For a year I lived, technically, in Manhattan's Little Italy. But outside my door, I bought produce and fish (and did not buy frogs) at the open-air bazaar of Chinese vendors along my street. I'd sometimes wander for blocks through Qigong massage parlors and herbalist shops, and past storefronts lined with lacquered ducks and baskets upon baskets of tiny dried shrimp.
Tourists following their color-coded maps to Little Italy are justifiably confused, and roam the streets until they can pin down someone who doesn't look quite as befuddled as they are. Their question, which I heard a lot, was a good one: "Where is Little Italy?"
Not far away, in six square blocks straddling Mulberry Street, they would find the lingering handful of century-old bakeries and espresso bars they were looking for, tucked quietly into a row of newer, less distinguished trattorias and t-shirt shops that Mulberry is arguably better known for today. But beyond this short, proud Italian mall, the former immigrant ghetto has all but given way to airy boutiques, which have taken up the empty shells of old Italian haunts like so many hermit crabs, and a widening Chinatown.
In the style of sexed-up, broker-fueled neighborhood names like SoHo and TriBeCa, local blogs have cheekily renamed this vibrant (if identity-confused) swath "Little Chitaly" to better describe an area that has for half a century been only a little bit Little Italy and a lot more Chinatown. It's the Brangelina of New York City neighborhoods, and both sides are realizing that together they have more staying power than either would on its own.