Chinatown is awesome. If you can deal with the smell of dead animals and fish, the occasional dead pig or cow sitting on the sidewalk, millions of people walking toward you, a live eel escaping from a bucket onto the street, and guys spitting everywhere as if it's mainland China, you are good to go.

Do you wonder why the hell everything is super cheap in Chinatown? Every time I go there, my head is full of question marks. A pound of shrimp is $7.30, instead of $14 at the regular fish monger, and the most impressive (or scariest) are the meat prices. Ground pork is usually $1.69 a pound!

Vegetables and fruits are also amazingly and unbelievably cheap.

This is all that I bought the other day.

3 scallions are $1. If you go there only for vegetables and fruits, $20 will give you so much that you may need to take a cab home.

Some notable items. 3 huge oranges for $2, 3 kiwis for $1, 2 persimmons for $1. Unfortunately the oranges weren't the best kind, but persimmons and kiwi are pretty awesome.

2 pounds of ground pork for a bit over $3, and a bag of shiitake mushrooms for $2.50. To make dumplings, Chinatown ground pork is the best since it's full of fat. Lean meat doesn't make good dumplings.

Yamaimo (mountain potato) for $1!!! At any Japanese grocery stores, this will be at least $6!

Another amazingly cheap item. Pack of king oyster mushroom (eringi) for $2.50.

I also got a napa cabbage for like $1.50, bag of mussels for $3, a whole daikon radish for $1, and a whole octopus for $9.83.

Who is right and who is wrong here? I go to Manhattan Fruit Exchange for vegetables, and they are pretty cheap compared to regular grocery stores, since they operate a wholesale business for the average person. But you can't compare anything to this level in Chinatown.

Can someone explain this? If vegetables are wilty, meat and fish smell old and bad, I understand, but they seem to be fine. Mussels were so plump and tasty, and shrimps were totally fresh. Who is charging the right amount?

I heard Japanese grocery stores' trucks (I won't name it but it starts with a "K") parked right next to these stores, and they buy cheaply, and repackage them and charge 3 times at their store. This is WRONG!

I also heard restaurants go to Chinatown instead of getting shipments from vegetable distributors since it's a lot cheaper to pay 'retail' price in Chinatown. Why? How can this business model be legit?

I am sure they have cheap labor, probably all of them were shipped from mainland, and their pay must be a lot lower than minimum wage. Still, it doesn't make sense. I also wonder why they only take food stamps, but no credit cards?

I don't get it. But I love it.
Column: UM Recession


  • That’s insane about this K market buying from Chinatown and reselling!!! SHAME ON THEM!!!

    I know that conscious eating and localism is huge right now, but in this recession, you really have to just survive! Viva Chinatown- down with overpriced Whole Foods! The average Joe just cannot afford you!!!

    Oh, but also gotta support the farmers so Viva Farmer’s Markets across the country!!!

    kayoko on

  • hard to say, but you’re onto something… cheap labor and imports. demand from the communities probably reduces markup, even in a recession. there may well be some sinister aspects in play but then again so with Wall st. investors. The food stamp part makes sense as many bodegas accept them without accepting credit cards— there’s probably a subsidy for the food stamp technology: not so for the credit card swipers…

    Hebrew School on

  • Thanks Dr. Ricky. But where their meats come from? Should we worry about it, or they are just fine as long as you “well-done” everything?

    Yamahomo on

  • A few reasons:

    1. Lower overhead. Most places that you consider regular stores pay for things like airconditioning or chain branding. And custom printed plastic bags.

    2. Shorter shelf lives. The problem with fresh vegetables and fruits is how perishible they are. So, when they are at the peak of ripeness, they have to be sold soon – in fact, most supermarkets prefer things that keep longer and look good longer – but may not taste as good. Those command higher prices on the wholesale end – the ones really close to spoiling (ie, peak) are actually cheaper.

    3. Competition. Immigrant ghettos like Chinatown have a very high human density, and there is such high competition between everyone that prices are kept really low. Conversely, profit margins are razor thin, and volumes need to be moved.

    Dr. Ricky on

  • Have you found this kind of freshness + price factor at Brooklyn Chinatown as well (Sunset Park)?

    Anonymous on

  • Kayoko,
    I don’t live close to Chinatown. Closer than you perhaps! I live in Brooklyn. But to answer your question, I’d love to shop in Chinatown more often, but b/c it’s not convenient to me, I don’t end up shopping there very often, unless I’m looking for specialty items like, say, a good wok.

    Paystyle on

  • Anonymous- From what I have seen the few times I’ve been there, yes, quality was super high and lots of variety. I remember seeing all sorts of exotic fruits last summer, like Dragon Fruit.

    Paystyle, you live close to there, any thoughts?

    kayoko on

  • Chinatown is a great resource when you are on the low end of your budget. Equally Mexican stores are also insanely cheap.

    It doesn’t make sense. Despite everything, they still live in a world that can’t afford to sell for cheap; somehow they still manage. It’s mind boggling.

    Monkey4Sale on

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