Of great import
Andy Siharath, Chinatown Chamber of Commerce's stylish program coordinator, takes us beyond the area's kitschy gift shops.
Woks n’ Things
Yes, you’ll find a selection of woks (with a price range of $5–$99, there’s one for every budget) in this small, well-organized shop. But because it’s the only store in Chinatown that specializes in just cookware, you’ll also find a variety of other products, including steamers ($6), tea kettles ($13–$16), moon cake molds ($3), and a few DANGER: MEN COOKING signs and aprons. The shop is a secret gem among culinary students, who shop here for affordable knives and chef uniforms. 2234 S Wentworth Ave (312-842-0701).
Buddhist Temple Bookstore & Gift Shop
The focus here is on all things spiritual, but that doesn’t mean a few stray secular items can’t grace the shelves, including Barack Obama’s The Audacity of Hope and organic vegetarian food. Incense fills the air in the dark and quiet storefront, but the back of the building is where you’ll find bald Buddhist nuns pruning flowers and lemon displays in the temple. In addition to that Obama book, the shelves also carry tomes on how to meditate, a variety of Buddha statues ($10 and up) and large metallic sound bowls (up to $268). “What I like most are their charms and necklaces meant to bring one luck and happiness,” Siharath says. 2249 S Wentworth Ave (312-881-0177).
Labels are curiously missing from about half of the clothes at this tiny three-year-old store, but most of the trendy girls’ and women’s items seem to be from Hong Kong and China. When we visit, everything is 20 to 50 percent off to make way for summer clothes, so there are plenty of deals on cute plaid trenches, tunics, sweaters, dresses, purses, boots and flats. 239 W Cermak Rd (312-842-3295).
Head to this sweet shop for obscure Japanese gummy candies, seaweed-hugged crackers and dried fruit. “My favorite candy is the Botan rice candy,” Siharath says. “It’s a Japanese candy that is chewy and wrapped in a thin, edible piece of rice paper—plus, each box also contains a temporary tattoo or sticker.” The shop offers samples, so try before you buy (especially the more curious items such as dried squid). 2117A S China Pl (312-328-9998).
Chinese Cultural Bookstore
“Many people come from New York and San Francisco and comment on the large selection of [English-language] Chinese books here,” owner Z.J. Tong says. True, the small storefront is packed with tomes covering topics such as how to do business in China, martial arts and Chinese travel, as well as a section devoted to children’s books. A whole wall boasts Chinese-as-a-second-language books, DVDs, CDs and flash cards (the shop also hosts Chinese language classes). The bookstore is open 10am–6pm on weekends and by appointment during the week until summer, when it’ll resume daily hours. 2145B S China Pl, second floor (312-842-1988, chicagocci.com).
Think you’re being charged too much? Try these Chinese haggling phrases.
Duòshaoqián (dwo-shau chyan) How much money? How much does it cost?
Tài guì le (tai gwei le) Too expensive
Pián yi yi dian (pyan-yi yi-dyar) Cheaper (as a request)