If you’re planning a trip to the Big Apple, a food tour is one of the best things you can put on your agenda. You’ll eat, learn the history of the area, and see some sights along the way. Find out more about one we just took in this Ahoy New York Food Tours review.
For more help planning your trip, check out all of our travel posts.
Let’s talk about Chinese food in America for a minute. We all take for granted that no matter where we go for Chinese take out in America, the menu is going to be the same, the food is going to taste the same.
General Tso’s is General Tso’s is General Tso’s, right?
Although if you go to China, don’t expect to find General Tso’s on the menu. It won’t be there. Or, not the sweet and savory version we’re used to in the United States.
But why? And why am I bringing this up?
Because this is something we discussed on our Ahoy New York food tour last week … while we chomped down on some American Chinese food in Chinatown in New York.
Let’s chat about the tour through Chinatown and Little Italy, what we ate, what we learned, and why Chinese American food is the way it is.
Ahoy New York Food Tours Review
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Ahoy New York is a company that hosts food tasting and cultural walking tours through Chinatown and Little Italy in Manhattan. There are 10 locations on the tour’s list — six in Chinatown and four in Little Italy. Not all tastings are on all tours. There are three that are on select tours.
On our tour with them earlier this month, my dad and I had nine tastings over three hours.
I’m still full thinking about it.
It’s not just earing though. Our two guides, Liz and Dana, did a great job explaining the food, the culture, and the history of the area while we were noshing on some delicious food. It was from them that we learned how American Chinese food came to be.
So, quick answer. The Chinese heard about the gold rush, so they came, via the Pacific Ocean, and landed on the West coast, looking for that mountain of gold.
After the gold rush, many of the Chinese who stayed began working on the railroad, which was connecting the West coast to the East. They would cook traditional food, and the other railroad workers (Americans, Irish, etc.) were curious about it. The Western palate is different than the Eastern, so the Chinese would make their cuisine with flavors that appealed to Westerners.
Eventually, the Chinese realized they could sell this food, make money, and provide for their families in America and back in China. Most Chinese food in America is still made with those flavor profiles in mind (This has changed somewhat in the last 20 years with many young first- and second-generation children really wanting to embrace traditional foods and culture). If you go to China, you’re not finding yellow fried rice with square bits of peas and carrots in it, but you’ll find that all over America.
Food Tastings Guide
We had nine tastings, so let’s run down those really quickly, then go into more details about them.
- Jasmine tea at Silk Road Cafe (30 Mott Street)
- A roast pork bun from Fay Da Bakery (83 Mott Street)
- Chives and pork fried dumpling from Tasty Dumpling (42 Mulberry Street)
- Pandan sponge cake from Kam Hing Coffee Shop
- Honey roasted duck over rice from Hay Hay Roasted (81 Mott Street)
- Gnocchi and sauce from Piemonte Ravioli Co. (190 Grand Street)
- Cheese and olives from Di Palo’s Fine Foods (200 Grand Street)
- Eggplant rollatini from Benito One (174 Mulberry Street)
- Cannoli from Ferrara Bakery (195 Grand Street)
Tasting 1: Jasmine tea at Silk Road Cafe
We started our day at Silk Road Cafe. While we were waiting for all of the tour attendees to arrive, we were able to sip on some jasmine tea. We were served the tea in a clear kettle and waited until the liquid turned amber before filling our cups with it.
It helps to aid digestion, which is good because there was a lot of food in our future.
The tea was really light and easy to drink without adding sugar (which is generally how I drink Asian tea). What was nice is that we were able to take the rest of it in a to go cup to enjoy during the next few stops.
Tasting 2: A roast pork bun from Fay Da Bakery
While we were still at Silk Road Cafe, we had a roast pork bun from Fay Da Bakery. The bakery actually has a dozen locations in New York, although my dad (who was on the tour with me) actually recognized the name because its in Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut.
The bun, also known as “char siu bao,” is Cantonese barbecued pulled pork and sweet onions stuffed into a super soft bread dough. It was so good (and so different than the pulled pork we usually have in North Carolina.
This was definitely different than the pork buns I’m used to having in Japan (either hirata buns, which are more of a stuffed bread dough disc, or steamed pork buns, which are a steamed dumpling dough around the meat), so it was nice to kick off the tour with something new for my taste buds.
The vegetarian on our tour obviously couldn’t have pork, so she had a taro bun (taro is a root vegetable that’s sweet and nutty). And, this is a good time to mention that Ahoy New York is very good at accommodating dietary and allergy restrictions. Someone on our tour was vegetarian and someone else had a shellfish allergy and they had replacement items for them at every stop.
Tasting 3: Chives and pork fried dumpling from Tasty Dumpling
Our first stop was Tasty Dumpling, located across the street from Columbus Park. Which feels weird, right, because Columbus Park is named after Christopher Columbus — an Italian explorer. But, here’s the thing. Little Italy and Chinatown have flip flopped land for quite a while. So, when the park was originally constructed, that piece of land was part of Little Italy. It was the original site of Five Points, an intersection of three streets that was a hub for crime and debauchery.
After that bit of history, we were on to the food.
The pork fried dumpling was delicious. Chinese dumplings are very similar to Japanese gyoza, which are my absolute favorite thing to eat when I’m in Japan. These dumplings have a little bit of a thick wonton dough stuffed with seasoned ground pork and chives. You can add some spicy sauce or just eat them plain (although the sauce really elevates the flavors). Four dumplings is $2, which is such a bargain in New York City.
Our vegetarian companion had boiled vegetable dumplings, which were soft on the outside, as opposed to the crunch our pan fried ones had.
Tasting 4: Pandan sponge cake from Kam Hing Coffee Shop
We took a little walk to pick up some pandan sponge cake from Kam Hing Coffee Shop at our next stop, Tonii’s Fresh Rice Noodle. Tonii’s is owned by the children of Kam Hing Coffee Shop’s owners. Kam Hing Coffee has two nearby locations, but they were a little outside of the path we were on.
The super soft sponge cake was made from egg whites, which made it really light and airy, like eating a cloud.
Ours was pandan, which is a green herbaceous tropical plant, that naturally colored the sponge cake the brightest green I’ve ever seen (even with food coloring). We loved the texture of the cake, but pandan has such a mild flavor (it has been compared to vanilla), so I would have probably preferred something with a little more taste.
On our way over to our next tasting, we took a detour to walk down Doyers Street. It’s crooked, literally and figuratively. At one point, this spot, known as the “Bloody Angle,” held the claim of being the spot where the most murders happened in the United States after numerous hatchet fights between two tongs gangs, amongst other tragedies.
I was wondering if the street was haunted, literally, but that remains up for debate. A paranormal team actually filmed for Inside Edition there. When trying make contact in English, there was no response. When the team tried a translate app to make contact in Chinese, there was a response.
Doyers Street is also home to Nom Wah Tea Parlor, the oldest restaurant in Chinatown. It’s on the list of Ahoy New York tours sometimes, but wasn’t on ours. My brother has actually been there before, though. He said that his favorite item from the dim sum restaurant was the egg roll. They’re not the egg rolls you’re thinking of with the flour wrapper. They’re an egg crepe, filled with chicken and vegetables, rolled like the egg roll you’re thinking of, and deep fried. He said he ate it and finally understood why we call it an egg roll after all.
Tasting 5: Honey roasted duck over rice from Hay Hay Roasted
We backtracked through Doyers Street to Hay Hay Roasted. It was here that we tried Cantonese Roast Duck.
Let’s chat about this for a minute. If you’re not familiar with the traditional dish, you might think this is Peking duck. But, though that feels similar, it’s very different from Cantonese Roast Duck. The latter is stuffed with seasonings like star anise and Chinese herbs, while Peking duck is left unseasoned inside. Another difference is the carving. Peking duck is carved carefully with over 100 calculated cuts. Cantonese Roast Duck is hacked more haphazardly, served with bones.
Honestly, this was the only tasting we didn’t love. The skin was a little tough and fatty for me (I expected it to be crunchier and more like the chicken “bacon” Pete makes from bacon skin) and the meat was flavorful and the texture was good, but I didn’t love the mouthfeel. My dad felt the same way.
Our vegetarian tour attendees had rice rolls from Tonii’s instead of the duck. I’m glad I tried the duck, just to say I’ve had it at least once, but I think I might have enjoyed those rolls more. So, if you are booking a tour and there is something that you won’t like, you can see if there’s a substitution available.
Tasting 6: Gnocchi and sauce from Piemonte Ravioli Co.
We walked a couple blocks to Piemonte Ravioli Co. in Little Italy to start the Italian food portion of our tour. The shop, which has been around for over 100 years, specializes in fresh and dry pasta and sauce. The fresh pasta is handmade in its warehouse daily. The sauce prides itself on freshness, so while you can order the pasta, the shop won’t ship its sauce.
We had fresh gnocchi, which is made with potato and ricotta here to make it a little softer than some gnocchi, and marinara sauce.
I’m picky about tomato sauce. I mean, we run a small batch marinara sauce, so I like what I like. The sauce at Piemonte Ravioli is made with San Marzano tomatoes, which makes for a generally sweeter sauce. I prefer a less sweet sauce (which is what we make at home and sell), but that’s just my personal preference.
Tasting 7: Cheese and olives from Di Palo’s Fine Foods
Next up was cheese and olives from Di Palo’s Fine Foods — the (self proclaimed) 21st region of Italy.
Italy, as you may or may not know, is made up of 20 regions. Di Palo’s carries at least one item that’s imported from every one of those 20 regions in Italy. And that’s why the shop jokingly considers itself the 21st region.
The shop is filled with quintessential Italian items, like proscuitto di parma and semolina bread, plus prepared items like chicken Milanese and broccoli rabe. There’s no shopping on this tour because there’s just no time to wait for people to look around and check out, but if we had time to shop, I would do it here and stock up on so many pantry items.
We tried two imported cheese, one made with cow’s milk and one made with sheep’s milk, plus olives. The olives had more of an olive flavor than American olives because of how they’re processed.
Tasting 8: Eggplant rollatini from Benito One
After a long walking tour throughout Chinatown and Little Italy, we got to sit and stay for a while at Benito One. The restaurant began as a tiny, five table establishment in 1968, next to a social club. It eventually took over the social club’s area, but it’s still pretty tiny. The food’s flavor isn’t tiny, though. It’s so good.
We had eggplant rollatini, which is one of my favorite Italian dishes to order out, so I was super excited for this stop. The eggplant was so soft on the inside and the mozzarella on top was so creamy and delicious.
What was also nice is we got to sit and relax here for a while. Everyone who was over 21 was able to pick a beer (of course, my dad went with Peroni — I mean, when in Little Italy, right?) or wine to have with their meal.
Tasting 9: Cannoli from Ferrara Bakery
Our last stop was getting a cannoli from Ferrara Bakery, which has been around since 1892. It started as a gentleman’s espresso club before evolving into the bakery it is now.
Two fun facts. First, the cannoli dough has white wine added to it to help with the crunch. This fun fact blew my mind because Pete’s mom’s pie crust recipe, which we use for Easter pie every year, has white wine in it. We never knew why, and since she has passed away, we can’t ask her. Now I know.
The second fun fact is that Ferrara Bakery makes the cannolis for the cannoli eating content during the annual Feast of San Gennaro. Those are the full-sized ones and we had the mini ones during our tour. They were delicious — so luckily, we ended up with two leftover cannolis (because we dropped two members during our tour) and I was able to take those home with us.
If you’re in New York City, you need to try them. And if you’re not there, you can actually order them via Goldbelly.
Ahoy New York Food Tours: Frequently Asked Questions
Yes. You need to reserve your spot with Ahoy New York Tours & Tasting ahead of time at www.ahoynewyorkfoodtours.com. Tickets start at $105.
There’s the Chinatown and Little Italy Food Fest Walking Food Tour, which we took, and the Tasty Global Bites – A Culinary Journey through Nolita, Little Italy & Chinatown tour. You can save 15% on the latter with the promo code TM23 (Be sure to follow Ahoy on social media for more promo codes.)
The global bites tour features different cuisine than the tour we took. On that one, you can enjoy Spanish churros, imported French cheeses, Israeli falafel, and more. That sounds like a great tour.
It lasted about three hours (from 10:30 am to 1:15 pm).
We had a small group of 10 people on our tour. The limit is 13, which is great because you really get a chance to interact with the tour guides and ask them questions. Plus, a small group is easier to sit in a small, New York City restaurant. If not for that, we would have been picnicing in a park of on the curb to stay out of the way of other diners.
Private tours and corporate events are available.
Make sure you wear comfortable shoes. You’re only covering about a half mile between start to finish, but you’re walking for the majority of the day. We logged about 10,000 steps between walking to the subway, to the meeting place (including a little walk around Chinatown because we were early), through the tour, and back to the subway.
You’ll be outside for the majority of the tour, so you want to dress for the day. Wear a jacket if it’s cold, bring an umbrella is there’s a chance of rain, etc.
Tours are rain or shine, and this includes if it’s snowing. So keep that in mind if you book a winter tour.
Personally, I wouldn’t suggest taking kids on this food tour. It’s a lot of walking and a lot of history. We loved the history portion and learning about the area, but I could see young kids getting bored and antsy.
A food tour in New York is absolutely worth it. The city is so large, it’s impossible to eat everywhere, especially if you’re on vacation and have a limited number of meals in the city. A food tour is a great way to have some great food, learn some history, and find some new restaurants (new to you, not necessarily new to New York).
My dad and I had an amazing time on our tour. And, we’re both native New Yorkers. So, if you’re visiting the area, and all you know you want to eat for sure is a slice of New York pizza and a dirty water dog, definitely take a tour so you can enjoy some great restaurants that might not have made your list if you just Googled places to eat.
Tip is generally paid to the restaurants by the tour guides, so you don’t have to tip at each stop. However, a tip of 15% of the cost is standard for your tour guide, if he or she did a great job.
Have you been on the Ahoy New York food tour? Let us know what you thought about it in the comments.