This past weekend, Mike and I hitched a ride over to Chinatown to get a little color in this dreary Chicago January. We took an Uber there, but it is also easily accessible by the Red Line Cermak-Chinatown stop. Both of us hadn’t visited this area since college, so it’s been quite a few years.
Though the sky was cloudy, it wasn’t too cold out and there were plenty of other people milling about, so we were in good company. We walked down towards the main drag and under the telltale red and green gate. The street beyond it is lined with shops and restaurants, bakeries and grocery stores.
Some of the shops had already started decorating for Chinese New Year which is in a couple of weeks; the red lanterns were in bright contrast to the grey sky. We popped into a few stores, especially liking the candy stores. When I was in Shanghai a few years ago, I fell in love with a taffy like candy called White Rabbit, which they had in abundance in each of the stores. Also in abundance was all kinds of seafood and vegetables in each of the grocery stores we passed.
We also visited Chiu Quon, a bakery and dim sum joint, for a couple of fried red bean paste cakes. The bakery had lots of other sweet treats, including moon cakes and fortune cookies by the bag, and of course a wide selection of dim sum and dumplings.
We also visited the Buddhism Friendship Association, which has beautiful statues inside and a gift shop with jade jewelry and prayer beads and Buddha statues. When we were passing through, they were starting to put out food on a long table in the middle of the temple, so, not wanting to disturb them, we moved on.
We decided to go to the Phoenix Restaurant for dim sum, and wound up having to wait thirty minutes for a table. The waiting area was crowded with people, and more kept coming through to put their name in for a table, which we took as a good sign. The food was worth well worth the wait though, and we ordered plenty. As soon as we sat down, we were served a delicious green tea and presented with a large menu complete with pictures.
We ordered the xiao long bao, barbeque pork buns and turnovers, fried rice, shrimp and chive dumplings, spring rolls and red bean dumplings. They brought the food out a few dishes at a time, serving them with a chili sauce and another reduced soy sauce. The women pushing the carts full of food presented the dishes with a flourish and crossed each item off our receipt as they came. I loved the xiao long baos and the steamed barbecue pork buns.
After eating far too much, we walked around to work off the dumplings. Across the street from the restaurant is a beautiful square flanked by foo dogs and filled with Chinese zodiac statues. Many people were lined up to take photos with the rooster statue, as this coming Chinese New Year celebrates the year of the rooster.
The sidewalk just past the square was lined with yet more restaurants and stores (especially candy stores!), and we wandered through admiring the sights and smells. A lot of the storefronts on the top level were closed down, but the ground floor was still bustling. Once we got our fill, we walked back to the red line, first stopping to take pictures of the amazing street art just outside of it. All in all, it was a wonderful afternoon, and I’m so happy that we got the chance to explore a different neighborhood in our city.
Have you been to your nearest Chinatown? How about Chinatown Chicago?