Noodletown Notebook: A Four-Dollar Lunch to Herald the Year of the Prosperous Rat

Great N.Y. Noodletown is a long-established restaurant on Bayard and the Bowery that seats about forty and has brown glazed ducks in the windows.

Sunday, which began bright and cold after a long and rainy Saturday, seemed perfectly suited to a bowl of Seaweed Noodle Soup, so I put on my shoes and began walking east. I had forgotten it was Chinese New Year: the sidewalks of central Chinatown were packed from storefront to street as people gathered to celebrate the Year of the Earth Rat.

But I skirted the crowds and slipped my way across Worth Street and up the Bowery to Noodle Town, where I was seated immediately at a table for four across from a young man in a Columbia sweatshirt.

For four dollars and a quarter you can get a bowl of perfectly cooked al dente egg noodles in a salty broth with black seaweed, a fish cake, a delicate shrimp dumpling, and a mysterious small meatball that I, for one, always gently set aside. After I had eaten my soup and drunk a glass of tea, I walked out sated and triumphant, foolishly believing myself to have outsmarted Chinese New Year.

I had forgotten not only the holiday, but its parade. The police had set up metal crowd barriers all along Bowery and Mott and it was impossible to cross the street. I drifted with the tide of bodies down the Bowery and up the foot of Mott toward the intersection of Mott and Bayard, the pulsing, commercialized heart of Chinatown, where a platform and speakers had been set up to announce the parade. Bank-sponsored floats moved slowly past crowds three- and four-deep on the narrow sidewalks, mostly Chinese except for a few white families and photographers. Hard-bitten men and women from the restaurant kitchens and souvenir stores leaned against their storefronts while children shot five-dollar confetti tubes into the air.

Hardly had the dancing silk lions—one red, one black and gray—passed before I saw signs reading, in old-fashioned cursive, “Meet Senator Schumer!” Senator Schumer, a tall man in a blue suit, climbed up out of the parade to the platform, while red and yellow confetti was dumped explosively in front of a high-powered fan. Through a microphone flickering in and out of connection, the Senator praised the contributions of Chinese to New York City—who better than a Jew on the East Side to do so?—and wished the crowd a Gung Hey Fat Choy! Sheldon Silver, after him, announced that he himself had been born in the year of the monkey, but that he’d heard that the rat was linked to prosperity.

New York is a city of strange proximities. At Bayard and Mott, a Senator and a Speaker of the State Assembly, along with a City Councilwoman and TV celebrities from Hong Kong, bathed in confetti, oversaw a parade of floats and lion dances, and happy faces filled the streets from wall to wall. The sun was shining; Chinese had replaced the Jews, who had replaced the Irish and Italian before them; and New York was on an endless, peaceful progress toward every greater wealth and glory. Two blocks away at Bowery and Worth, dark clouds began to move in, and frustrated tourists crushed against crowd barriers before turning north again. A few blocks further north, Mott Street was full of paraders, but Broome Street, which crossed it, was empty of people and cars. The rain clouds, in the end, did not rain, but released a confetti of snow. Noodletown Notebook: A Four-Dollar Lunch to Herald the Year of the Prosperous Rat