Excitement soars when Chinese kite-making workshop lands at Chicago school
by Jing Zhao Cesarone
CHICAGO, Nov. 19 (Xinhua) -- Young imaginations took flight when the Chinese princess of kite-making granted a hands-on demonstration of authentic Chinese kites in an eye-opening and fun-filled workshop for Chicago public school students and teachers.
The series of Chinese kite-making workshops was jointly sponsored by the Chicago Chinese Cultural Institute and the Confucius Institute in Chicago. Tong was instrumental in putting the program together.
(To see the full article, please visit: http://news.xinhuanet.com/english2010/china/2010-11/20/c_13614564.htm
Program gives Chicago Public Schools teachers a lesson in history, culture
June 30, 2010|By Lisa Pevtzow, Special to the Tribune
Z.J. Tong, president of the Chicago Chinese Cultural Institute, said he appreciates the chance to tell his community's story to the CPS teachers and indirectly to their students. The impact of walking the streets of Chinatown and seeing Chinese culture represented by its architecture, stores and restaurants is much more powerful than reading books by people without personal experience of the culture.
Big stomach in little Chinatown
Four restaurants, 13 dishes, two days, one distended belly.
Time Out Chicago
May 5, 2010, By Laura Baginski. Photographs by Marina Makropoulos.
There’s a right way and a wrong way to eat chicken feet, and I’m eating them the wrong way. I watch as Z.J. Tong, who is taking me to his favorite Chinatown restaurants, uses chopsticks to pick up the bright red claw, gnaws on the delicious skin, then deftly pulls the bones out of his mouth with the tips of his chopsticks. My trouble lies with that last part—I lack the dexterity to nab a small bone from my lips without being able to see it. “Just push the bone out of your mouth with your tongue,” Tong suggests. I do as he says, but I still can’t pinch the bone. Frustrated, I dig my fingers into my mouth, pull out the bone and drop it onto my plate. Classy.
Read more: http://chicago.timeout.com/articles/features/85085/chinatown-restaurants#ixzz0vldbdONz
Looking for real Chinese food in Chicago?
The guide advises: ‘You may find chicken feet'
March 25, 2010|By Bill Daley, Tribune critic
Z.J. Tong is the undisputed boss of the dining room at Cantonesia this night. And that's exactly the reason 20 people have shown up at this veteran Chinatown restaurant to spend $20 a pop on a Mongolian hot pot dinner.
"I pick the menu for you. You may find chicken feet," he said, as the guests chuckled appreciatively. "I choose the things you don't order. That's the point."
Thus begins another dinner of the Chopsticks Club, a "daring" diner club sponsored by Tong's Chicago Chinese Cultural Institute Inc. Every month, Tong seeks to push the culinary and cultural envelope for curious, hungry Chicagoans while introducing them to the Chinatown restaurants he knows so well.
Chicago students witness sheer wonder unfold during Chinese paper-cutting show
Xinhua News Agency
by Jing Zhao Cesarone
CHICAGO, Nov. 5 (Xinhua) -- No lines, no patterns, no drawings ... simply a piece of bright red paper, a pair of scissors and deft hands were all Wang Li, a well-known Chinese paper-cutting artist, needed to make magic unfold in front of a group of American students at LaSalle Language Academy in Chicago on Tuesday.
Z. J. Tong, founder and president of the Chicago Chinese Culture Institute, sponsored this cultural activity along with the Chicago Confucius Institute.
Standing by Li's side, Tong told the students about the history and meaning behind this unique and endangered Chinese art form, which has existed for centuries.
"The oldest surviving paper-cut is from the 6th century. From the 7th to the 13th centuries, it became very popular and was spread to the rest of the world in the 14th century," Tong said.
Tong was also asked about the meaning and function of paper-cuts. "They are mostly decorations for walls, windows, doors and lanterns during Chinese festivals. They represent good luck, prosperity, health or harvest," he answered.
During his three-week visit, Chinese artist Li held popular presentations at about 20 public schools in Chicago.
Eating her words
A Chinese-food lover gets a lesson in humility.
By Ruth Welte
Aug 27–Sep 2, 2009
I’ll admit that I went into the Chopsticks Dining Club pretty cocky. The idea behind the club is that a native Chinese speaker/eater meets you at a Chinatown restaurant and orders a feast of authentic dishes for you. I’m no native, but I’ve eaten chicken feet plenty of times, I’ve got a favorite Chinatown bakery (Saint Anna), and I’m even learning Mandarin. Ni hao, club members: You’re eating with a pro. Or so my thinking went—until the soup arrived.
The soup, dinner leader Z.J. Tong explained to the group gathered at Happy Chef Restaurant (2164 S Archer Ave), was made with conpoy (dried scallop) and bamboo pith. It was like nothing I’d eaten before—sour, with savory scallop notes and, believe it or not, a pleasantly gloopy texture. Other alien and delicious dishes followed (though many of the other club members sported gray hair and were less familiar with Chinese food than I am, Tong pulled no punches in ordering): chewy “thousand-year-old” eggs with tender greens; soft purple-specked taro squares swimming in curry; baby bok choy; lobster with green onion; and beef with bitter melon.
By the end of the evening, we were stuffed. And yet, when the light-but-earthy red bean and tapioca soup (which was not on the restaurant’s printed menu) arrived for dessert, I inhaled my bowl. And then I inhaled a second. Who knew when I’d eat this well in Chinatown again?
The next Chopsticks Dining Club dinner is Sept 17 at 6pm at Cantonesia Restaurant (204 W Cermak Rd). To reserve a spot, contact the Chicago Chinese Cultural Institute, 312-842-1988, email@example.com, chicagocci.com.
A Chinese dinner with meaning
For a colorful bright spot a dark January weekend, grab dinner in Chicago’s Chinatown and rock Chinese New Year with an expert on ancient Chinese culture. In a private dining room decorated with red paper lotus flowers, you’ll be served a 10-course Chinese New Year meal—along with insights into the holiday’s history and traditions.
You’ll find out that jiaozi, dumplings shaped like gold nuggets, represent good fortune. Chicken symbolizes prosperity, and a whole fish represents abundance. Uncut noodles symbolize a long life. Assorted sweets and snacks served in a round red box extend more New Year blessings to the recipient.
The dinners, set for January 24 and 25, include a chance to make dumplings; an authentic Chinese New Year’s meal at Chinatown’s Lao Beijing restaurant; and a cultural lecture by Z.J. Tong, founder and president of the Chicago Chinese Cultural Institute. “I celebrate this important holiday with my guests as though they were my family who live in China,” says Tong, whose institute is dedicated to strengthening the bonds between Americans and Chinese.
Other tips to prepare for the Chinese New Year (January 26, the year of the bull): Don’t cry or wash your hair. Be sure the house is spotless and you’ve paid your debts. Why? Find out at the dinner, which draws more Chinese-food lovers than Chinese themselves. Reservations are required, and the event books fast. Tickets are $35 for adults. Lao Beijing Restaurant, 2138 S. Archer Avenue, Chicago (inside the Chinatown Square Shopping Mall) (312/842-1988; chicagocci.com).
Go beyond the gate to spot Chinatown’s coolest alley.
By Heather Lalley
Sep 4–10, 2008
It’s easy to miss the alley between the Chinatown gate and the Pui Tak Cultural Center—a gritty little passageway lined with fire escapes and hanging laundry—on your way to buy a paper dragon or a straw hat. It’s shady. It’s a little stinky. And seeing a rat scuttle by would be no big surprise. Yet with that wall of metal fire escapes, it’s visually interesting. Plus, it’s a good peek into the real lives of Chinatown’s 10,000 residents, lives that are much more interesting than sweet-and-sour pork and lucky bamboo.
“It’s an alley we don’t see too often in Chicago,” says Z.J. Tong, who owns the Chinese Cultural Bookstore (2145B S China Pl, 312-842-1988) and has given Chinatown tours for eight years. Tong prefers the alley’s old-school design to the newer strip-mall style sprouting in Chinatown in recent years. “It’s reminiscent of the Chicago of the past.”
Taste in Translation
CULTURE | Menus easy to digest with help of Chopsticks Dining Club, 'cultural ambassador'
BY JULIANNE WILL
April 30, 2008
I was just dying to try chicken feet.
I saw them on the menu the last time I had dim sum in Chinatown. Always in search of different and authentic, I couldn't find anything more unusual than chicken feet.
But I was with my adventurous-to-a-point 11-year-old and less-than-adventurous parents, and I really didn't know how to eat chicken feet anyway. I stuck to the curried octopus and the lotus-wrapped shrimp.
So when I joined the Chopsticks Dining Club for a dim sum luncheon at Phoenix restaurant in Chinatown recently, I was thrilled to discover that chicken feet were making their way to our table.
Better still, I'd be able to try them with the guidance of a true Chinese expert and in the comfortable presence of others equally clueless about what to bite into first.
And that is precisely the purpose of the Chopsticks Dining Club: It provides a taste of Chinese culture in bite-sized portions.
Z.J. Tong, president of the Chicago Chinese Cultural Institute and organizer of the Chopsticks Dining Club, found food to be a good starting point in his cultural mission.
The most people know of Chinese culture is the food, Tong says. But they often go to the same Chinese restaurant and order the same Chinese food.
Tong's goal: to lessen the intimidation factor for those willing to experiment. Since starting the club last year, he has hosted six monthly dinners at different restaurants in Chinatown and with different themes.
His guests are willing to travel.
Barbara Leskie of Chicago has come to five of Tong's dinners now. She was so enthusiastic about the experience and Tong's instruction that she invited her friend Carol Alexander to make the trip from Schaumburg for April's dim sum meal.
"It's a great opportunity to hear about the food rather than just order blindly," Leskie said. "He's the greatest cultural ambassador."
At the luncheon, Tong explained that dim sum is typically served from 9 a.m. to 2 or 3 p.m. He compared dim sum to tapas in that each diner might order three or four dishes and share with the table.
In China, Tong said, a typical day might start with morning exercise, the newspaper, tea, a few dishes with friends and then work. Dim sum choices might be carried from table to table on bamboo trays strapped over servers' shoulders.
At Phoenix, 2131 S. Archer, bowls of different delicacies were brought to our large, round table on carts and placed on a flat, wooden wheel in the center, which we could turn to share the feast: shrimp dumplings, pork dumplings, steamed spare ribs, baby octopus with curry, rice in lotus leaf, a creamy fish soup, shrimp crepes, turnip cakes and, for dessert, gelatinous coconut cake, tofu much improved with a healthy dose of liquefied sugar and sesame balls.
And yes, chicken feet. Of course I dug in -- or I would have, if I'd had any success holding them with my chopsticks and trying to nibble a taste of what turns out to be cartilage, tendons and a bit of fat in barbecue sauce.
I finally put my fork to work and managed a small bite. And with that, I seemed to have picked off everything edible and satisfied my curiosity. I can say I've been there, done that and might not need to do it again.
The rest of the guests at my table seemed equally adventurous. Some, like Cindy Wojcik, there with her husband, David, and Jennifer Schwalbenberg, who brought her friend Kristen Soderberg, have taken Chinese lessons from Tong.
Fellow diners David Clarke and Terry Hush are world travelers, thanks to Clarke's work in oil valve sales. Hush's sister, Peggy McGuire, joined her for this event with Dana Lundquist, whose work facilitating U.S.-China hospital management exchanges has taken him to many parts of that country.
It's that type of growing involvement in China, in fact, that inspired Tong to found the Chicago Chinese Cultural Institute.
People were curious about Chinese culture, and there was so much business being conducted with China, he said.
"A lot of people are promoting business. I'm promoting culture," Tong said.
It's a two-way exchange. Not only does he host events such as the Red Tie Gala and a Chinese New Year celebration, but Tong also promotes American culture to China, helping arrange trips there for performing groups.
His Chopsticks Dining Club has been drawing about 20 to 30 guests a month. Tong's last vegetarian dinner was sold out. He hopes to limit the size so he can offer a personal experience for each attendee.
I just might have to become one of Tong's groupies. Now that I've done chicken feet, I'd like to try jellyfish or pork belly. I haven't had pea leaves yet, either. Or maybe Tong will come up with something I haven't heard of.
Tong clearly doesn't get cold feet when it comes to presenting guests with the extreme. And yet, he's kind enough to hand a girl struggling with her chicken toes a fork.
Pride replaces despair for China
Chinese-Americans in Chicago area delighted as country prepares to show hospitable side to world audience
By Andrew L Wang
August 06, 2008
Around the Chicago area, Chinese immigrants echoed similar sentiments. China, a once-mighty empire that in recent centuries became known as the “sick man of Asia,” is strong once again. The world may criticize—on human rights, on political freedoms, on Tibet and Taiwan, on the environment—but there’s no denying there’s been progress, they said.
“The conditions are not perfect, but over the last 30 years a lot of changes have been made,” said Z.J. Tong, president of the Chicago Chinese Cultural Institute in Chinatown. About 100,000 people of Chinese descent live in Illinois, with the highest concentrations in Cook and DuPage Counties, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
The tradition of hospitality is a long-standing one in China, Tong said. “Confucius said 2,500 years ago: ’You peng zi yuan fang lai, bu yi le hu,’—it is a great pleasure to have friends from afar.”
The proverb speaks to the duty of the host to look after all the guest’s needs with courtesy, respect and all due formality. The alternative: to suffer the indignity of losing face, or mian zi.
When it comes to the Olympics, “this ‘face’ is not an individual face; it’s a collective face,” Tong said. If anything goes wrong, it’s the face of the nation that gets lost.”
Talk about lucky eights
By Monica Eng
August 05, 2008
But why is eight so lucky?
“In Cantonese [the language of Southern China and Hong Kong], the word
for ‘fah’ means ‘eight,’ but also sounds like the word for ‘make a lot of
fortune,’ ” explains Z.J. Tong, owner of the Chicago Chinese Cultural
Institute and Bookstore.
Jewelers Feel Pain as Gold Hits Record
Crain’s Chicago Business
By Monee Fields-White and Lorene Yue
Jan. 20, 2008
"Gold is the symbol for wealth and prosperity," says Z. J. Tong, founder of the Chicago Chinese Cultural Institute.
Chinatown Now Trendy for Young
By Noreen S. Ahmed-Ullah
July 25, 2007
Businesses cater to youth 'I tell people that Chinatown is not your grandpa or grandma's Chinatown anymore,' said Z. J. Tong, president of the Chicago Chinese Cultural Institute. 'There's many new establishments that are catering to the young and hip population.'
General Mills Tries to Persuade
Americans to Cook Chinese
By JULIE JARGON
Wall Street Journal
May 29, 2007; Page B1
General Mills Inc. is hoping a brand of dinner kits imported from China will persuade consumers to trade in their restaurant chopsticks for kitchen woks.
This summer, the Minneapolis-based company will introduce in the U.S. four dinner kits it developed under the Chinese food brand Wanchai Ferry: sweet & sour chicken, spicy garlic chicken, Kung Pao chicken and cashew chicken.
Z.J. Tong, president of the Chicago Chinese Cultural Institute Inc., a cross-cultural consulting firm, says the kits, which can serve five people, might be too big for Chinese families, because it would mean everyone's eating the same thing for dinner. "If we go to a Chinese restaurant, each person doesn't just order one dish; we order a lot of different dishes and share," he says. "A family of five might want to try five different dishes."
But Mr. Tong, who grew up in Baoding, a city 100 miles south of Beijing, said he would try them. "Instead of going to an American fast-food joint, if I can cook quickly for myself at home, I will."
He adds: "It all comes down to taste. If they taste good, I can see some Chinese-Americans trying them."
Chinese New Year show sets off political fireworks
Author: Noreen S Ahmed-Ullah
Date: Mar 3, 2007
For most English-speaking Chicagoans--indeed, for many of the show's sponsors--the colorful Chinese New Year celebration planned for the Auditorium Theatre Saturday sounded innocent enough, a rich vista of traditional culture, dance and music.
But in recent weeks, as Chinese government officials and program organizers have hurled charges of harassment at one another, it has become clear that the Chinese New Year Spectacular also offers a window into a bitter political struggle that stretches from here to Beijing.
Z.J. Tong, president of the Chicago Chinese Cultural Institute, said the show should be named Falun Gong Lunar New Year celebration.
"I highly recommend the sponsors and supporters of the show to check the record of Falun Gong before their commitment so that their kindness is not taken advantage of," he said.
"I agree that there is still a lot for China to improve," said Tong, but Falun Gong's claim that the Chinese government is harvesting organs from jailed practitioners "is just not true."
Tong also was the spokesman for an alternative New Year's event organized by an Asian-American advisory group to Illinois Senate President Emil Jones, along with the Shanghai municipal government and Shanghai People's Congress.
The show, canceled because performers from Shanghai were denied visas, had been slated for Saturday. Spectacular organizers saw the rival event as China's interfering hand.
Crain’s Chicago Business
“McD’s slips in China”
March 6, 2006
KFC alters its menu in China frequently, whereas McDonald’s mostly Western fare is more static. “Chinese like choices in food, so more options get people to come back,” says Z.J. Tong, president of consulting firm Chicago Chinese Cultural Institute Corp.
Mr. Tong of the Chinese Cultural Institute isn’t convinced his countrymen will give up chicken wings for hamburgers. He just returned from a trip to his hometown of Bao Ding, 100 miles south of Beijing, where he accompanied one of his nephews to a McDonald’s.
“He ordered a burger and fries. He likes to try new things,” he says. “I think people will try things out of curiosity, but after a while they will return to their comfort food.”
“Chicago’s Chinese community set to party like it’s 4704.”
Jan. 27, 2006
“This (firecrackers) continues today as a fun folk tradition,” said Z.J. Tong of the Chicago Chinese Cultural Institute, “And to ward off bad things from the past year and bring in the New Year with a fresh start.”
Many of these traditions are explained and enjoyed at the Chinese Cultural Institute’s family –style dinner from 3:30 – 6:30p.m. Sunday at Dragon King Restaurant, 2138 S. Archer. For more information and tickets ($30), call 312-842-1988.
Z.J. Tong of the Cultural Institute feels that Chinatown is one of the top 10 tourist attractions in Chicago: “It is one of the most unique neighborhoods in the city. Most people will never get the chance to go to China but we are only steps away fro a glimpse of a completely different culture.”
To unearth this side of Chinatown, the Cultural Institute offers informative walking tours of Chinatown. For more information, call (312) 842-1988 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
“Language lasses speak volumes about China”
Jan. 27, 2006
Even knowing a simple Nihao (hello) can make a difference, said Z.J. tong, who leads a six-week “Chinese for Travelers” course for the Chicago Chinese Cultural Institute.
“You don’t have to be a perfect speaker. Knowing a little is a great ice-breaker,” Tong said. “The Chinese are pleased when foreigners make efforts to learn their language and culture. They know the Chinese language is difficult to learn. They really appreciate it when foreigners make an effort to learn the language.”
Chicago Tribune “The ‘IT’ Language”
Sep. 27, 2005
Z.J. Tong, president of the Chicago Chinese Cultural Institute, said: “If you talk to people around you, everybody knows somebody or somebody’s friend who is adopting a girl from China”
“Chinese music and food nice way to honor Mom”
May 6, 2005
May is an emotional month for Z.J. Tong. The president of the Chicago Chinese Cultural Institute says that he particularly misses his mom on Mother’s Day because she lives near Beijing. So he planned a musical and dining event in her honor this weekend.
“I know that many people here want to celebrate Mother’s Day differently,” says Tong, who founded the organization about a year ago to promote Chinese language and culture. “And I would suggest Chinese music will make this year’s Mother’s Day that much more special.”