Canal Street: A Walk on the International Side
June 6, 2013

Canal Street: A Walk on the International Side

Canal Street will never be a place to go for a brisk walk—or an easy one with a stroller or toddlers who are likely to stop in their tracks to stare or to dart over to, the next bright, shiny, fluttering, or otherwise fascinating object.

In our experience, Canal Street crowds rivals Times Square’s at show time but of course, that’s part of the allure. It had been about a year since we’d walked Canal Street—back when Riley studied China in the third grade—so on Saturday, we took the A train down there and set off around noon for a leisurely stroll. It was the first hot and sunny day of the year so we stayed on the south side of the street because it was shadier. From that vantage, the north side brought to mind a crowded beach scene with a sea of umbrellas shading vendors and their wares from the sun’s harsh rays.

Thrilling Sights for All Ages

Canal Street teems with more than just people, however. It is chock full of exotic wares that you don’t find anywhere else in Manhattan. At Lafayette Street, Chinese signs and scenes become increasingly visible and a few blocks beyond, at Baxter Street, what we call “seafood row” comes into view. The open-front shops have prices so low, you swear to yourself that you will make the trek to Chinatown every time you’re planning to make a paella. Our children find this area particularly fascinating, as live eels, various fish, crabs, and lobsters swim and swish around in tanks and big buckets. We always end up having to answer the inevitable question about why those animals are there, and now that Riley and Halina are in fourth and second grades respectively, they understand the notion of the food cycle which helps a lot.

In this area, the produce stalls that line the street side of the sidewalk also begin to look less like anything we see in Morningside Heights and more like what we remember from Southeast Asia. It starts with lychee and star fruits, and progresses into rambutan, dragon fruit, wax jambu, and jack fruit. They are described as part “sweet” and “super sweet” on the signs advertising them, and worth taking home to try if you haven’t already.

 

Dried goods represent another source of fascination for all of us. You can find every manner of mushroom, marine animals, bean, roots, and other items for sale in heaps outside shops and at push-carts along the sidewalk. According to the signs, some are used for cooking and others have medicinal properties.

 

Hello…Who?

Young children can also be forgiven for thinking that Chinese people are way into Hello Kitty. In fact, the cat with the uplifted left paw is the Japanese “beckoning cat” (maneki-neko), a good luck charm. It is ubiquitous throughout the area in a variety of colors and applications (key chains, chocolate boxes, vases, decorative statues, etc.).

Once ubiquitous and now almost entirely gone is evidence of Little Italy which once dominated these streets. On this visit, there were lamp post banners commemorating the erstwhile border along Canal that used to delineate the two national identities. There was too much going on at street level to delve into that detail, but someday we will head north of Canal to show Riley and Halina how Little Italy comes into view.

Rounding out the trip, at the intersection of Chrystie Street lies Sara D. Roosevelt Park which features two large playgrounds and plenty of benches. If you are up for a short side trip, four blocks to the north of that, at Delancey Street, is the Hua Mei Bird Garden, where local bird owners gather with their fine feathered friends.

What neighborhood do you like to visit to see the world at home?


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