Several organizations, from Reader’s Digest to Travelocity, rank Chicago’s Chinatown as one of the best in the country. Featuring various Chinese restaurants, supermarkets and events, Chinatown is a popular spot for many Chinese students as well as students from other countries.
An important landmark of any Chinatown around the world is the Gateway, engraved with four Chinese characters: Tian Xia Wei Gong. Literally translated, the Chinese idiom means that everything under heaven is for everyone.
Located a few hundred meters away from the Gateway, the Nine Dragon Wall is another famous tourist attraction. Traditional glazed tiles cover the wall; the dragons symbolize the idea of the supremacy of emperors.
Not only do Americans go to Chinatown to have an Eastern experience without leaving Chicago, but Chinese people also pay frequent visits there. Missing Chinese cuisine, some Chinese students go to Chinatown as often as twice a month to get a bite from home.
“You do have pretty good Chinese restaurants here, but you don’t have a good hotpot place in Evanston,” McCormick sophomore Jeff Lau, who is from Hong Kong, said. “One of the big reasons why you would go to Chinatown is to get hotpot.”
Medill sophomore and Shanghai native Katherine Gu recommended MingHin Cuisine, a Cantonese restaurant located just over a block away from the Cermak-Chinatown station on the Red Line. She also went to Chinatown for karaoke.
One particular draw for Northwestern students is the greater range of boba tea shops. Chinatown hosts around ten boba shops, ranging from Hello Jasmine to Bingo Tea.
Ringo Mo, who makes beverages at Bingo Tea, said there are usually more American customers than Chinese customers in the shop.
“Sometimes we have customers who speak Mandarin to us when they walk in,” Mo said. “They are generally younger (than average customers), from 16 to 30.”
According to Mo, Bingo Tea even opened on Christmas Day because it is not an official holiday in China, even though the hours that day differed from normal hours.
Chinatown Market, which sells products imported from China, is located in the same area as MingHin Cuisine and is another favorite of Chinese students at Northwestern University.
Besides visiting Chinatown for food, Lau said he also went to the market for grocery shopping, because it offered materials different from those found in Whole Foods Market, such as napa cabbage and Chinese broccoli, or suanmeitang, a classical Chinese beverage made from plums and sugar.
“There were many very authentic things that are from China,” Weinberg freshman Andew Su, who is from Beijing, said of the market. “There were also seasonal things, like mooncakes.”
Despite its popularity, students have complained that Chinatown is much more difficult to reach than downtown Chicago.
Gu said it can take her close to two hours to get to Chinatown from Evanston via the CTA. Sometimes, she would take an Uber.
Additionally, some Chinese students said Chinatown represented an outdated representation of the country.
“Chinatown just reminds me a lot of what China is like forty years ago,” Lau said. “The houses are not very modern. It is pretty similar to old Hong Kong — almost everyone there speaks Cantonese.”
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