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Chinese Food In NYC: Expert Spotlights What's Changing

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) - The Chinese restaurant scene in New York City is more exciting than ever, thanks in large part to immigration, says Serena Dai, editor of Eater New York.

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"There's been this huge boom in the population of foreign-born Chinese people in New York since the year 2000. It's [increased] nearly 50 percent between 2000 and 2015, which is huge," she said.

Mapo Tofu at Szechuan Mountain House
Mapo Tofu at Szechuan Mountain House (credit: CBS2)

In addition to larger numbers, Dai says more regions of China are now represented in New York.

"In the past, a lot of the Chinese immigrants were either Cantonese or Fujianese, so that means a lot of the restaurants that were opening were also of that vein. Now, people in New York from China are coming from all over the place, so you see a huge diversity in food people want to eat," she said.

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Pockets of immigrants are building vibrant hotspots for Chinese dining.

"There are like nine Chinatowns in New York now," Dai said. "East Village, for example. You wouldn't really think of it as a Chinatown, but there are tons of Chinese restaurants there now, in part because there was this huge boom in the number of international students at NYU, which is very close to the East Village. So there was totally a market for Chinese restaurants that not only had flavors that were super true to what's happening right now in China, but they're [also] stylish."

Tofu Skins and Dipping Sauce at Friendship B.B.Q.
Tofu Skins and Dipping Sauce at Friendship B.B.Q. (credit: CBS2)

As the local dining landscape evolves, Dai says that New Yorkers are increasingly knowledgable about the regional distinctions of Chinese cuisine.

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"New Yorkers are obsessed with Sichuan food," she said.

She says that perceptions of Chinese food as cheap takeout are slowly but steadily evolving.

"I think, traditionally, in downtown New York, people conceive of going out to eat and having a night out with friends as food that's maybe French or Italian," she said.

But now, stylish downtown Chinese restaurants are increasingly favored for special occasions.

As regional specialities become readily available, some Chinese menus might look unfamiliar to New Yorkers. Dai believes this should not be a barrier.

"Just go and enjoy the food, and decide whether or not you like it. Anyone is welcome at any of these restaurants," she said.

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Friendship B.B.Q.
36-22 Union Street
Flushing, NY 11354
(917) 563-7856

Szechuan Mountain House
23 St. Marks Place
New York, NY 10003
(917) 388-3866

What's something few people know about but everybody should? Whatever it is, Elle McLogan is tracking it down on The Dig. Join her hunt for treasures hidden across our area. Follow Elle on Twitter and Instagram.

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