Anyway, one of the things I wanted to do this trip was visit Chinatown. Our culinary-adventurous family has already visited Little Italy and Greektown, so I decided it was high time I checked out Chicago’s finest authentic Chinese cuisine. We asked my daughter’s friend, Wini, whose parents emigrated to the U.S. from Hong Kong, if she would join us and give us a tour of the area.
After we circled Chinatown’s numerous parking lots a couple times we finally settled on a spot by the train station and walked over to the commercial district. As we approached the shopping area, I looked around and took in my surroundings. In front of me was a sign for a restaurant, across the parking lot stood a Walgreens that boasted signage in both English and Chinese characters, and to my left I saw a bank that specialized in currency exchange. We followed a short alleyway for about three hundred feet and then turned left into Chinatown.
A wide, meandering walkway led past storefronts – all boasting Chinese lettering that advertised for various restaurants, hair salons, and Chinese medicine shops. Intricate iron stairways led to an upper level of various shops and eateries as well. Overhead, Chinese New Year decorations hung from bridges that served as catwalks from one side of the outdoor shopping center to the other. The turquoise paint that adorned the decorative ironwork cast a pale blue shadow over the light layer of snow that blanketed the walkways. It was absolutely beautiful and completely unexpected.
Wini led us up the closest stairway to her favorite restaurant, “Cai”. We entered the restaurant and the maitre d’ escorted us past crowded tables and into a room with large picture windows from which we could look past the elevated train tracks to enjoy a beautiful view of downtown Chicago. I glanced around and realized we were the only tourists in the establishment – which I took as a good sign. We sat down and Wini expertly ordered dim sum, soup, and hot tea for us (all in Chinese, of course).
As we lingered over our food for about two hours, Wini explained that weekend dim sum is a Chinese tradition. Families head out to their favorite restaurants and spend hours sharing small dishes (the equivalent of Spanish tapas or American appetizers), connecting with each other over food. While we visited I realized that, no matter what culture we belong to, mealtime provides us the opportunity to share our lives with one another. Sitting down and enjoying good food together causes us to stop and take time to learn about each other – whether we are just getting acquainted, are old friends, or are members of the same family. The ritual of sharing a meal once a day or once a month – or once in a lifetime – presents the chance to converse and listen and helps develop stronger relationships with those we care about. Different cultures, of course, have different ways of sharing the family meal, but the end result is always the same.
So, this week let's sit down to a virtual meal gathering. Grab a snack and/or a beverage, pull up a chair, and join in the conversation!
This weekend, what family customs will you share? Will you participate in a tradition that will afford you the opportunity to spend time with your spouse and children in an effort to play “catch up”? Will you spend time with friends for the same reason? Where are your favorite places to enjoy a meal and what are are some of your favorite foods? And, lastly, do you own a pair of Uggs? (Seriously, I would never have survived the weekend without them....)