Tuesday, January 14, 2014

East meets West meets South - in the Midwest

The Mall! In big cities and towns across the country everyone has "the mall".  We all have memories that come to mind when you think of "the mall".
All malls have an actual name but mallrats and mallwalkers alike always will refer to it as -"the mall".  Its part of the experience of growing up in America.  Entire movies have been made in homage to the mall culture.
In my preteen and teen years the mall was where I went to escape from my family and be 'independant' , even for a short time.  Wandering the aisles of Tower Records, trying on and never buying clothes, and just being a un-paying annoyance to the mall employees in general. I had it all, until I had to use my quarter and call my mom. She would then ride up in her Cutlass Cruiser to Lenox Mall and pick me and my friends up. But until that happened we were the queen bees of that mall, and most importantly its Food Court.
 As a teen being able to decide what you wanted to eat , when and where was a BIG FECKIN'  DEAL! The sights, the smells, the choices! It was always overwhelming and I usually went for my old standbys - the always alluring Chinese food stand. Today we are taking a trip back to a mall and reliving my mallrat days of eating Chinese food in the food court. Different state, different mall, but surprisingly felt very familiar to me. 
I live in South Bend, Indiana. This is  at the top center of the state of Indiana. Basically its Michigan, so much so that the area is nicknamed "Michiana" -jealous now?  The mall is not in South Bend. The mall is in Mishawaka which is a suburb of sorts (as much as a town the size of South Bend can have a suburb), and it is called The University Park Mall- because we are also the town that is the home of The University of Notre Dame - so sports and cornfields is all we got out here.  The University Park Mall has a food court and the name of this food court is - DRUMROLL PLEASE>>>>>Tidbits Field Food Hall!
 Welcome to our FOOD HALL!

 So I had my kids with me, and we were ready to make fools of ourselves in the Food Court - ahem, correction - Food Hall.  Here is Alex amidst the tables and chairs in the center of the Hall. All the various food stands surround this eating area in a kind of two semi circles.
He has no idea why he is smiling.   
My kids were thrilled to get out of the house for a bit. We were in the midst of a deep freeze here in Michiana and getting out of our tiny apartment was a BIG adventure during our Christmas vacation. This is also why the mall is practically empty while we were there. We were the entertainment for the Food Hall vendors. They appreciated our antics tremendously - I think.
 The big draw at the Food Hall is the "ride". My kids acted like complete nerds on this ride...I was so proud! My boys shouted "Yeehaw" "Live fast - take chances!" and a made up song called "This Ride is Creepy!" that I am angry I did not video. I was laughing so hard and fantically feeding quarters into the machine to keep this nonsense up longer.
We were mall entertainment for a while that day.

This kid laughs all day long- but riding a big blue dog is pretty funny!
So we settled in to get lunch. I spied two, count them, TWO Chinese stands to choose from. The first was Panda Express - a national chain that I have eaten a dozen times before. Its good, but I wanted to try something different. I scan the semi-circle and I almost had to rub my eyes in disbelief....there is was....
YES! Your eyes do not decieve you! In the middle of Michiana on a snow day in a deserted mall you can have it all! East meets West, meets South in the Midwest! - Chao Cajun! It is the Cajun Asian experience that I never knew I was missing!

Loved the little signs. Kind of wanted to snag the crab rangoon one, but those days are behind me.
So, ordering was already awkward here because the workers had witnessed my kids and I taking photos, singing weird songs on a ride, and generally being goofy in the middle of a deserted food court..ahem hall , sorry...for the better part of 30 minutes.  
I walked up and was instantly overwhelmed. Do I go Cajun or Asian? Or do I mix them? This was a cross culture taste mix I never knew was possible. Well friends, it is possible, here in beautiful Mishawaka, Indiana!

I decided on Sweet and Sour Chicken (my usual), beef with broccoli and udon noodles in a bourbon sauce...all served with a side of dirty rice or fried rice. Well, not being a fan of dirty rice I went for the fried rice - sorry ya'll I lose my Southern Belle card for that one.

The old standby - Chic-fil-A
Food in hand I went back to the table to eat. My children, being lured already by Chic-fil-A, were  3 nuggets deep in thier kids meal and wanted nothing to do with my Cajun Asian experiment.
The food smelled great and I was starving. I worked out that morning and ate nothing till this moment because this was DEFINITELY  not part of my diet and I wanted to enjoy every bite! I had saved up all day for this moment! 
Yep - a big plate of sweet and sour, bourbon glazed noodle goodness! CARB LOAD ME BABY!

 Overall it was not a dissapointment. It tasted like is should have. The chicken was fried in TONS of batter and the sause was more sweet than sour, which I expect.  The beef and broclli was good, but not the best I have ever had. But,  the best part were the bouron glazed noodles. They had awesome flavor and mixed well with the sweet and sour chicken. It was a lot of food for the money. I paid $7.99 for all of this. I will also admit here that I barely was able to finish it.  It was all so heavy and filling that about 10 bites in and I was calling it quits. The owner noticed I had not finished and came out with a to-go box for me. He reminded me that "Mom's need to eat too!" - and sometimes honestly I do forget. 

So the food was good. It was filling. It tasted as advertised, and I am forever grateful that I can now say I had Cajun Asian food! 

Being sly trying to photo the Cajun Asian
It did bring me back to my teen years at first bite. Eating a plate full of carbs on a styrafoam plate, carried on a tray, in a food court filled with other temptations. It made me miss those days when deciding what to eat at the food court with your friends was the biggest decision you had to make that day. The food court/hall will forever trigger those memories - especially when I plate piled high in noodles and sweet and sour chicken is involved.

I hope you enjoyed this visit to the University Park Mall and to Chao Cajun. Hungry for more mall trips and chinese food stand reviews? OF COURSE YOU ARE!!!!! Click on the links of all my wonderful blogging friends who also did the same project as me.  Its like taking a vacation to malls around  America! Enjoy and thanks for reading! These guys are all great and you will love what you read! SO GET READING!

Will/Bill/Billy from VeggieMacabre - www.veggiemacabre.com

Matt from Dinosaur Dracula - http://dinosaurdracula.com

Brian from Review the World - http://reviewtheworldblog.blogspot.com/2014/01/food-court-chinese-group-project.html

Jay from The Sexy Armpit-www.thesexyarmpit.com

Side note - THIS place has amazing Chinese food in South Bend - Ho Ping House!
Any friends in town - THIS is where we are going!

  I mean look at the badass terracotta warriors defending it. No, seriously its good. It also is even cooler because it used to be a Denny's not so long ago. I think Ho Ping House may translate roughly to "This used to be Denny's". This will be my next project...I think....you will have to stay tuned. 

Until next time! 
Swag on! 
@Irishbelle2000 - Twitter


  1. Great job, Molly! You did awesome conjuring those nostalgic mall memories. When I first started driving it really was cool to be able to go out when and where I wanted and pick whatever I wanted to eat! Sounds simple but in the midwest suburbs that was something! The pic of the boys on that ride is great. Food looked pretty good, too!

  2. thanks brian! :) the mall will forever mean teenage memories and fun to me :) and FOOD!!!! :) SWAG ON! :)

  3. Molly, I can't believe how similar the places you and I ate at are. Mine was Asian Chao, but the weird thing is, once upon a time, it was called "Bourbon Chicken" which was a Cajun place that also had Chinese influences. So odd. BTW, I mentioned Chick-Fil-A in my post, your kids have good taste, that place is one of my favs. Those Terracotta warriors outside the old Denny's are BADASS!!

    1. HAHA - aren't those warriors AWESOME?!?!? I love it! You ever find yourself in South Bend - THAT is where I will take ya :)

  4. Used to live in South Bend (Still don't live too far away) and have been to that mall MANY times but I don't think I've ever had anything except pizza from the food court. Definitely will have to give Ho Ping House ago!

    1. Ho Ping House is AMAZING! Its right at the exit for Notre Dame - off the toll road and turn left you can't miss it. Nice to see a fellow Michiana resisdent here:) - love this weather right? LOL

  5. Hello and welcome to the internets! There's a mall only a few blocks away from my house, yet I don't really go there often. These days malls aren't really a good place to shop. Much more fun to hang out.

    "Mishawaka" is one of those Midwestern place names that's probably fodder for a lot of jokes (Mishawaka home before it gets too dark, etc.) In reference to Chik-Fil-A, I like the futuristic ketchup pickets they give out (you can use them to squirt OR dunk). I like their chicken nuggets more than their sandwiches (I also like their soft-serve ice cream).

    I've never seen a Chinese/Cajun fusion restaurant before. Isn't "cajun" what they call it when they burn the food? ("I hope you guys like your brownies cajun!" If you can tell me where that joke comes from, you win.) To be honest, I'm not a big Chinese food fan.

    Does your mall have a tiny little train for the kids too?

  6. HI, why yes it does! We have a train that will run you down if you don't move your tush out of the way and dart into JCPenny fast enough. LOL And sorry I lost on the brownie joke, the minute you tell me I will know it and feel stupid I know. Yes, chic-fil-a is delicious, and I am a sandwich girl (spicy) more than the nugs...but I wont pass on an uneaten nug my kids leave behind.
    Glad to have you as a reader. Have a great day and if you ever find yourself in Mishawaka try the cajun asian...its amazin

  7. Did Chao Cajun have bourbon chicken? I LOVE bourbon chicken and I haven't had it in years! Of course, even if Chao Cajun has bourbon chicken, it won't do me much good, as I live in Georgia. Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this and I have to say, out of all the bloggers that participated in this exercise, you are the prettiest. ;)