Aj Ichiban in Chinatown will expand your understanding of the "snack"


A few years ago, I became totally bored handing out the same crappy “treats” for Halloween.


So I started giving out little jars of mustard, tins of sardines and packaged bags of Earl Grey tea (bought bulk at Costco). Of course, I also provided the obligatory Snickers, Milky Ways, etc., because that’s what most of young humankind (and their parents) are looking for: the familiar, the known, the predictable and the boring. Forget them!


For the chosen few, however, the mustard, fish and tea seemed a strange and welcome alternative to Mars products.


Typical exchange: two kids come to door, and one (pointing to a brightly colored tin) says, “What’s that?” and I say, “It’s sardines, you know, little fish.” One kid recoils and says “Yuck!” The other kid, if we’re lucky, does a double take, grinning with prehensile eyes as he recognizes the value of this off-center offering, grabs it, throws it in his bag, and rushes to his mom-on-the-sidewalk shouting “Look what I got” (at which point I wave parentally, smile benignly, and close the door).


We gave away over one hundred bags of tea last Halloween, each individually wrapped, and each, perhaps, a kid’s first step toward a life-long appreciation of this 5,000-year-old beverage.


Children dig the weird, and I feel that cultivating their sense of the strange and unpredictable is a worthwhile goal. Free their taste buds and their minds will follow. A kid who’ll try an unusual food is a kid who might strike up a conversation with some other kid he’s never met, maybe the strange one the jocks routinely de-pants, maybe the oddball who knows a lot but says little, maybe your son or daughter, maybe you.

Now, we’re still weeks away from Halloween, and that’s good because to get treats that will surprise and delight the kiddies, you’ll have to start shopping beyond the Walgreen’s candy aisle. So over the next few weeks, remember Halloween as you walk the aisles of Costco or, if you’re fancy, Todd & Holland on Madison in Forest Park (one of the great tea shops). There are no doubt many pre-wrapped, entirely safe and perhaps a little weirder treats you might offer as treats this year.

If you feel you must give candy, consider picking up your holiday treats at Chinatown’s Aj Ichiban (2117A S. China Place, Chicago), where you can find all kinds exotic snacks, including spicy little fish and candy flavored with durian.


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David Hammond, a corporate communications consultant and food journalist living in Oak Park, Illinois, is a founder and moderator of LTHForum.com, the 8,500 member Chicago-based culinary chat site. David...