May 15, 2008

Walking Off the Lower East Side: A Block on Eldridge St.

Wandering down the southernmost block of Eldridge Street on the Lower East Side, just south of Canal Street, I found a long stretch of Chinese businesses along the west side of the street, and across and down the way the newly-restored Eldridge Street Synagogue next to more Chinese stores. The street itself slopes slightly downward and ends under the Manhattan Bridge. This last block possesses that Dead End Street quality that fires the imagination (here, a link to an earlier post about the Dead End Kids of the East River), and so it's perhaps fitting that the author Richard Price would set his Lower East Side crime novel, Lush Life, in such a dead-end place.* But it's certainly not dead.

I was sorry I arrived on this block too early to try a fish ball at Young City Fish Balls, but I thought that if I ever wanted to start a band, that would be the name of it. This section of Chinatown/Lower East Side is particularly Fijianese, and the food available here, like the fish ball, is cooked in the Fuzhou style. The fish balls are soft round delicacies made of pulverized fish and often served in a broth. They're not wildly different from gefilte fish, a favorite dish of Ashkenazi Jews.

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Walking across the street and into the doors of the 1887 Eldridge Street Synagogue, I entered an important passageway for the arrival of Eastern European Jews in America. Thousands attended services here in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the years that correspond to the soaring wave of immigration of Southern and Eastern Europeans into the Lower East Side. A striking building designed of Gothic, Moorish, and Romanesque elements, the Eldridge Street Synagogue was built by Ashkenazi Orthodox Jews for their first great house of worship in the United States. After decades of dwindling membership, the building fell on hard times until the recent efforts to restore its former grandeur. Now it's open to the public, and tours are available. Museum website here.

Fish balls and gefilte fish - rounds of pulverized fish, just from different sides of the same street.

Images: Above, by Walking Off the Big Apple. Below: Street View in Google is one way to capture some of the flavor of this unpretentious street, but as the point of view represented in these maps is from the top of a car in the middle of the street, as it is in all Street Views, the mapping does not represent the POV of the average walker, stroller, or flâneur on the sidewalk (unless you're really tall and like to walk down the middle of the street). Still, it's great fun. Go ahead and click on it, if you want.

* Richard Price, author of Lush Life, will be at University Settlement (the first settlement house in the United States, 1886) on May 20 at 6:30 p.m. for a reading and discussion. Book signing to follow. 184 Eldridge Street (corner of Rivington). See the front-page New York Times Book Review for more about the novel.

Part of a series about the Lower East Side. See related posts.

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