Friday, June 5, 2009

To the Other Side of Chinatown

The Moring Commute In Chicago

Due to the late evening before, we weren't in any hurry to get going in the morning, which is why we ended up on the Kennedy Expressway in rush hour with the view you see above. On previous trips to Chicago, we have either been there on a weekend or had ridden the excellent mass transit system but with Little Abbey and Aunt-in-law in tow, I didn't want to hassle with it just for the one day we were planning on touring the town. From the Blueline train, the expressway had absolutely looked like you could waste a lifetime in one morning but out in it wasn't really terrible. We were able to cruise along around 30 miles per hour so that it took us most of an hour to get from our hotel to our first destination of the day and one of my favorites, Millennium Park.

This is probably my fourth trip to the park and I have yet to tire of it. My aunt-in-law had never been there so even if I had been tired of it, we would have gone not to mention Little Abbey's love of playing in the water at Crown Plaza. So we walked around, visited the usual places, watched Little Abbey play in the water at Crown Plaza and took many of the normal pictures I have taken in the past. Those are:

The BP Bridge

Cloudgate and the only view of the city skyline I never tire of seeing

The trees in jail though this time it was open so I could walk inside their enclosure where there weren't as many iron bars but a moat instead. I still haven't figured out why they keep the trees behind bars and moats. They must have done something very bad.

Our next and final stop for the day would be a place new to me, Chinatown. I remembered seeing it listed on several maps and also pointed out at the top of the Sears tower so I figured it must be worthy of seeing. My Garmin GPS whisked us from Millennium Park and to a parking lot right outside the main gate in no time. Our first priority was lunch so we walked through the gate and headed deep within Chinatown trying to decipher what restaurant looked good.

Chinatown's Main Gate

I don't recall the name of the place where we ate but it had the word Café in the title and was off the beaten path enough that it didn't have tourists (i.e. non-Chinese people) in it and it was the stroke of noon. So we sat down next to the window where we could keep an eye on things and soon a waitress stopped and asked if we wanted dim sum.

Chinese not being one of the languages I understand, even at a word or two level, I mistakenly thought she was asking us if we wanted an appetizer. I thought why not since we were in Chinatown after all and said yes but she immediately disappeared without asking what appetizer we wanted. It struck me as kind of odd but hey, I'm not Chinese so who am I to judge. Soon she came back wheeling a cart full of bamboo baskets steaming away and one at a time took their lids off, held it up for us to see, and said something that I think was, "Do you want?"

Soon we had a few baskets on the lazy susan device in the center of the table and were eating our appetizers. It was only after she came back with another cart full of different foods in steaming baskets did I first suspect that dim sum was actually a Chinese version of our buffet and that we were actually in the midst of the one and only course to the meal. However, we were game and kept nodding our assent to baskets that looked good and soon had amassed quite a collection of steaming bamboo containers. The food was fabulous and I enjoyed it however I was starting to ponder how much something like this was going to cost.

Some dim sum

More dim sum

There were no prices on anything or at least not in a language I could understand and each time the waitress dropped off something at our table she made a mark on the bill. But as you can see below, it still didn't give me a clue as to how much this was going to lighten my wallet when all was said and done. Did vertical marks cost less than horizontal marks? It was only as I was writing this post and studying the picture did I figure it out and see that the prices were marked down below according to size and the sizes were listed to the left of the marks they made but how anyone could tell what constituted small, medium, large and extra-large since all the containers were the same size is still a mystery to me.

The Bill

But at the time, it was still a mystery so when it came time to ring up the bill, I figured I was either going to be pleasantly surprised or horrified. The waitress struggled a bit, making more scratches and finally just gave up and said $20 only in a question-like tone of voice. For four people who were still a bit hungry from yesterday's famine, it was a steal even by rural Iowa standards. We paid up and hit the sidewalks again.

We did some shopping here and there looking for some food items not found easily in rural Iowa and I bought a few trinkets for Little Abbey to keep her entertained. One of the items surprisingly had a sticker on it informing me that it had been made in Pakistan that struck me as a little ironic in the heart of Chinatown. After a while, perhaps because the dim sum meal was weighing us down or the warm sun was slowing us down, we decided the time had come to head back to our vehicle. Though we had several more things on our list of things to see, my aunt-in-law declared that she had seen enough and wanted to go home. So towards the freeways slightly before rush hour, if there is ever such a thing in Chicago, we went and headed towards home making a stop once for a stroll to stretch our legs along a river in a shady park in a town somewhere between Chicago and home.


Dumitru Caruntu said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
geri said...

Oh, I love Chinatown! You went to the right place for good, cheap food. I've been planning to take Evan to Millenium Park before summer when it gets too crowded. One time I was so shocked to see kids actually bringing towels disembarking from the El. It was kind of strange to see that in the middle of the city. For somebody who has lived in the islands its towels and beach :)

R. Sherman said...

Good dim sum is really a treat. It's difficult to find away from areas with significant Chinese communities.


Ed Abbey said...

Geri - We were shocked on our first visit to see people wading in the water. It seems to be a popular destination, no matter what day of the week or if school is in session, with parents and their kids.

R. Sherman - It sure was. I know a meal in Chinatown will probably be a permanent addition to any future itinery involving Chicago.

The Real Mother Hen said...

She charged you $20? Your dim sum meal should have only cost you $17.90 (according to the bill you had). Go back and ask for your change! :)

Oh I like the Chinatown in Chicago. I always had a great time there :)

Ed Abbey said...

Mother Hen - I noticed that too. It was worth it anyway and just means she got a larger tip than I previously had thought.

The Real Mother Hen said...

I kept looking at the pictures. Oh you had my favorite chee-chong-fun and haw-gao and her-ye-fang :)

Murf said...

Geez, Ed...even I know what dim sum is. :-)

sage said...

I've eaten in Chicago Chinatown probably 1/2 dozen times--its easy to get to via rail and the food is always reasonable... Thanks for the pictures, my tuna sandwich for lunch wasn't enough.

Beau said...

That looks fun and now I'm hungry!

Ed Abbey said...

Mother Hen - You will have to tell me what is what or if you were making it up because I haven't a clue.

Murf - It is a regional thing. I haven't seen a real tenderloin east of the Mississippi.

Sage - Next time I'm on rail in the area, I'll certainly stop back.

Beau - It was and I apologize. I should put a note to read only when full.

The Real Mother Hen said...

Food pic 1 - see the white plate with white stuff in the foreground, that's chee-cheong-fun (Cantonese pronunciation). It is made up of two very thin layer of rice flour sheet wrapped around usually char-siew (pork), or prawns or mushroom.

Behind the Chee-Cheong-Fun is probably SuiMai (Cantonese pronunciation) - a type of pork tim sum in a tin can.

The one in bamboo steamer - no clue :)

Food Picture 2: big dumplings in the foreground, that looks like Shui-Jian-Bao (Mandarin pronunciation) which means pan-fried dumplings, a Shanghai delicacy.

Behind that in a tin can is He-Ye-Fan (Mandarin pronunciation) - literal translation lotus leaf rice, ie glutinous rice wrapped in lotus leaf.

Next to it, the two balls (light brown) - that looks like "cin-zhou" (fujian pronunciation). I bet it has red beans or peanuts inside the ball.

Behind that in the far top area they are two plates, one is chee-cheong-fun (first picture), another one could be hargow... or siumai (first picture), can't see too clearly :)

PhilippinesPhil said...

Trees kept behind bars... I can understand why that is since I spend so much time in and under mine. Trees at best have a bad case of dandruff, at worst they shed like a Persian cat. Just sitting under mine with a cup of coffee every morning I watch stuff fall continuously, and when the wind blows, watch out. All that stuff has to be cleaned up. Trees mean mess, but give me the mess!