By Sophia Hsu
As you step off the N train at the 8th Ave stop, you see tree tops and the sun shining through the branches. The Borough Park/Sunset Park area of Brooklyn is lush and green with low buildings. You get a sense that something is different here. Outside of the station you smell charcoal-grilled meats while cumin and hot chilies spice the air. In the dead of summer, you notice everyone carrying umbrellas (when there isn’t a cloud in the sky) and cups of ice cold bubble tea. You have definitely arrived in what many call Little Fuzhou. On most of 8th Avenue (between somewhere in the 40s to about 65th Street) all of the signs are written vertically in mostly traditional Chinese. While you can still hear some Cantonese and some Taishan dialects, Fuzhou is the prominent dialect these days. A convenient 4 stops from Canal Street to 8th Avenue on the downtown express N train, this neighborhood has been a more economical alternative to Manhattan’s beloved Chinatown. You may hear many people refer to the area as “ba da dao” in Mandarin, which simply mean 8th Avenue, or “xiao fu zhou”, which means little Fuzhou. The number eight is a very fortuitous number in Chinese superstition, so it makes sense that so many Chinese who could no longer fit nor afford Manhattan’s Chinatown would turn to Brooklyn’s 8th Avenue.
With this migration comes a wealth of culturally diverse foods and entertainment. The street food vendors provide many typically and atypical Chinese charcoal-grilled foods on a stick such as fish tofu, fish balls, hotdogs, chicken wings, whole squid, and spicy cumin lamb. A favorite Malaysian restaurant of mine that recently moved to 8th Avenue is called New Belachan. Open for lunch and dinner, you can order several dishes and still stay under $30 for four healthy appetites. The roti canai that comes with a bit of chicken curry on the side for dipping and the seafood-laden Hokkien noodles are addictive. If you like root beer, try the sasparilla while you are there as well. You’ll also find your staples like Quickly and Ten Ren, but T Baar is a lovely bubble tea stand in the heart of 8th Avenue. There is a multitude of restaurants packed into these dozen or so blocks, so I highly recommend that you come and gastronimically explore for yourself. Chances are, I’ll be there! If you are looking for a great group activity for an evening, make a reservation and one of many karaoke clubs. They have private rooms and bottle service making it slightly less embarrassing as you belt out your favorite tune in Mandarin, Cantonese, or English.
Within three blocks of each other, there are two huge Asian supermarkets. Hong Kong Supermarket is part of a chain here in New York with additional sites in Manhattan near Little Italy and formerly in Flushing as well. Many Taiwanese and Hong Kong specialty foods and drinks can be found at this location complete with its own convenient parking lot. There are two Fei Long markets on 8th Avenue, but the newer and far larger of the two boasts a private parking lot and large, economical produce section. One can find nearly any Asian snack food and beverage here. My choice snack of the moment is the seaweed flavored potato chips. You’ll have to try them to believe how delicious they are!