By Jordan Pytosh
If you have enough energy to escape the bubble of downtown and venture even further south, Chicago’s Chinatown offers an experience brimming with authenticity, history and perhaps most importantly - delicious delights.
A well-established neighborhood and institution in the city for nearly a century and a half, Chinatown has continued to grow in recognition among the populus. In my exploration, I noticed that the ambiance flourished among the noise of diverse groups of citizens and tourists walking the streets. It is apparent that traditions remain prominent within this section of the city, even though Americanization has trickled into some locations.
Chinese immigrants first settled in the Loop area after the completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad in the late 1800s but it wasn’t until 1912 that the Chinese began moving to the Armour Square area, pushed out by discrimination. The eventual growth of this new community came in the following decades: 1928 marked the establishment of the first restaurant, which only closed in February of this year. The 1980s brought even more expansion of the community from a property purchase of 32 acres. In addition, the founding of Ping Tom Memorial Park spurred the modernization of Chinatown, leading to today’s thriving community.
For any food-loving Chicagoan, there are buffets, dim sim restaurants, bakeries, and ramen joints stacked among the blocks of this Chinese community. Dolo Dim Sum features a large variety of flavors, focused on emulating cuisine from the major regions of China. Similar dim sum locations like Triple Crown and Minghin also serve dishes of this tasty tradition, raking in crowds with their preparation of traditional Chinese cuisine. Bakeries like Saint Anna provide pastries to satiate the curious sweet tooth, especially egg tarts that combine a flaky crust with a warm custard filling. In addition, snack shops like the essential Aji Ichiban provides a variety of cheaper goods—a mix of sweet and savory. While snack shops and dim sum are among the most popular places for outsiders, there are plenty of Chinese residents that can be seen eating and shopping alongside the tourists.
If you are more interested in shopping, the Bazaar and EK Houseware provide Chinese home decor, memorabilia, and knicknacks. These shops are as busy as the food locations. Whether for convenience items, food, or even for the history, Chinatown is an interesting nugget of Chicago worth exploring.