On a recent rainy Sunday in Chicago, we walked and tasted our way through the city’s Chinatown neighborhood. To learn about this “new-to-us” area of Chicago, we booked the Chinatown Adventure with Chicago Food Planet Food Tours.
It was easy to reach Chinatown from the Wit, our downtown Chicago Loop hotel. We took the Red Line ‘L’ train from the Lake station, five stops south to the Cermak/Chinatown station. Just out of the station we found South Wentworth Ave, and walked to the “Welcome to Chinatown” sign.
We met Philip, our tour guide at the appointed Chinatown location. This was our third food tour with Chicago Food Planet; we think they do a good job teaching about the history and culture of a specific part of Chicago, as well as showcasing the areas’ best foods. (See this post about our first tour through Chicago’s Gold Coast and Old Town neighborhoods.)
Chinese immigrants first arrived in Chicago, we learned, after the completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad in 1869. Looking to escape the anti-Chinese violence that had broken out on the west coast, they first settled in Chicago’s Loop along Clark Street. Thanks to overcrowding, increasing rent and discrimination the Chinese began moving south to Armour Square in 1912, the start of today’s Chinatown in Chicago.
Our Chinatown Adventure tour started at the Triple Crown Restaurant on South Wentworth Avenue. We love dim sum, so we were excited to taste some of this restaurant’s specialties.
One of our favorite things about food walking tours is getting introduced to new foods. The Deep Fried Taro Puff, pictured above, is not something we would have chosen off of a dim sum cart or menu, but it was tasty and fun to learn about from our guide.
Our group also tried the more usual Siu Mai (pork and shrimp dumplings) and Steamed BBQ Pork Buns at the Triple Crown Dim Sum Restaurant. This represented Cantonese-style food from Hong Kong and other southern regions of China close to the sea.
Just across the street from the Triple Crown Restaurant is the building that was once known as Chinatown’s “city hall”. The ornate Pui Tak Center was originally opened in 1928 as the On Leong Merchants Association Building, a place to help new Chinese immigrants assimilate to Chicago. In 1988, as part of a federal racketeering investigation, the FBI and Chicago Police raided the building, finding a casino hidden on the building’s second floor, with significant cash in its vault. The US federal government seized the building that same year.
The building fell into disrepair until 1993, when the government sold the building to the Chinese Christian Union Church (CCUC) for $1.4 million. The church renamed the building the Pui Tak Center, and it is used for religious, community, and educational programs for the Chinatown community.
After visiting a bakery and a Buddhist Temple on South Wentworth Ave, our tour headed to Chinatown Square, a two-level mall north of Archer Avenue built in the late 1980’s. This area – purchased from the Santa Fe Railway — has been developed into a shopping and residential area known as “new” Chinatown.
At the Lao Sze Chuan Restaurant we were introduced to the citric flavor and the tingly numbing sensation of Szechuan Peppercorns.
We walked through the new Chinatown residential area to the Ping Tom Memorial Park and Chicago Water Taxi Station. The 12-acre park was originally a Chicago and Western Indiana Railroad yard located along the edge of the South Branch of the Chicago River. The park is named after businessman and civic leader Ping Tom who formed the private firm that developed Chinatown Square and the surrounding area.
We first saw this park and its beautiful pagoda-style pavilion two years ago sailed by on the Chicago Architecture River Tour.
Our final stop included milk tea and the delicious Portuguese-Style Milk Egg Tart at Saint Anna Bakery and Pastry Shop. This was our second bakery stop of the tour; earlier we enjoyed trying more traditional Chinese pastries such as the Red Bean Paste Cake at Chiu Quon, the oldest Chinese bakery in Chinatown.
After we finished the tour we headed to South Wentworth Avenue for one last look at Chicago’s Chinatown. Since the weather had improved enough to see Chicago’s skyscrapers in the distance, we decided to walk back to our Downtown Loop hotel.
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