A quest to find traditional Shanghai flavors in Chinatown

February 8, 2013 9:10:18 PM PST
The Chinese New Year is on Sunday which means many people will be cooking in their homes and heading to Chinatown to celebrate the Year of the Snake.

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra just returned from its tour of Asia. Li-Kuo Chang is the CSO's resident foodie, routinely taking fellow musicians on eating excursions.

I asked him to take me on a trip to Chinatown to taste a few dishes that remind him of celebrating the New Year in his native Shanghai.

When I asked him to take me somewhere that reminded him of home, we ended up at Lao You Ju, near the Chinatown Square Mall.

Chang has been the Assistant Principal Viola for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for the past 25 years.

"I remember, since I grow up, as a child, the first thing you would eat for the breakfast, New Year's Day is stir-fried rice cake with Napa cabbage and shredded pork," said Chang.

And that dish is always on the menu. Chang appreciates the nuance and simplicity.

"Here you see the main sauce is soy sauce," he said.

Another barometer for Shanghainese cuisine is the xiao long bao, or soup dumpling. It's named that for its juiciness. Chang instructs me to bite off the top of the dumpling first.

"And you have to suck out all the juice, and it should be very moist," he said. "I have to say this is wonderful xiao long bao.."

The third dish to catch Chang's eye - and instantly take him back to Shanghai - is the wok-fried fish fillet with earthy wood ear mushrooms, completely enveloped in a bracing wine sauce.

"The sauce should wrap around the fish fillet," he said.

And we should probably say happy new year, isn't that 'gong hay fat choy'?" I asked.

"That's Cantonese. I will say in Mandarin, 'Xin Nián Kuài'," said Chang.

And Lao You Ju also serves a traditional Cantonese dim sum service on the weekends.

Lao You Ju

2002 S. Wentworth Ave.


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If you'd like to see images or the blog from the CSO's recent trip to Asia: Click Here