Sunday, April 17, 2011

Abacus #1

[UPDATE Jan 2014 - I learned that Abacus has been closed for a while now.]

From The Abacus:
The standard abacus can be used to perform addition, subtraction, division and multiplication; the abacus can also be used to extract square-roots and cubic roots.
The abacus is typically constructed of various types of hardwoods and comes in varying sizes. The frame of the abacus has a series of vertical rods on which a number of wooden beads are allowed to slide freely. A horizontal beam separates the frame into two sections, known as the upper deck and the lower deck.
When I taught in Thailand 40 years ago, a number of the shopkeepers did their calculations on the abacus.  Their fingers flicked beads up and down with lightening speed.

A quick check at Mandarin tools shows us that the characters on the menu are in fact abacus in simplified characters. 

Trad. Simp. Pinyin English
算盤 算盘 suàn pán abacus

A history page at Abacus tells us:

The abacus as we know it today, appeared (was chronicled) circa 1200 A.D. in China; in Chinese, it is called suan-pan. On each rod, this classic Chinese abacus has 2 beads on the upper deck and 5 on the lower deck; such an abacus is also referred to as a 2/5 abacus. The 2/5 style survived unchanged until about 1850 at which time the 1/5 (one bead on the top deck and five beads on the bottom deck) abacus appeared.
Circa 1600 A.D., use and evolution of the Chinese 1/5 abacus was begun by the Japanese via Korea. In Japanese, the abacus is called soroban. The 1/4 abacus, a style preferred and still manufactured in Japan today, appeared circa 1930. The 1/5 models are rare today and 2/5 models are rare outside of China (excepting Chinese communities in North America and elsewhere).
It is thought that early Christians brought the abacus to the East (note that both the suan-pan and the Roman hand-abacus have a vertical orientation). Aspects of Roman culture could have been introduced to China as early as 166 A.D, during the Han Dynasty, as Roman emperor Antoninus Pius' embassies to China spread along the Silk Road.

Where's this all going?  I ate at Abacus #1 in Chicago on Thursday night.  The restaurant is owned by Luci and Rachel.  They reflect, in my mind, what is great about American possibilities.  I've known Rachel's father since summer 1966 when we were roommates in Peace Corps training in DeKalb, Illinois.  Rachel is now married to Luci who is from Romania.  He's busy driving a cab and managing this new restaurant on Fullerton and Ashland.

So what's a Romanian doing running a Chinese restaurant in Chicago.  Well, they have a chef from Hong Kong - Jackie - and the food was very good - lots of flavor but not at all heavy.   I wouldn't call myself an expert on Chinese food, but we did live in Hong Kong for a year and in Beijing for maybe a total of five or six months and we had Chinese hosts who  made sure we sampled very good Chinese food.  We've eaten great Chinese food.

Abacus is not American-Chinese food.  It's Chinese, but with a modern twist.  We had vegetarian dishes and we thought we'd have plenty of leftovers to take home for Rachel's dad who couldn't make it.  But we had to order him another dish because the food was so good we ate it all.

I do occasionally write about restaurants so this isn't too unusual for me, but I want to be clear that  I wouldn't recommend even a friend's place if I didn't really like it.  We did eat with the owners so I'm sure the chef wasn't being careless.  But I got to talk to Jackie and I think he knows what he's doing.

If you like real Chinese food without the gooey sauces, but light and tasty, this is a great place.  And the prices are really inexpensive.   Chicken dishes $7 for the small and $9.50 for the large.  Beef, $7.25 and $9.75.  Vegetable $5.95 and $8.50.  And the rice comes as part of the order. 

And, as you can see, the decor is simple and tasteful.  The restaurant business is pretty hard, so let's see how well Luci does.  Will nearby DePaul students discover it and like it? 

BTW, you can use a digital abacus at Mandarintools.

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