Chicago's Flavor: Chinatown

February 17, 2011 (CHICAGO)

But since the early 1900s, it's also the cultural center for generations of Chinese-Chicagoans. It's believed to be the second-largest Chinatown in the country.

"Chinatown is unique. It is clean and it's safe. We work very closely together," said Bernarda Wong, president, Chinese American Service League.

At the Chinese American Service League, you can see it all in action, unifying a community and preserving the past.

"We provide services and want to be proud of our culture and retain it, but we also do other things to promote with other cultures," said Wong.

In the area on the near the South Side, modern influences are abundant, but so are ancient traditions , like you find at the Bark Lee Ton herbal shop on Cermak, where Andy Chan and his wife Amy stock centuries-old remedies.

"Each person gets something different depending on what is wrong with them," said Chan.

But when you think of Chinatown, you can't help but think of delicious food. Hosea's friend and nationally known celebrity chef Jackie Shen agreed to take Hosea on a tour of some of her favorite spots. They started with the popular Feida Chinese Bakery on Wentworth, where the fluffy bao pastry helps Shen start the day.

"It is the most original, outstanding, fresh, delicious that I have ever had," she said.

She says while freshness and traditional preparation remain a hallmark of Chinatown cuisine, a lot has changed since she first arrived from Hong Kong in the 1970s.

"If you look around at the restaurants, they don't just say Chinese food. There are some places that have Cantonese food and Szechuan food. And they do different regions," Shen said.

Having said that about the intricate preparation of wonderful staples, Shen challenged Hosea to try some dishes that are new to him, like congee, sort of a porridge with red gelatin. The red gelatin is made from pig's blood.

And there were other unique delights to sample, like specially prepared chicken feet and wrapped duck feet. But what really caught Hosea's eye was the shark fin dumplings.

"My mom would like the chicken feet and the duck feet because it is, you just eat the skin. And then you have to work on it to spit out the extra, and [it's] too much work for me to eat," Shen said.

Chinese American Service League
2141 South Tan Court

Fieda Bakery
2228 S Wentworth Ave.

Bark Lee Tong
229 W. Cermak Rd.

Hing Kee
2140 S. Archer Ave.

Wing Chan BBQ
2157 S. China Place

Shui Wah Restaurant
2162 South Archer Avenue

Hosea's tour guide Jackie Shen

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