International cherubs find a taste of home

Nora Crumley and Nina Cong dine at Koi Restaurant for Cong's birthday. Photo by Hannah Schoenbaum.

Nora Crumley (left) and Nina Cong (right) dine at Koi Restaurant in Evanston for Cong’s birthday. Photo by Hannah Schoenbaum.

This year’s seven international cherubs explored Evanston’s multicultural food options to help with the experience of being far away from home and to remain connected to their cultures.

Nina Cong of China said one of the things she missed most about home was the food.

“I talk to my parents every day, but I can’t talk to the Chinese food back at home,” she said. “I often feel homesick, and I send my mom a long list of all the food I want to eat when I come back.”

Cong said the Evanston restaurant that reminded her most of China was Phoenix Inn, but not entirely because of the menu. She said that the people at the restaurant were very nice and created a welcoming, familiar environment for her.

Chinese food offerings at Phoenix Inn Restaurant. Photo by Adrian Wan.

Chinese dishes at Phoenix Inn Restaurant in Evanston. Photo by Adrian Wan.

“The food was good, although not very authentic,” she said. “When I’m homesick, I can eat Chinese food there and feel more happy.”

Cong said there were some items on the menu that she had never heard of because they don’t exist in China, such as “orange chicken.”

Adrian Wan, also from China, said he preferred the restaurant Koi because it did not offer “fake” Chinese dishes. He said he does not like it when Chinese American restaurants serve dishes that are not actually part of Chinese culture.

“Compared to Phoenix Inn, Koi is more authentic,” he said. “When I go to Koi, I order Chinese fried rice and it’s just so authentic. It’s very close to food in China.”

While Koi and Phoenix Inn are only two of the Chinese restaurants in Evanston, Esther Song of South Korea had a more difficult time finding her taste of home. She went to Koco Table, the only Korean restaurant near campus.

“I went there a lot during the first few weeks,” she said. “Eating it did remind me of home, but then again I’m enjoying trying out new food as well.”

Sometimes the 1835 Hinman dining hall would also serve international dishes, which was helpful for those who did not want to spend money. Hinman offered lo mein, eggplant and beef cooked in a Chinese style, tacos and more.

“It doesn’t have many options all the time, but sometimes if I want Chinese food I can go to Hinman,” Cong said. “If they do have it, they cook it really well.”

No matter where it came from, international cherubs said familiar meals connected them to their countries in ways that little else could.

“I think being able to eat food from China made it easier to adjust to life here,” Cong said.