Far East in the Midwest

•Chicago’s Chinatown

•Chicago Chinese Cultural Institute
2145-B S. China Place second floor chicagocci.com

•Joy Yee’s
2139 S. China Place (312) 328-0001

•Happy Garden Bakery
2351 S. Wentworth

•Adler Planetarium
1300 S. Lake Shore Driveadlerplanetarium.org (312) 922-STAR

•International Plaza
665 Pasquinelli Drive Westmont
(630) 323-8180

The impressive show put on this past summer at the Olympics in Beijing placed China front and center in the world spotlight. Luckily, you don’t have to catch an airplane to explore the rich cultural heritage of China. Our city features some of the best Chinese cultural centers, Chinese-American neighborhoods and restaurants outside of Beijing. And as interest in Chinese culture grows in the U.S., more and more China-centered points of interest continue to spring up in the Chicago area.

Chicago’s one-of-a-kind Chinatown is the perfect place to start your journey. The sights, the sounds and the (mouthwatering!) smells will transport you directly to China. The newer, outdoor Chinatown Square Mall, located just north of the main Wentworth Avenue District, features numerous cafes and boutiques. Send your kids off to search for their representative animal among the 12 Chinese Zodiac animal statues located in the middle of the mall. Kids will also enjoy climbing the stairs of the two pagodas.

Shop for souvenirs at one of the many gift boutiques: for just a few dollars, your kids will be sure to find something uniquely Chinese, from miniature tea sets to character stamps. Check out A J Housewares& Gift, located just off the Zodiac plaza at the center of the mall, for an especially extensive and inexpensive selection.

Bright, colorful and kid-friendly, Joy Yee’s is the perfect lunch spot. The menu displays a long list of delights accompanied by pictures, so even nonreaders can place their orders. The noodle and rice dishes are sure kid pleasers. Don’t miss a sample of Joy Yee’s specialty, Bubble Tea, aka Boba Tea, a fruit-flavored drink dotted with tapioca pearls that will remind you of mini balls of Jell-O.

Be sure to pop into the Chinese Cultural Institute (second floor of the Chinatown Square Mall). The center features books and DVDs in English or bilingual English/Chinese on a variety of China-related topics. Choose from an extensive selection of children’s picture books, coloring books, sticker collections, character stamps, CDs and DVDs and further your family study of China at home. Staff will be happy to answer any questions you may have, as well as provide dining and special event suggestions. Visit chicagocci.com to receive notification of upcoming family events as well as information on Chinese language and cultural workshops.

Don’t forget to pick up some treats for the road: Happy Garden Bakery, located on the original stretch of Chinatown at 2351 S. Wentworth, has cases filled with sweet treats. For an out of the ordinary dessert, try a coconut crème-filled cocktail bun or a sweet red bean-filled pastry.

Just a short drive away from Chinatown Square, the Adler Planetarium is also reflecting the growing interest in Chinese language and culture via its newest show,"One World, One Sky: Big Bird’s Adventure.” Big Bird, Elmo and their friend from China, Hu Hu Zhu, take viewers on a journey of discovery to learn about the Big Dipper, the North Star, the Sun and the Moon—a great introductory tour of the universe for even the smallest of viewers. Check out adlerplanetarium.org or call (630) 323-8180 for updated show times, and if you’re interested in brushing up on Chinese, be sure to ask for the Chinese (Mandarin) language show time.

In the suburbs, don’t miss the food court at International Plaza in Westmont. Be adventurous and treat your palate to new tastes by ordering the daily specials. Everyone will love the noodles, dumplings and buns at many of the tiny Asian specialty to-go cafes. You’ll enjoy a gourmet meal that’s informal, inexpensive and unique, an entirely uncommon mall food court experience. Mix things up even more by doing your weekly grocery shopping at the Whole Grain Fresh Market, located within International Plaza, where you’ll find a myriad of delightful treats. Don’t forget to pick up some Pocky Treats, ultra-thin cracker sticks dipped in chocolate.

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