I know I posted a few pictures of Chinatown, but I never got down to really talking about it. I feel like I’ve been cutting you all short (by you all I mean my mom and whoever else has time to read this). So, I will now describe my journeys through the little piece of China in Chicago.
“Old” Chinatown takes up most of Wentworth Avenue starting at the intersection of Wentworth and Cermak. A big red pavilion that reads “Welcome to Chinatown” makes this pretty obvious. When our Chinatown tour guide, Ploy asked us what the four Chinese characters said, my guess was YOLO. It actually says: “The world belongs to all,” written in the handwriting of Dr. Sun Yat Sen, founder of the Chinese Republic. I think my guess was pretty close though.
Ploy led us on a decadent tour through Old Chinatown and NewChinatown (a coule blocks North), where we sampled “real” Chinese food and forgot about the blasphemies of Orange Chicken and General Tso. Even though I missed my Sweet n Sour Sauce just a little bit, the surprisingly delicious flavor in the taro puffs (which is a potato-like vegetable) and even the “Chinese” broccoli Tanner and I tried made me forget all about that heretic Panda Express. And hey, while I’m using all of these religious analogies, I should mention that the tour wasn’t ALL about food. We also visited a Buddhist temple and Ping Tom Park, where Ploy told us more about the history of China and one of its most popular religions. I really liked that she included personal stories of her time growing up in Hong Kong and Thailand as well. Even though the food was enough to keep me content, Ploy’s stories about the origin of some Chinese dishes, the miraculous powers of ginseng, and even how people in China tap the table to indiscreetly say “thank you” really rounded out the experience and gave me some time to digest after each mini-meal.
If you are thinking about taking this tour or are just super nosy about what we got to eat, here’s a list:
1. tea, taro puffs, pork buns, Chinese broccoli, and pork dumplings at Triple Crown Restaurant. I don’t have any pictures of these because I was fighting against three grown men to get my fair share of food, but I plan to go back. For the pictures, I mean…
2. green tea with peach at Ten Ren. I went back for more…
3. ma po tofu, rice, eggplant (look at that purple!), spicy cabbage, and fried chicken with spicy peppers at Tony Hu’s Lao Sze Chuan. Very spicy, but so worth the tears, runny nose, and four cups of water.
4. peking duck “crepes” with cucumber, scallions and “pancakes” at Lao Beijing, another Tony Hu restaurant. Ploy was so cute as she demonstrated to the group how to make a duck crepe using Tanner’s plate and ingredients. She tenderly placed several bits of duck meat and skin on the “pancake” (more or less a tortilla), followed by perfectly positioned sprigs of cucumber and scallion. She lighting baptized the creation in a plum sauce and had Tanner fold the pancake to make a sort of duck burrito. I was greteful for this demonstration, knowing that Tanner and the other men would have probably loaded up there ’tillas with the meats and ignored the green stuff. Or maybe that was me….
(I actually took a picture of this one too cuz it was so pretty)
5. egg custard tart at Saint Anna Bakery. The crust was so good but the filling tasted like an omelet. I like omelets. But I didn’t know how to feel about this.
Even though the final restaurant and dessert didn’t impress me too much, Tanner remained curious and proceeded to get dried plums from a candy store as well as pork cookies, a moon cake, and other Chinese sweets from the local stores. I thought they were all pretty gross, being low in suger and lacking any chocolate at all. Or maybe it was the fact that most had either vegetables or meat in them. Bleh.
Overall, however, I found the tour of Chinatown to be worth every cent ($60 from Chicago Food Planet Food Tours). Ploy’s narration and the food we sampled made me feel as if we were actually in China for a little bit, and our day spent in this part of Chicago sparked my interest in actually going there myself and sampling more authentic food from local restaurants After I got home I immediately looked up where I could get some quality dim sum in Cincinnati and quietly wept at the sparse results. You probably think that’s pathetic but I believe it’s a REAL ISSUE. Someone please let me know if you frequent a great dim sum place near the 45247 area code or just happen to own a little Asian woman with some great cooking skills (I’d like to borrow her). In the meantime I’ll be contacting Tony Hu to see if he can open up a couple places in the Nati.