Chiu Quon Bakery
May 27th, 2010Filed under: Exhibitions
Have you ever been to a Chinese bakery? Trying to become familiar with Chicago’s Chinatown without sampling the food is nearly impossible. Not just because it’s so delicious (which it is), but also because everyone you meet wants you to sit and eat with them. The best part is that by meeting these people, sharing food, and experiencing some of these Chinese American food traditions you may discover something about the power of community, the devotion to family, and the will to make it in America that permeates Chinatown.
The Chiu Quon Bakery and Café 2242 S. Wentworth Avenue is run by Pui Yip Chiu. The bakery offers a full menu of traditional Chinese baked goods and Dim Sum. Photograph by John Alderson. Courtesy Chicago History Museum
The owner of this bakery, Pui Yip Chiu was one of the more than two dozen Chinatown residents that I interviewed for the My Chinatown object theater experience now showing at the Chicago History Museum. Mr. Chiu immigrated to the United States in 1980 and offered to share the story of his journey to and life in Chicago with CHM.
Like so many Chinatown residents, Mr. Chiu was born in China and his language of choice is Chinese. So he came to the interview with his teenaged daughter, Joyce. Joyce translated my questions for Mr. Chiu and Joyce translated her dad’s answers for me.
Joyce and Pui Yip Chiu. Photograph by John Russick. Courtesy Chicago History Museum
Joyce shared Mr. Chui’s story of how he got started,
“before he came to Chicago…he lived in Hong Kong. He was working as a baker. So when he came here, that’s the skills he used. He found a job in a bakery. I think the bakery was called Garden Bakery.”
…and how and where the food is made at the Chui Quon Bakery,
“A lot of the things in the bakery we make ourselves. From the dough, or the fillings, or the red bean paste, or lotus paste. Within the whole bakery there’s about 15 employees working there and it’s sort of split up with the kitchen, there’s also a basement where we make the cakes. Upstairs is where the baking goes on, the bread baking for the buns, and then there’s of course the social area, the dining in area.”
…and about having made enough money to bring his family to Chicago,
“it was about two years [before] he got his green card, and that’s when he could bring my mother over, because my mother was still in Hong Kong at that point. So, it was after my mother came to the United States. And then he borrowed some money from some friends.”
… and how the bakery got its name,
“Chiu Quon Bakery is actually a very famous bakery in Hong Kong…but the English name of the one in Hong Kong is I think Maria. But for us, we use Chiu Quon Bakery…because our last name is Chiu. It’s pretty much a pronunciation of Chinese and English, so that’s where the name came from.”
These stories are part of a larger collection of oral histories collected by the Chicago History Museum and housed in the Studs Terkel Center for Oral History. If you want to learn more about the Chiu family, their bakery, or about other Chicagoans who have helped shape Chinatown, come to the museum and see My Chinatown sometime.
But if you just want to try some traditional Chinese baked goods here’s my advice. Don’t be shy. Choose a bakery and walk right in. Chances are everyone will be speaking Chinese, but don’t be intimidated. More than likely the staff speaks English as well as Chinese. Baked goods are fairly inexpensive. You can afford to try a bunch. My suggestion: order a pork bun (try one steamed and one baked). The ham and cheese bun is great with coffee or tea for breakfast and the moon cakes are usually awesome.