Diversity. It’s a word that lots of cities claim, but few actually achieve. There are definitely plenty of cosmopolitan cities, but none seem to capture the essence of the world in a city like New York City. As Jovanotti put it in his song New York for Life, “There’s no place where you can find a piece of every place, New York is like a mirror where the world reflects its face.” Walking around NYC, your ears will buzz with the languages from all corners of the earth. It’s a magical and memorable experience that is not commonly found elsewhere. I realized that I never made an article on the ethnic neighborhoods in NYC. So here it is, a few of my favorite cultural neighborhoods in NYC.
Ethnic enclaves is one thing that New York City has plenty of. Through the city you’ll find more than 800 languages being spoken. In fact, the borough of Queens has more languages than anywhere else in the world. When thinking of ‘cultural neighborhoods’, iconic neighborhoods such as Chinatown or Little Italy stand out, but they are only two of many you’ll find exploring the city. There are many others you should include such as Little India, Greenpoint (Polish), Astoria (Greek), Steinway (Egyptian/North African), Lower Williamsburg (Hasidic Judaism), Crown Heights and BedStuy (Caribbean), Midtown (Korean town), Brighton Beach (Russian speaking), Little Brazil, Petite Alsace, Latin American, Uzbek and Bukharian, Washington Heights and the Bronx (Puerto Rican and Dominican) to name a few.
Over the years, I have written a few articles about New York City. Though some have been general reflections such as my thoughts on why everyone should visit NYC and others about my experience getting around the city with crutches.
Little India Queens NYC
I wrote a full article on Little India here, but it is definitely one of my favorites. The food is excellent and the experience is authentic. It is important to note that Little India doesn’t really consist of only ‘Indian’ people. In Little India, you’ll find Afghani, Bengali, Pakistani, Nepali, Tibetan, Korean and Latino among many others. It is a unique blend of cultural fusion found in the heart of the Queens borough. A must visit in my opinion.
Astoria Queens is primarily considered as a ‘Greek neighborhood’ but is much more than that. You can most certainly find a full Greek experience complete with a meze-style meal, but walking around you can see other influences such as street art and signage in Greek. Be sure to get a picnic in Queensbridge park also. It has a nice view of the bridge and the East river.
Greenpoint in northwestern Brooklyn is colloquially known as the Polish neighborhood. It’s home to a large number of Polish immigrants and a great place to try some Polish food and drinks. The neighborhood has become more expensive recently and this has unfortunately led to the loss of the purity of the Polish experience; however the community remains strong and many characteristics of this influence can be easily seen by walking around. If you’re of age and like vodka, definitely try Żubrówka, Bison grass vodka; it’s the best vodka I’ve ever tried. Make sure to catch the annual Polish parade too and spend some time in McCarren park on the weekend.
I wrote an article which contained a few things to do in Brighton Beach years ago when I first visited the city. Brighton Beach is most known for its Russian-speaking community. Not necessarily consisting of Russian people but also many Ukrainians and people from former Soviet bloc, such as the Caucasus or Central Asian nations. The food experiences are unique and it’s a great place to practice speaking Russian! It most definitely isn’t the only place where there are Russian speakers, but it has a higher concentration than others.
Chinatown is of the most well-known ethnic neighborhoods in NYC, but few visitors to New York realize that there is more than one China town. The neighborhood in lower Manhattan is the most frequently visited but Flushing Queens also has a Chinatown and it is a great place to eat and explore. It is also a lot less touristic.
K-town Manhattan is far smaller than the Korean town in Los Angeles, but should not be overlooked as a great place to eat, shop, or partake in a little late night karaoke. K-town is centrally located in Manhattan near the Empire State building area. Though it isn’t the only place to eat Korean food in NYC, it’s the go-to spot for many.
Washington Heights and the Bronx
Washington Heights and the Bronx are two different neighborhoods but they closely neighbor each other ironically in more ways than one. These are two neighborhoods with a high concentration of Puerto Ricans (boricuas) and Dominicans. Though these two have differences in culture there are lots of parallels in their way of life and foods. After living in Puerto Rico, I grew an affinity for the foods and would frequent these neighborhoods to find the best eats and street foods. These aren’t the only areas in NYC where Dominicans and boricuas but traditionally they are the most concentrated.
Crown Heights and BedStuy
Crown Heights and BedStuy are home to many of the Caribbean people who live in New York City. The annual Caribbean parade (also known as Labor Day parade or West Indian carnival) also takes place on Atlantic Avenue which is a unique event for the parade and culinary experience. These neighborhoods are your best bet if you are looking for jerk chicken, curries and more.
Lower Williamsburg and northern Bedstuy have the highest concentration of NYC’s Hasidic Jewish population. In some parts of Williamsburg, you’ll see almost all Hasidim walking the streets, while others will be more mixed. You’ll hear a lot of Yiddish and Hebrew being spoken as well as see writing in those languages. It is an interesting experience to learn about their way of life and traditions.
Located in northern Astoria, Steinway is a hub for many Arabs, particularly from North Africa and the Levant. This street is bustling with couscous, rice and meat dishes, and Egyptian-themed hookah bars. Perfect for a nice dinner and relaxation with some friends. A worthwhile experience if you enjoy Middle Eastern cuisine.
Located in Queens, Rego Park has a high concentration of Uzbek immigrants. This is one of the better places to visit in the city if looking for Central Asian cuisine. Many of the Uzbeki people who live in NYC are actually Bukharian people of Jewish faith. Though this does not account for all the Uzbek people, many Bukharians live in New York. There are some great eats in this neighborhood and it’s in a pocket of Queens that is not often visited by tourists.
If you were to continue walking east from Little India, you’ll quickly find that you are hearing only Spanish. Corona Park is a hub for many of the non-Caribbean Spanish-speaking community in NYC. This area is a great place to find South American food such as Ecuadorian or find other great latino street foods. It is a cultural blend of many aspects of Latin America.
Truthfully there is seemingly no end to the ethnic neighborhoods in NYC. The city has pockets of people everywhere and you never know where you are going to find a new ethnic or multi-cultural enclave in New York. The list of neighborhoods above is definitely not inclusive, but these are some of the best in my opinion mainly because of the concentration of stores, restaurants and people pertaining to the cultures that the neighborhoods are known for. There are many other places in the city but they are a lot more diluted. Which is your favorite ethnic neighborhood in NYC?
As part of my international at home series, I believe that when you live in a place you should get to know it. If you cannot physically travel, sometimes you can go on a great journey within your city.
Two more neighborhoods worth checking out