Monday, April 25, 2016

Our Fair City: Chinatown in Chicago

Monday, April 25, 2016

One thing that I miss when I think about Orlando is going out with friends to eat dim sum for breakfast. The servers would roll the cart of bite-size food through the restaurant, and would open the stacked bamboo steamer baskets for us to see the delicious treats inside. Our friends always knew which ones were the good ones. Without a menu, and by just relying on our friends, we would always leave happily full from an affordable meal.

We've been to Chinatown a few times since we've lived in Chicago. Each time it was to get dim sum. We've had to navigate the menus on our own, without our trusty friends to point out what is the best. We've been lucky and have found some favorite and familiar menu items like BBQ pork bao, and we've even been adventurous and discovered new favorites like egg yolk paste bao.

There is a new Chinatown (Chinatown Square), and an old Chinatown, but they are only a few blocks from one another. New Chinatown is an outdoor mall built with a courtyard featuring statues of the Chinese Zodiac symbols, and is like a little town, with two levels of shops stemming off from the courtyard. It's designed to look like a traditional Chinese Imperial Court, which makes for a picturesque visit. Old Chinatown is a long street, with more shops, restaurants, grocery stores, and apartments above the first floors. What I really like about Chicago's Chinatown is that it still has it's Chinese population. When we walk around, we see advertisements in Chinese, some scrawled by hand and taped up. We see signs outside of shops, also only in Chinese, and the locals walk around, going through their routine. Other Chinatown's that I've visited seem to be tourist destinations after years of spectacle.

Here are some things that we love to do in Chinatown when we visit:
  • Brunch at MingHin - At the end of new Chinatown, there is a two-story restaurant that serves dim sum often. When you have a big brunch of over 6 people, you're hard-pressed to find a trendy brunch restaurant that can accommodate all of you. On the second floor of MingHin there are huge round tables with lazy susan's in the middle, perfect for a brunch with tons of friends and lots of sharing.
  • Candy shops - I love trying all of the strange flavors. My favorites are guava and any combination of lemon and honey. I've definitely had some strange ones, such as candies that looked like square Jolly Ranchers (which I love) but then were squishy. Turns out, there was a thin film of edible plastic between the candy and the wrapper... I couldn't get past that. But there are also chocolates that look like river rocks, and sweets shaped like hamburgers or pancakes!
  • Tea and Chinese medicine shops - I love looking at all of the different teas available. But I really love checking out the strange ingredients for medicinal use! In these shops, you aren't supposed to take photos or videos. They have ingredients like ginger root (baskets and baskets of ginger root), dried sea cucumbers, and sliced deer antlers. Things I have never seen before!
  • Souvenir shops - Pocky, Panda chocolate biscuits, lucky cats, sake cups, tea pots. You name it, they've got it. Every corner in old Chinatown has a souvenir shop where you can buy your kitschy items. Rows and rows of shelves with items stacked together like an antique shop. It's fun digging around for gems in the stacks of items.

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