Chicago’s Chinatown was just about what I expected.
Every big city has its own cultural diversity, each has their own neighborhood where they live, shop and gather. If you have never been to China or a metropolitan Chinatown then it’s an experience not to be missed. Now that my son is living in Chicago I have the opportunity, and excuse, to visit Chicago on a regular basis, and I’m going to play tourist whenever I can find the time. This trip we took in a boat ride, Billy Joel in Wrigley Stadium and Chinatown.
It’s easy to get to Chicago’s Old Chinatown from the Chicago CTA, just take the Red line to the Cermak-Chinatown stop and it’s only one block from the station.
From the CTA Station you turn right and go into a very modern shopping mall that looks very much like every other shopping mall, but the signs and decor is oriental in nature.But just to the left is a walled and gated shopping area and when you walk through the gates it feels like China, or what China might look like in Chicago anyway.
The signs are in Chinese characters, the smell is different, the food is distinctly authentic Chinese and you can buy everything from dried sardines, duck, Dim Sum, to Chinese herbs in the apothecary herbal shop. Some stores were trendy tourist traps with trinkets, but these are items you won’t find at Walmart or Target, so it was fun!
My favorite shop was the candy, or snack shop. Small bulk bins of wrapped candy, unwrapped dried fruits, sugared plums of all flavors, and for the more adventurous pickled duck tongue, and dried anchovies. Most of the bins had a small sample bowl for tasting, and all four of us had fun tasting and deciding what to buy.
We timed our visit for the summer festival and the main street and vendors, food booths packed the street. Everything from straw hats to live turtles you could buy and take home. It was noisy, it was crowed, and I expected more Chinese entertainment. On their website saw Chinese musicians, acrobats, and the infamous Chinese parade dragon. Maybe those were scheduled events and we got there at the wrong time. The stage was in the middle of the seat and there were no bleachers to sit and watch.
We ate at the Flaming Pot and sometimes you eat at a restaurant for the experience. Because of the crowds, their only English speaking waitress was very busy and did not have the time to fully “coach” us in how to properly prepare our food. It was very good, and a great place to go if you are in a group of people. This is a hot pot style of dining where you chose your flavored broth, meat, and vegetables and then you dipped the food into the boiling broth to cook. About halfway through we decided to just dump everything in and fish it out with a ladle. Much easier. A variety of sauces were available for flavoring the food and in that way it was very much like Hu Hot.
Although the Flaming Pot was very clean and modern, it is apparent some of the buildings and markets in Chinatown are very unkempt and not up to standard American standards. We even saw a large rat (no I didn’t take a photo) running along side a building during the middle of the afternoon. Those things don’t freak me out. I’ve been to Europe and I understand life is not sterile.
We all had fun and spent the afternoon at the festival, bought gifts and added to our cultural experience. Now I want to explore the “new” Chinatown which is located in North Chicago, I can see it from the Red Line train and it looks very authentic. Bet I can get some good food there and it’s closer to my son’s apartment. I bet they deliver.