro said.
If you usually buy your produce in the supermarket, you’ll be shocked by both the low prices and the wide variety available in Chinatown — such as fresh snow pea shoots ($2.20 per pound).
Popular in Asian stir-fries, Campanaro suggested using the shoots in quick sautés with garlic.
For a healthy — and remarkably cheap — dessert, try Asian pears. At a price of four for $5, it’s no surprise that Campanaro called them “the best deal down here.”
Chinatown’s non-perishable gems
The deals don’t stop with fresh foods.
Chinatown is an ideal stop for buying condiments such as soy sauce and fish sauce, as well as interesting kitchen equipment, chef Joey Campanaro said.
“There are all kinds of cool gadgets down here — peelers, mandolines, things to cut vegetables in different ways,” he said.
Deal to pick up: Lemon sole ($1.99 per pound) is a delicate and flavorful flatfish that will certainly cost you more uptown. Campanaro suggested dusting lemon sole with a bit of flour, dropping it in a frying pan with some butter, garnishing it with a squeeze of lemon, and serving it whole atop steamed Chinese greens, like pak choi ($1 per pound).
Don’t go there: Though Campanaro is always on the lookout for new ingredients, there are some foods for sale in Chinatown that the chef won’t touch. “There are a lot of things down here that freak me out, like dried fish — I don’t even know what to do with that.”