Chinese New Year 2019: Celebrate with baked goods, specialty teas in Chicago's Chinatown

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If you're headed to Chinatown for Chinese New Year, be prepared to see a lot more baked goods and specialty teas.

The Chinese New Year is coming up on Tuesday, and our Hungry Hound says if you're headed to Chinatown, be prepared to see a lot more baked goods and specialty teas.

Including something called "cheese" tea, which is a direct import from Taiwan. Plus, a Korean-owned bakery with all sorts of breads and pastries you've probably never seen before.

You'll have no problem getting your fill of hot pot or hand-pulled noodles next week, but do make a point to check out the unique teas and breads now available in Chinatown.

One is a direct import from Taiwan, featuring soft breads and all-natural fruit teas - some with a milky cap - the other, a Korean import that combines Asian ingredients with French baking technique.

Bakeries and tea shops are becoming more prevalent in the Chinatown Square Mall. There's Korean-owned Tous les Jours, with suburban locations in Glenview and Schaumburg; the investment in the space is obvious. Sleek counters stuffed with pan breads and soft cream breads with flavors like green tea and black sesame are everywhere. But so are French macarons and decadent cakes featuring fruit, tea, cream and chocolate. Pastries like sweet pumpkin doughnuts and croissants beckon, but so do savory options with embedded hot dogs and pizza sauce, or spinach and feta. They also have a progressive coffee and tea program, which make it an ideal spot to hang out for awhile.

"Breakfast time, and maybe late, like three o'clock, most people come, sit down, chill, eat some bread," said Ming Xao Liu, one of the managers.

Just a few doors away, Taiwan-based Bingo Tea opened a new store - they have a larger one in Uptown serving food too. In Chinatown, it's all about the soft breads and the tea.

"All-natural ingredients, straight from tea leaves, brewed in-house - along with the bakery, everything's made in-house - so all of our partners had to go back to Taiwan to learn everything and how it's made and bring it back over here," said Priscilla Moy, the Marketing Director.

The breads are made every day, and they are soft. Flavors range from a deep purple yam to mango, funky durian and red bean and cheese. They also sell crazy-good milk candies. But it's the tea they're known for. One example features dragonfruit, muddled in a glass, then adding fresh orange and fresh lime, plus some sugar syrup and a scoop of ice. It's shaken well, but then you choose the type of cold-brewed tea to add - in this case, green, then shaken again, and finally, poured out into a tall glass.

Even more unique, their "cheese" tea program.

"We use it as a topping for our teas. You can put it on any tea, whether you want it on the milk tea, the fruit tea, but we do have green teas, the oolong and the black tea that you can just put it on top and what you do is you drink it, and it kind of blends in with the tea, which gives it its own, natural unique flavor," said Moy.

You choose a tea, like a peach oolong, which is placed into a special, imported blender with hot water. The tea bag is protected from the blade, while the hot water agitates while steeping with the tea - ingenious - then that tea is poured over ice and sugar syrup, shaken really well and strained like a cocktail into a glass. Finally, that milky, cream cheesy, sea salt-laced topping, which gives the tea a truly unique, dairy-forward edge.

The bakery, meanwhile, is busy keeping up with demand from people looking for something a little bit different in the bread aisle.

"And so our bakers choose whatever kind of filling they want in there, whether it be blueberry, mango, durian or even pork," said Moy. "The Asians really love soft bread."

And in Steve's Extra Course video, he visits the Richland Mall basement, just a few yards from Chinatown Square Mall, where he says one of the food stalls in particular is worth trying for their noodle soup.

WATCH: Noodle soup at food stall in Richland Mall's basement
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Steve visits the Richland Mall basement, where he says one of the food stalls in particular is worth trying for their noodle soup.

Tous les Jours

2144 S. Archer Ave.
312-225-8488

Bingo Tea
2150A S. Archer Ave.
312-328-6668
Related Topics:
foodrestaurantshungry houndChinese foodChinatownChicago
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