Chicago Bulls power forward Lauri Markkanen smiled when talking about taking his newborn son back to Finland to introduce him to the sights, sounds, and tastes from his father’s childhood. Markkanen, 21, was bushed when he appeared on Home & Away, the new production from Eater and the NBA. At the time of filming, he’d been sitting out games with back spams and the night before he watched his Arizona Wildcats get upset in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. On top of that, he wasn’t getting much sleep because of the birth of his newborn son a few weeks prior.
Nevertheless, Markkanen enjoyed his meal despite not being an adventurous eater. He worried how new food would affect his stomach. He claimed that he had never had a dumpling, something he rectified during his visit to Elske in the West Loop. He didn’t want a bad food reaction to affect his playing time during his rookie year with the Bulls. The sharpshooter is the cornerstone of a proud franchise rebuilding while chasing the championship ghosts of the mid-’90s.
While the Swedes have Andersonville, Chicago’s Finnish population isn’t as large and the city lacks a Finnish restaurant where Markkanen could feast on reindeer and mashed potatoes like he did at home. A friend suggested Elske, as David and Anna Posey have taken Nordic flavors and used them to create one of the most creative and friendly restaurants in town. While Markkanen hadn’t been, he is familiar with Randolph Restaurant Row, a street crowded with upscale restaurants from some of Chicago’s best chefs. Not only is it close to his workplace, the United Center, but he’s dined at Bad Hunter. His wife’s vegan, and the restaurant features a separate vegan menu.
Food is a tie that binds. While Markkanen doesn’t clamor for ramps in the spring or does he have a strong opinion on ketchup on a hot dog, the familiar tastes of home are a welcome boost while acclimating oneself to a foreign country. It doesn’t happen overnight. For example, it took Yao Ming — who was born in China — a while to establish himself in Houston before showing NBA fans he was hall of fame caliber.
Markkanen’s approach isn’t uncommon from many immigrants who recently arrived: They’ve made long journeys and sacrificed being near friends and family. Now that they’re here, they’re laser-focused on success. They don’t want to blow it.
As Markkanen spends more time in Chicago, he’ll feel more comfortable going out. But it might be hard to pry him away from his PlayStation where he’s ready to take on all challengers playing EA’s NHL Hockey series. Unfortunately he didn’t share his gamertag.