Chinese Restaurants Nourish, Add Diversity to Griffith

Liana Boulles, Copy Editor

Griffith is home to three Chinese restaurants, all run by Chinese American families who chose to carve their destiny in this Northwest Indiana town. These restaurants prepare food from the diverse regions of China and the cultural blends of the Chinese diaspora, which reaches from southeast Asia to America. Traditional soups and meat platters that are actually eaten on a large scale in China, while more American foods like fried rice and chop suey, are all cooked with fresh ingredients by the families. The people who run them are hardworking and determined entrepreneurs, and many have children attending Griffith High School. Balancing the family business and school life creates for a unique experience. These restaurants not only provide excellent cuisine but also enrich Griffith’s cultural landscape.

Chinatown is a restaurant at 1821 W 45th St. in the shopping center at the edge of Griffith, near Burger King. Food from all over China is prepared. Along with fried rice and egg rolls, elaborate meat dishes concocted from poultry, beef, and pork with vegetables and sauces, plus seafood, noodle mixtures, and rice recipes, are offered. Take out and dining in are available to customers.

Senior Cristina Li and freshman Chris Li’s parents are the proprietors. “I take orders at the counter,” said Chris Li. “One day of the week, when the cook isn’t here, I cook the fried rice. I get real life job experience and social skills, but the hardest part is dealing with annoying customers and balancing it with my social life and school. It’s better than working for a regular boss, though, since you can be more open minded and joke around with your parents.”

Happy Garden is a Chinese restaurant located on 45th Street, near the Strack and Van Til’s grocery store. Customers can dine in, take out food, or order at the drive or on the phone. Freshman Alice Jin works there for her parents, who started the business when they moved to Indiana. She was very young at the time and living in China with her grandparents. Jin’s main job is taking orders at the counter and on the phone.

“[As a family member], I can get away with some stuff.” said Jin. “They can’t fire me.” Happy Garden serves a variety of Chinese dishes from all regions of the vast countries, ranging from Mongolian meats to Sichuan beef. There are a wide range of dishes, composed of rice, vegetables, meat, noodles, and seafood. Soups include egg drop, wonton, and meat varieties. Special delicacies include the steamed dumplings, which consist of a pork and vegetable mixture folded inside a layer of dough and steamed, or potstickers, which are essentially dumplings but are fried in a pan rather than steamed.  Customers can have large orders with lots of dishes or strike a bargain by requesting a family combo.

“There’s this one lady who doesn’t understand the difference between a large order and a dinner combo,” said Jin. “She talks on the phone for ten minutes and orders five things. She keeps repeating her orders when I told her I got it, and then she suddenly orders something else. When I tell she can get a dinner combo instead of a large order, she’s like, ‘What’s a dinner combo?’ She must have a menu (which defines family combos), because she knows what to order. It’s annoying.”

China Koon is also located on 45th Street, on a corner where Broad St. and 45th St. intersect. Like the others, traditional fried rice and meat dishes are offered, but China Koon also serves barbecued meat, a plethora of chop suey variations, and Cantonese specialities (Southern China). China Koon is probably the most well known out of all the Chinese restaurants in Griffith and has catered for International Club at Chinese New Year before.

Chinese restaurants have been part of the American story since the 1840s, when the first major immigration wave crossed the ocean to dig for gold and ended up making more money by selling the prospectors food. When the U. S. halted Chinese immigration in 1882 with the Chinese Exclusion Act, restaurateurs were able to enter the country and revolutionized the world of food by preserving their homeland’s cuisine with foreign ingredients to create a unique blend. Today, the Chinese American restaurants stand as a testament to the hard work and sacrifice of immigrants who fought and continue to fight for their dignity, a better life, and a place to call home. Griffith is fortunate to have three family restaurants that adds more color and diversity to the palate.