If you’ve ever been in New York City’s Chinatown multiple times for the last 10 years, then you’ll notice how much it has changed. Luckily there are still a few of the classic and historic spots left, such as Columbus Park where the elder gather, the re-located Tasty Dumplings, the old school bakery known for their buns, and Big Wong famous for their roast pork and meats. There are no more bootleg designer bags spread out on Canal Street (Instead, look for Asians randomly whispering “Coach, LV, Michael Kors, etc.” as you walk by. They’ll show you their stock digitally now! hah). There are fewer Cantonese-style restaurants and heaps of bubble tea and dessert spots, but most recently, a new addition has brought a more organic style to Chinatown. That place is Alimama.
Squeezed between various small shops on Bayard Street around the corner from Columbus Park, this little spot catches everyone’s attention because of its modern looking front with its cute, slanted, easy-to-miss concrete seating. Inside is a crisp, clean look where you’ll find a friendly face greeting you while making her products fresh. Meet Janie of Alimama. I had the opportunity to chat with Janie a few times pre-baby after walking in spontaneously one day to check out the menu. Although she was never professionally trained, her parents and her love for exploring and experimenting with cuisine blossomed into cooking and baking. “Some of my earliest memories are of the energetic frenzy of my parents’ kitchen, and their passion for food has really rubbed off on me,” she explained as I asked about her motivation to start her own business. “It’s just genetic.” If she isn’t in the kitchen, she is always hunting for new inspirations in food, arts, and culture.
While Alimama has been in its soft opening phase, you can definitely find Janie concocting goods everyday from different flavored mochi donuts to ube charcoal bread to lightly sweet drinks. However, her mochi donuts and cream puffs seem to be the signature items as of now. Unlike any other I’ve tasted, these desserts don’t make you walk away feeling guilty. They are much lighter in weight as well as in sweetness than the ordinary donuts and puffs. Since Janie is gluten intolerant herself, her products also appeal to those who can’t eat gluten, which makes Alimama one of the few places in Chinatown that offers gluten-free desserts. Although the protein is not in her diet, she has a strong sweet tooth especially for Japanese desserts. “That has been a strong influence across all of my desserts, from the ingredients to the flavors,” she says. “My cream puffs are a lighter take on a classic dessert that I’ve always loved. Mochi naturally lends itself quite well to all of those, in addition to its wonderfully chewy texture, so I’ve tried to incorporate it throughout my menu.” My personal favorite is the ube and matcha cream puffs, both with a crisp textured outer layer and a creamy filling that tells you what flavor it is without being overly strong!
With almost 5,000 Instagram followers in less than two months, Janie plans to have her grand opening before May 1st. I asked her what the best part of being in this business is and doing what she does. “Seeing my customers’ eyes light up, the uncontrollable smiles, the gasps of delight and satisfaction,” she responds. “All of these are what gets me going every morning!” For anyone looking to start something new, not having any background experience didn’t stop her from opening this shop. “Very few people know exactly what it is they want to do,” she explains. “So it’s okay to feel lost or confused – you’re not alone! Instead, just be open to new opportunities and take them one step at a time.”