chinatown, chicago

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)

IMG_0602[1]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.

IMG_0638Even 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.


crushing on…

1. S’mores, s’mores, s’mores. Like this s’mores pie (AND this one!). Or this s’more dip. Or this s’more ice cream cake. I’m so upset that I can’t have a bonfire in the middle of my studio apartment that I just need to try one of these no-open-flame-necessary recipes RIGHT NOW.

2. Chinatown. Tanner and I took a food tour of the Chinatown area on the South side of Chicago, and it was FANTASTIC. I could not recommend the tour or our wonderful tour guide, Ploy, enough.

3. Taro puffs. This is an extension of my last point, but I just can’t get over them. Who would have thought that a little root could taste SO delicious.

4. Green tea with peach at Ten Ren. Okay, okay, I’ll stop talking about Chinatown things after this one. This had to be the most refreshing, deliciously sweet drink I have ever imbibed. Usually I don’t like to drink my calories (and have thus fallen captive to the Diet Coke Gods), but man was this worth it. I wish I had crept behind the counter to see how the barista made it.

4. Brunch. This weekend we finally went to Yolk, which is right by our apartment and always has a huge line out the door. Brunch is by far my favorite meal, and I thoroughly enjoyed the fact that I could have my savory AND sweet by ordering a Countryside Skillet with a side of Blueberry-Banana Crunch Pancakes. While I still want to head over to Nightwood and Longman & Eagle for brunch one day, I’ll curb my appetite with some s’more muffins from Dominick’s (ode to #1) or these lil donuts and this frittata.

5. This waste bin that expands when you put more crap in it, getting cuter and pudgier as the surrounding area gets smellier and smellier.

6. Food challenges. And I’m not talking about those hot dog-eating contests. I’m talking about really challenging recipes that even Julia Childs took awhile to perfect (probably…maybe). I plan on trying my hand at croissants or brie.

7. This. Yup. Yep. Yep. Mmmm-hmmm.