New York: A world in a city

You can experience the colourful cultures of a league of nations while visiting NYC, says David Orkin

One in every five New Yorkers was born in another country. Almost half the city's population has foreign parents. This city has a higher population of Italians than does Venice, more Irish than Dublin and more Jews than in any other city in the world. More than 120 languages are spoken. Around 50 major religions are practised in 3,500 churches, temples, synagogues and mosques. Nearly 50 per cent of Bronx residents are Latino, with the highest concentrations hailing from Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and Mexico. The original nationalities of the residents of Queens are so varied that the local subway line is called the "International Express". New York is the most racially diverse city on the planet.

Hungry? New York City boasts 20,000 restaurants including more than 100 different types of ethnic eateries representing virtually every cuisine of the world from Afghan to Yemeni (if you're a restaurateur, there's a gap in the market for a Zulu restaurant).

From 1855 to 1891, more than 7 million new arrivals passed through Castle Clinton (00 1 212 344 7220; www.nps.gov/cacl), then the nation's principal immigrant station. Ellis Island Immigration Station officially opened its doors on 1 January 1892: from then until 1954 this was the gateway to America for over 12 million immigrants. The island now houses the Ellis Island Immigration Museum (00 1 212 363 3206; www.ellisisland.com). Ferries leave frequently from Battery Park (00 1 866 782 8834; www.circlelinedowntown.com).

Asian New York

Manhattan's Chinatown is the largest Chinese community outside Asia. You'll find the streets south of Canal Street and east of Broadway jammed with stalls selling exotic fruit, vegetables and other comestibles, and almost wall-to-wall restaurants. Visit the Museum of the Chinese in the Americas, 70 Mulberry Street (00 1 212 619 4785; www.moca-nyc.org). If you get peckish, good budget choices are dim sum at the Oriental Pearl Restaurant, 103-105 Mott Street, or wontons at the New Wonton Garden, 56 Mott Street.

China apart, Asia is well represented in the city. The area bordered by 31st and 36th Streets and Fifth and Sixth Avenues is known as Koreatown (or K-town); Kum Ryong, 30 West 32nd Street (00 1 212 629 6450) offers authentic cuisine. For Vietnamese food try Vietcafé, 345 Greenwich Street (00 1 212 431 5888).

Tibet House, 22 W. 15th Street (00 1 212 807 0563; www.tibethouse.org), highlights the art, culture and heritage of Tibet, and there's more on Staten Island at Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art, 338 Lighthouse Ave (00 1 718 987 3500; www.tibetanmuseum.org), built to resemble a Himalayan mountain temple. The Asia Society and Museum, 725 Park Ave (00 1 212 288 6400; www.asiasociety.org), showcases the diversity of more than 30 Asia-Pacific countries. Meanwhile, the Japan Society, 333 East 47th Street (00 1 212 832 1155; www.japansociety.org), offers insight into all things Japanese.

Little Italy

Mulberry Street between Broome and Canal Streets has long been known as Little Italy. Although traditional family-run businesses have been replaced by more stylish eateries and up-market boutiques, some remnants of the old remain. Pop in to Di Palo's Fine Foods, 200 Grand Street, for example. A great time to visit Little Italy is from 15 to 25 September for the 11-day Feast of San Gennaro ( www.sangennaro.org), an annual salute to the Patron Saint of Naples in the form of a street festival with food, rides, games, and parades. For a more authentic Italian experience, head to Arthur Avenue in the Bronx ( www.arthuravenuebronx.com) and the charming, time-stands-still Belmont District. You'll find dozens of restaurants, cafés and delis, such as the perfect Café el Mercato, 2344 Arthur Avenue (00 1 718 364 7681). For a dose of the arts stop by the Enrico Fermi Cultural Center in the Belmont Library, 610 East 186th Street (00 1 718 933 6410).

Irish roots

You need not be in the city on St Patrick's Day (17 March in 2006) to realise the strength of New York's Irish roots. It could be said that the Irish built New York. See St Patrick's Old Cathedral, 260 Mulberry Street, completed in 1809: the new one (00 1 212 753 2261) opened at 460 Madison Ave in Midtown 70 years later. There are, of course, countless Irish pubs and bars: try McSorley's Old Ale House, 15 East 7th Street. For more craic there's the Irish Arts Center, 553 West 51st Street (00 1 212 757 3318; www.irishartscenter.org).

Harlem

The district north of what is now Central Park was originally settled by the Dutch, and named for the town west of Amsterdam. It became a Black community during the 1920s. The fine houses of Hamilton Heights, often called Sugar Hill, and Striver's Row on 138th and 139th Streets are among the city's most beautiful enclaves.

East Harlem is better known as Spanish Harlem: El Museo del Barrio, 1230 Fifth Avenue (00 1 212 831 7272; www.elmuseo.org) is a cultural centre displaying work by Puerto Rican, Caribbean, and Latin American artists. Further north, the Hispanic Society of America, 613 West 155th Street,(00 1 212 926 2234; www.hispanicsociety.org) focuses on the art, literature, and culture of Spain, Portugal and Latin America.

One of the best places to see African-American art is the Studio Museum, 144 West 125th Street (00 1 212 864 4500; www.studiomuseum.org). Explore and research at the Schomburg Center for Black Culture, 515 Malcolm X Blvd, (00 1 212 491 2200; www.nypl.org/research/sc/sc.html).

Shoppers should check out in Little Africa at the popular Malcolm Shabazz Harlem Market, 102 West 116th Street (00 1 212 987 8131) which has an array of masks, textiles, jewellery and much more from all over the world. Stop for a taste of southern soul food at Sylvia's Restaurant, 328 Lenox Avenue (00 1 212 996 0660). In the evening, combine a drink or two and fine jazz at the Lenox Lounge, 288 Lenox Avenue (00 1 212 427 0253; www.lenoxlounge.com) or check what's on at the famous Apollo Theater (00 1 212 531 5300; www.apollotheater.com).

The Masjid Malcolm Shabazz Mosque in Harlem was once a casino. It was reborn as a place of worship after the assassination of Malcolm X. Multicultural Harlem is also dotted with churches and has the oldest African-American synagogue in the Western hemisphere, the Commandment Keepers Ethiopian Hebrew Congregation, 1 West 123rd Street.

Jewish New York

At the turn of the century, Manhattan's Lower East Side was the most densely populated place in the world, almost five times as crowded as the rest of New York. For an excellent insight into early immigrant life, visit the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, 90 Orchard Street (00 1 212 431 0233; www.tenement.org). Eastern European Jews were the first immigrant residents here. Although few Jews remain in this area you'll find many more in the Upper West Side, or Brooklyn's Borough Park, Williamsburg and Crown Heights.

Like almost all the Jewish food in New York the bagel originated in Eastern Europe: bagels still make a great quick cheap lunch. Smoked fish is another icon of Jewish food with the same roots. Combine the two with a cream cheese and lox (smoked salmon) bagel at Russ & Daughters, 179 East Houston Street, which has been thriving since 1914. To complete the trilogy, see people queueing to buy at Gus's Pickles, 85-87 Orchard Street.

Need a lie down? Due to open soon in a beautifully restored tenement building is the Blue Moon Hotel, 100 Orchard Street (00 1 212 533 9080; www.bluemoon-nyc.com). "Manhattan's only kosher hotel" will lean heavily on the world of late 19th Century Orchard Street. Otherwise, there's only one true Jewish hotel in New York - the Avenue Plaza, 4624 13th Avenue, Brooklyn (00 1 718 552 3200; www.theavenueplaza.com) in the heart of Brooklyn's fascinating Borough Park neighbourhood - the largest orthodox Jewish community outside Israel.

Refreshed, see how the restoration project is going at the Eldridge Street synagogue, 12 Eldridge Street, (00 1 212 219 0888; www.eldridgestreet.org), founded in 1887 and the first great house of worship in the US to be designed and built by Eastern European Jews. Contrast the building with the Temple Emanu-El, in midtown at 1 East 65th Street (00 1 212 744 1400; www.emanuelnyc.org) - the largest synagogue in the world.

Touring with a guide can be an excellent way to experience New York's ethnic communities. Foodies can get a taste (literally) on tours offered by Savory Sojourns (00 1 212 691 7314; www.savorysojourns.com) and the Enthusiastic Gourmet (00 1 646 209 4724; www.enthusiasticgourmet.com).

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