Tour China Without Leaving Chicago (or Evanston)

Two Asian restaurants offer menus from various culinary regions in China

Dine at either Chen's in Wrigleyville or Koi in Evanston any time from March through October, and you'll be transported (via your stomach) through various regions in China known for their ancient culinary traditions. Chinese history outlines Eight Great Traditions that make up the foundations of modern Chinese cooking, and each month, Chen's and Koi will highlight the regions in which those Traditions can be traced in their "Taste of China" promotion.

Each month's menu will showcase dishes that highlights the region's Great Tradition. Well-known Chinese cuisines such as Sichuan, Cantonese and Hunan will be represented, as well as more remote styles like Anhui, Shandong, Fujian, Zhejiang and Jiangsu. The culinary tour kicks off in March with the foods of the Sichuan province in southwestern China.

Sichuan cooking is known to be spicy and bold, thanks to the liberal use of the local peppercorn. Both Chen's and Koi will feature two typical Sichuan dishes throughout March -- hot pepper chicken (diced pieces of chicken stir-fried with celery and dried red peppers served in a spicy soy reduction, $10.95) and spicy chili beef (stir-fried beef served with hot peppers in a traditional spicybean paste sauce, $12.95). (Please note: Proteins can be substituted in both dishes for beef, chicken, shrimp or tofu.)

Chen's and Koi's "Taste of China" tour continues in April to the Hunan region in the western part of China, so mark your culinary calendars.

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