Chicago

How to Celebrate Lunar New Year in Chicago, According to a Local Expert

Chef Edward Kim dishes on his family traditions, the city's top Asian restaurants, and how to toast the Year of the Tiger in Chicago.

Mott St
Mott St
Mott St

Get ready for the Year of the Tiger. According to the Chinese calendar, which is based on the phases of the moon, the Lunar New Year usually starts on the second new moon after the Winter solstice, and this year, that means February 1. We turned to none other than Chicago chef Edward Kim of lauded Pan-Asian fixture Mott Street for the lowdown on how to properly ring it in.

Kim was raised in Park Ridge, and visited Korea, his family’s country of origin, almost every year throughout his childhood. There, Kim remembers Lunar New Year-Seollal in Korean-as a major celebration. “We’d have a large dinner one night with our extended family,” he explains. “We’d pay respect to our elders-in Korea, the graves are on top of mountains and they are very beautiful. We’d spend time in nature, having a picnic at the hill that your ancestors’ graves are built on. It’s something that could be macabre, but it’s actually very celebratory.”

Mott St
Mott St
Mott St

Along with the parties comes the important ritual of sebae, bowing deeply to show respect to your parents, grandparents, and ancestors. The practice is sometimes accompanied by gifts of money, or sebaet don, for the children.

Food, of course, plays a huge part in the multi-day ceremony, and many traditional dishes are prepared to represent luck, prosperity, and longevity. “Rice is very important because it’s a staple food, and rice cakes look like coins,” Kim continues, referencing a rice cake-laden soup called tteokguk. “Eating long noodles, that’s like long life, as well. And the number eight is very auspicious in the Chinese New Year, [as] it symbolizes wealth and prosperity.”

The holiday lasts for days, which, says Kim, “allows you time to say ‘bye’ to the last year, welcome in the new year… and to do your spring cleaning.”

Photo by Nathan Michael
Photo by Nathan Michael
Photo by Nathan Michael

Chef Kim was classically trained, attending culinary school and working in high-end restaurants in California and New York with a focus on contemporary American and French-inspired cuisines. “With Mott Street, I want us to be the best Chicago restaurant we can be,” he says. “I feel that the terroir we are working with is going to influence how good we can be. So, if I was trying to be the best Korean restaurant in Chicago, there’s a cap to that, right? Because I’m not in Korea-I’m in Chicago. I’m going to have the best Chicago ingredients, and that includes the terroir, the people, the ambience.”

Speaking of the Windy City’s unique Asian culinary landscape, local restaurants Kim loves to visit include Han Bat on Lawrence for seolleongtang, a soulful brisket bone broth, Daebak for Korean BBQ, and suburban Chef Ping for Chinese-American classics with a few Korean favorites sprinkled in throughout the roster.

Mott St
Mott St
Mott St

Back at Mott Street, chef Kim puts on an annual Lunar New Year feast. This year, the eight-course family-style Lucky 8 menu reads like a greatest hits from their long run on Ashland Avenue. Kim describes Mott Street’s style as Asian-American, giving way to a cornucopia of flavors and inspirations. Thailand shows up in the Kohlrabi Salad (a take on the traditional green papaya-based som tum), herbaceous Pork Imperial Rolls get inspiration from Vietnam, while the Skirt Steak Kalbi is 100% Korean-American. “Each year, we like to incorporate the upcoming Lunar Year’s animal in our menu,” adds Mott Street co-owner Nate Chung. “In a spirit of playfulness-and perhaps even cheekiness-we will be incorporating the boldness and confidence of a tiger with our Tiger Shrimp Everything Noodles.”

Mott St
Mott St
Mott St

Mott Street’s Lunar New Year Lucky 8 Feast runs January 28 through February 6 and costs $62.88 per person, with reservations available via Tock. As you might have noticed, even the price taps into the holiday symbolism. Six plus two equals eight, while the number 88 signifies double happiness, wealth, and prosperity.

Can’t get enough Lunar New Year deliciousness? Check out these buzzy events around Chicago and toast the Year of the Tiger in the utmost style.

Flickr/Chris Bentley
Flickr/Chris Bentley
Flickr/Chris Bentley

Argyle Lunar New Year Celebration 2022

Saturday, February 5
Uptown
Join Uptown United and 48th Ward Alderman Harry Osterman on Argyle Street this Saturday from 12 to 4 pm for the annual Argyle Lunar New Year Celebration. The procession includes over 200 red lanterns and an eight-block-long socially distanced parade, among other festivities.
Cost: Free

ezellhphotography/Shutterstock
ezellhphotography/Shutterstock
ezellhphotography/Shutterstock

Chinatown Lunar New Year Parade

Sunday, February 13
Chinatown
This year’s Chinatown Lunar New Year Parade goes down on Sunday, February 13. The late start promises to be worth the wait, with marching bands, dragons, and dancing lions leading the charge up Wentworth Avenue from 24th Street to the viewing stand at Cermak and Wentworth starting at 1 pm.
Cost: Free

Nine Bar
Nine Bar
Nine Bar

Year of the Tiger Hosted by Nine Bar at Moon Palace

Tuesday, February 1
Chinatown
Also in Chinatown, smash-hit pop-up concept Nine Bar is slated to throw their annual Lunar New Year Party at Moon Palace on February 1 from 7 pm to midnight. Expect over-the-top cocktails from founders Joe Briglio and Lily Wang, creative Pan-Asian snacks like Adobo Nugs, Budujigae Corndogs, and Katsu Sliders from Moon Palace’s Glenn Wang, Bananaphone’s Michelle Back and Dylan Heath, and Nick Jirasek from the Ox-Bow School of Art & Artists’ Residency, and a DJ set by Will Galvan.
Cost: Menu prices varyWant more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTwitterPinterestYouTubeTikTok, and Snapchat.

Lisa Futterman is a contributor for Thrillist.

Chicago

Robyn DaCultyre Is Doing It for the Culture

"The cool thing about Ohio is that there is literally a place for everyone."

Photo by Kayode Omoyosi
Photo by Kayode Omoyosi
Photo by Kayode Omoyosi

I was introduced to Robyn DaCultyre at an Untitled Queen show at C’mon Everybody in late January, and it was one of the most unique drag shows I’d seen in a while. Afterwards, I tracked down this self-described “drag creature” and video chatted about her drag origin story, the state of drag in her native Ohio, and the dual identities that make up her persona. Thrillist: I want to ask you about how Robyn DaCultyre came about and your point of view behind your performance.

Robyn DaCultyre: I’ve been travelling around the country from a young age in ministry and Christian studies. I moved to Chicago right after high school. Four years later, moved back to Columbus and decided I didn’t really want to do church anymore; that wasn’t where my heart was.

I had a really low point in my life and had a suicide attempt and then really found drag and started doing drag as a coping mechanism and way to let off steam. I started in July of 2019, and it was really a lot of punk and metal music. I created this drag creature of sorts and they were really out of this world and celestial and all of those fun alien type terms.

And then we went into a global pandemic and I had a lot of time to figure out who I wanted to be. Digitally I was still doing a lot of drag creature-esque numbers and all of that, but I had this moment where we’re on the front lines getting hit with pepper spray and rubber bullets and pepper spray-all of those lovely things. And I said, I have this platform and I need to start showcasing what’s happening.

Untitled [Queen] stepped in at the right time and messaged me and said, “I’m doing this show for Independence Day called Untitled in America with 52 different performers and I want you to be a part of it.” It was at that moment I was able to take the footage I had been recording on the front lines and incorporate it into digital content. I did a song called Black Like Me by Mickey Guyton that talks about white picket fences, but if you want to see how America is, then you should try being Black like me. The imagery of what’s literally happening in Columbus in that digital performance really spearheaded me into focusing on people who look like me.

Nina Simone is one of my biggest inspirations, and one of her quotes that resonates with me is that it’s the duty of the artist to resonate with the times. My art is politically charged. I like to entertain, but there will definitely be a time when you come to a show expecting to have your drink and be chill and that might not be the case.

How did the name Robyn DaCultyre come about?

I was smoking with Ursula Major, who was on season one of Dragula, and the first time I introduced myself to her I was Robyn Banks, which is my drag name originally. She said, “Well, do you just not want to be original at all?” [Laughs] And I sat with that for a couple of months, and I got really stoned one day and was listening to Janelle Monae, and she talks about doing it for the culture, and I said “I do it for the culture, too!” And the rest is history.

And you started a series called Melanated.

We started Melanated last February. I told the idea to my show director that there were no shows specifically run by Black people that only featured Black entertainers. I wanted to do this show for a night and she said, Why don’t we do it once a week for the whole month? The first show happens, and it’s a sold out crowd, and [my director] comes back and says we should do this every month. So I sucked it up and here we are a year later.

Melanated is the only fully Black show in all of the state. It’s a horrible marketing tool and not something I want to promote, but it is just a fact. It amazes me that we are the 13th largest city in America and there’s nothing here that’s fully focused on Black entertainers. The name also comes from Janelle Monae; she says she’s highly melanated and I said, that works.

Photos by Chay Creates LLC (left) and Bridget Caswell (right)
Photos by Chay Creates LLC (left) and Bridget Caswell (right)
Photos by Chay Creates LLC (left) and Bridget Caswell (right)

You refer to yourself as a drag creature, as opposed to drag queen or king…

This is actually the first time I’m making this public. I am in this place where I want to separate the alternative creature from who this melanated goddess or whatever is. DaCultyre is definitely the person who runs Melanated and then Robyn is this drag creature that is out of this world and really loves punk and alternative music. And both intertwine to make Robyn DaCultyre.

You also do pageants. Tell me about that.

In 2020 I was appointed by Nina West, who is from Columbus, as the representative from Ohio for National Entertainer of the Year in Louisville, Kentucky. I placed ninth out of 13 contestants and I really fell in love with the system and fell in love with the pageantry and loved the idea of reigning and being different. I want to show that we as alternative performers, as bearded performers, you can come into these systems and shake things up.

Is there a uniquely “Ohio” style of drag?

No, and I think that’s one of the things that makes it so amazing is that everyone has their own unique style, and it’s all pretty much accepted. I started as a performer and a drag creature and there was space that was afforded to me and I transitioned to more glamor and pageantry and that’s afforded to me as well. I’ve been a bearded entertainer for a year now. The cool thing about Ohio is that there is literally a place for everyone.

I think I have everything I need. Is there anything else I didn’t ask you about that you want to bring up, or‚Ķ

I don’t think so. Are there any generic questions you haven’t asked?

Generic questions‚ĶI think I asked all of them already [laughs]. I like to ask what you’d be doing if you weren’t doing drag?

It’s a great question. I have a day job that is very demanding so I need drag to get away. I’m also very creative and artistic. I used to do web design and all these other things to pull into my creativity. Drag is the longest thing I’ve stuck with in all parts of my life, so I don’t think it’s going anywhere anytime soon.

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John deBary¬†is a drinks expert and writer. His first cocktail book,¬†Drink What You Want, is available now, and his next book,¬†Saved by the Bellini, is expected in early 2023. He is also the co-founder and president of the¬†Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation, which is dedicated to improving the lives of hospitality industry professionals through advocacy, grant making, and impact investing.

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