Chicago, Friday, August 12, 2011. On a beautiful Monday morning in Chicago, I stepped off the Chicago Water Taxi at Ping Tom Park in Chinatown and walked several blocks to Cermak and Wentworth where I started the first leg of my Chinatown Culinary Adventure.
Our host (tour guide) Shane Kost, owner and creator of Chicago Food Planet Food Tours met our tour group in the lobby of the bustling Triple Crown Restaurant. It was not quite 11:30a.m. yet there was a constant stream of activity as one group after another walked past the fish pond and climbed the stairs to the restaurant. What time is it I asked? "It's dim sum time," explained Shane in answer to my surprise at why the place was bustling with so many people on a Monday morning. "Dim sum", Shane told the group," is a Cantonese term for a type of Chinese meal that involves small individual portions of food, usually consumed between 10a.m. and 2p.m., but can be eaten anytime. Dim sum, literally translated from the Cantonese, means 'dot-hearts,' small treats that touch the heart".
Our hearts were definitely touched after we checked in, and climbed the stairs to see for ourselves what all the excitement was about. The dim sum was placed on a large Lazy Susan that is built-into the table top to facilitate the Chinese custom of sharing. Our group partook in what the Chinese popularly refer to as going to yum cha -- going to tea -- because the drinking of tea is so strongly associated with the snack foods served.
Shane explained each of the five carefully chosen, generous and outstanding tastings. He showed us the proper way to share tea, and entertained and informed us with stories and traditions of the Chinese culture. Our congenial group consisted of a mother and her adult daughter celebrating a birthday; a college-aged brother and his 20-something sister who had spent the weekend at Lollapalooza; a semi-retired husband and wife who were veterans of food tours around the country; two women from the northern suburbs who come to the city often for various events and our tour guide. Although I brought a friend, I would have felt perfectly comfortable taking the tour by myself.
The dim sum, of course, was just the beginning of an odyssey that would introduce us to the authentic culture of China and the Chinatown area of Chicago. An odyssey of jasmine pearls, ginseng, a 1000 arm Guan Yin Bodhisattiva, along with traditional food from three different regions of China.
Although eating was paramount, the tour was not limited to just food. We were immersed in the Chinese lifestyle. Along the way, we stopped by the Buddhist Temple on Wentworth--a perfect place to meditate and soak up the culture. We sipped a refreshing peach infused tea at Ten Ren Tea & Ginseng Co; sampled a piquant assortment of Szechuan specialties at Lao Sze Chuan; enjoyed succulent Beijing Peking duck at Lao Beijing and topped off the day with a sumptuous dessert at Saint Anna Bakery.
But that wasn't all. Shane pointed out many spots along the way, translated Chinese symbols, told us about Chinese herbs, superstitions, traditions, behind-the-scenes stories, types of teas, other restaurants of note and even took us for a walk in the park. Tickets for the Chinatown Tour, which lasts approximately 3 hours and 15 minutes, are $60 and include everything.
Chicago Food Planet Food Tours also takes guests on a Chicago Bucktown/Wicker Park Food Tour and Gold Coast/Old Town Food Tour, both cost $45 and include all food. Each tour is limited to 16 guests and they often sell out. If you are planning a tour, make reservations as early as possible. The 2011 tour season goes through November 30.
The tour company was founded by Shane Kost in 2006. He spends many hours doing research in developing his tours including travel to over 36 countries between 2009 and 2011 in his ongoing quest for culinary excellence that he passes on to the people on his tours and his tour guides.
In addition to the public tours, Chicago Food Planet offers Private Chicago Group Food Tours.
The Chicago Water Taxi stops at Michigan Ave. and the Chicago River, LaSalle and the River and at Madison and the River downstairs from Olgivie Transportation Center. It is delightful ride with some great picture ops along the way. The Water Taxi runs daily through Labor Day and weekends only the rest of the season. At press time there was talk of extending the weekday service through November 14 so check their website for details. Please Note: There is about a six block walk from where the Water Taxi docks at Ping Tom Park to downtown Chinatown.
The Red Line El Train goes to Chinatown (Cermak/Chinatown stop).
Bus: #24 Clark Street and the #62 Archer Avenue Buses.
There is some street parking plus two parking lots in the area: Chinatown Parking is located kitty-corner from Three Happiness Restaurant (2130 S. Wentworth Ave.) and Hunter Parking is on Wentworth Ave. and 24th.
Plan on spending about $10 plus tip for a taxi from downtown Chicago. On your return trip you may have to call to get a cab.
Filed under: The Best of Show Me Chicago