Sunset Park is the largest of Brooklyn’s Chinatowns. Yep, there’s more than one. Follow this guide and discover what to see, where to go and what to eat, and you’ll quickly fall in love with the bright and dizzying culture. Whether it’s the incredibly cheap produce or the inexpensive snacks, there is sure to be something that you’re going to want to purchase — but the people-watching and window -hopping game is strong in this neighborhood, so even just a couple bucks is enough to make a day of it.
Start by picking one or two of your friends who will want to eat awesome ethnic food with you, then take the N train to 8th ave, (or ride your bikes…stupid fare hike). Just to the right of the station is a grand supermarket called Fei Long Market. We’ll visit there before we leave, but first we’ve got to get some sustenance for the journey.
Head over to New Saigon Restaurant (5906 8th ave between 60th and 59th St). Order the Vietnamese spring rolls ($5.95 for four rolls, $8.95 for eight) and the grilled pork or chicken on angel hair vermicelli ($9.95). The spring rolls are small, crisp, and delicious.
If you’ve never had Vietnamese spring rolls, you’re in for a treat. They are served with mint and lettuce leaves, and occasionally with fresh cucumber and strips of pickled daikon and carrots as well. Grab a lettuce leaf, lay down a mint leaf or two and if you’ve got the extras, add those. Place your spring roll in the middle and wrap the lettuce around it. Dip into the sauce and go to town on this crispy, salty, refreshing appetizer.
The grilled pork dish is the same process, but this time there is a small mat of cold rice vermicelli to add to the party. The pork is typically topped with chopped peanuts and scallions, so if you’ve got an allergy, speak up. And don’t be shy about asking for more lettuce or mint. The mint really is key. There are plenty of other things to order here, but don’t ruin your appetite because we’re not done munching and crunching down 8th Ave.
Let’s take a break from the food and digest while we check out Sweety Shop across the street, at 5911 8th Ave. You can easily spend 15 minutes in this shop without seeing all the wares on hock. If you’re in the market for iPhone bedazzlements, strange stuffed animals, polka-dot headbands, or Hello Kitty vegetable peelers, you’re in luck.
Walk further down 8th Ave toward 54th St, our next refueling stop. Navigate your way past street vendors, watch repairman, cobblers and dollar stores with knock-off Transformer toys and RC helicopters. At 5323 8th Ave, you’ll see the wood panels of Nyonya, a Malaysian restaurant that never ceases to please me. This cash-only spot is a whirlwind of flavors and smells.
The roti canai ($2.95) is reason enough to go here. Order one or two depending on how many people you have. It’s perfectly acceptable to eat one by yourself, or to share. Wash your hands after ordering because the roti canai is finger food.
Rip off pieces of the crunchy, pliable dough and dip it in the chicken curry sauce that dreams are made of. It’s not a spicy curry, but it is full of flavor that is rich and deep. The kind of flavor that comes from years of practice and perfection and hours of prep. This is one of the must-have dishes of your visit. If you come to Brooklyn Chinatown and get one thing, let this be it.
Nyonya has more to offer however. Other sharing options include Curry Soup with Young Tau Foo ($7.50) which is another rich coconut curry. Young Tau Foo refers to a bean curd stuffed with shrimp paste and deep fried. Also bobbing about with the bean curd are big pieces of Japanese eggplant and long hot pepper, both stuffed with shrimp paste. This soup is available with noodles as well, but I don’t suggest it.
It’s an intense dish, but the taste isn’t overly fishy — it’s a little spicy and incredibly addicting. If it sounds like too much for you to handle, there are other options. Go for the Crispy Golden Fried Squid ($10.95), which are perfectly fried and served with raw bell peppers and red onion, or try the stir-fried noodle dish, Chow Kueh Teow, ($6.50) a Malaysian street food staple of flat rice noodles with fresh shrimp, squid, bean sprouts, egg, soy sauce and chili paste. To round everything out, get a side of coconut rice ($1).
After you’ve had your fill, start walking back down towards the train station. In fact, walk right past it to 64th St, and go inside Fei Long Market. A supermarket and mall with a food court and bathrooms, this alone could be a destination for those unfamiliar with the Sunset Park Chinatown. Fei Long is a high-volume, low-cost superstar; everything is likely to be way cheaper than you’ve seen in a long time. That’s why we saved it for last, because you’re likely to stock up on seasonal fruits, or Korean seaweed snack. Either way, the train is close by, so go wild.