Ah, Chinese food, the one constant in our hectic lives that we can always count on, especially when going through the trials and tribulations of college. As the self-proclaimed resident Chinese food expert who has been a guest at almost all of the 20-or-so Chinese restaurants in town, I’ve rounded up a few of my favorite spots to save you all from the torment of picking and choosing.
Homie Hot Pot & Sushi
Address: 306 N. Walnut St
Hot pot has been a classic Chinese cooking method for thousands of years. As the days get shorter and the temperature continues to drop, nothing is better than sitting in front of a pot of hot, boiling soup, feeling the steam gently warming your face as you watch the food in the pot simmer.
Before you start digging in, there are several steps you’ll need to follow in order to build the perfect hot pot for you. First, pick a soup base, available soup choices include original, herbal, pork tube bone, hot and spicy, clam, pickled cabbage and tomato, my personal favorite.
Next, pick the ingredients you want in your soup. Homie has a standard selection of fresh vegetables, meat and seafood. Want a more authentic experience? Try the lotus root, winter melon in terms of veggies and the sliced fatty beef and lamb if you’re in the mood for meat. Don’t be afraid to order the meatballs and vermicelli noodles while you’re at it.
Address: 300 E. 3rd St
With a special focus on Sichuan cuisine, Gourmet Garden's extensive menu spans from more familiar-sounding dishes like Kung Pao chicken and spicy beef, to interesting choices such as cumin chicken gizzard and hot iron plate bullfrog.
To me, Gourmet Garden will forever be a special place as I’ve enjoyed multiple traditional Chinese holiday dinners there, sitting around a big table with my other Chinese friends and celebrating our common culture. In accordance with these holidays, the restaurant also sells the special types of food traditionally eaten on that particular day: mooncakes for Mid-Autumn and sweet glutinous rice balls, known as tangyuan in Chinese, on Lantern Festivals.
Address: 2894 E. 3rd St.
Nobody is going to believe that out of all that Bloomington has to offer, the one place that’s nearest and dearest in my heart would be inside the College Mall food court, so much so that I always make sure to order something from there whenever I go on a Target run. My staple dish is the char siu rice, which consists of thick slabs of roasted pork served over fluffy white rice with a few emerald-colored boiled baby bok choy on the side.
Honorary mention: Bapu Fresh
Address: 530 E. Kirkwood Ave.
Our beloved local boba tea joint, Bapu Teahouse, recently opened its newest location, Bapu Fresh, right across from the Sample Gates. Apart from its classic collection of smoothie and milk teas with boba — small balls of chewy tapioca — Bapu Fresh also rolled out a new line of Instagram-worthy drinks featuring the butterfly pea flower tea. Originally a mesmerizing deep blue, the tea’s color changes as different ingredients are added, resulting in a dazzling, colorful concoction.
Really, Chinese food is so much more than hastily eaten takeout. Keep an open mind and dare to experiment and you're certain to discover a whole new world.