Bratwurst and Beer- A recipe for a very Merry (German) Christmas

For many Americans, the upcoming holiday season’s food scene means re-gifted fruit cake, syrupy holiday coffee drinks in festive red cups, and pretending to enjoy egg nog. But for many German-Americans, Christmas brings about the season of potato pancakes, hot chocolate served in a boot, and of course, beer.

Christkindlmarket, a German market and festival that takes place yearly in Chicago’s Daley plaza, aims to introduce German Christmas traditions to the masses. Taking place from November 21-December 24, this year marks the 18th consecutive year for the event in Chicago, and like many past years, will be packed with Germans and non-Germans alike hoping indulge in the tastes, sights, and smells of Christmas in Germany.

The market is a 4-week long ode to German traditions, and is a great way to experience holiday customs from another country without leaving the Loop. Just steps from the Lake Red Line stop, the market is packed at 11 am on a unseasonably warm December Saturday, with patrons strolling shoulder to shoulder attempting to circle the market at a snail’s pace.

“We try to come every year,” says German-American Bettina Morrish, a high school teacher from Kentucky, with a mouthful of apple strudel from Dinkel’s Bakery. “My husband’s family is in Evanston, so we always visit during the final week, but we were in town this weekend so we thought we would stop by. No harm in coming twice, right?”

Another Dinkel’s customer showcases his collection of “boots,” or souvenir mugs the bakery serves it’s famous hot chocolate in. “Every year, the have a new one, and it’s a fun momento to remember the event with,” says Dave Johnson, who commuted from Bolingbrook with his family to attend the event.

Christkindlmarket is easier to navigate through on a less packed Monday evening, when tourists and locals alike line up for photos in front of the impressive and beautifully lit Christmas tree that towers over the market. The set-up is reminiscent of an old-European market, with small stalls with awnings and hand-written chalk menus. Most of the stores are walk-up, with a few big enough to browse indoors, like an ornament shop that specializes in glass-blown tree ornaments made in Germany.

The lines outside of each food stall are definitely an indicator for what’s good; several people wait in line at Pretzel Haus, cash in hand to purchase one of several different flavored German pretzels. TGF, an ancynym for Traditional German Food, is by far the busiest, with patrons walking away with bratwurst grilled to order. TGF also has a selection of German hot soups, perfect for chilly Chicago evenings.

“We try and cook the most authentic German food here,” says Jonathan Winkler, an grill cook at the TGS stall. “That’s why people come here, to taste good German food. We would be doing them a disservice by serving them a watered-down American version.”

As Winkler notes, Christkindlmarket is quintessentially German. The market has done a great job at attracted tourists and Chicago residents, all while keeping the integrity of its vision statement of introducing the population to classic German traditions. Regardless of what day or time you go, expect a good time browsing through German gifts, and tasting classic food you may not be able to typically find in the city. You may just find a new addition to your own family holiday traditions.

Christkindlmarket is located at Daley Plaza between Washington, Clark and Dearborn Street, and is accessible by the Blue Line at Washington/Dearborn and the Red Line at State/Lake. Christkindlmarket is open daily until Christmas eve from 11am-8pm Sunday-Thursday, and 11am-9pm Friday-Saturday. Admission is free, but most vendors are cash only. A list of vendors can be found at the market’s wesbsite 

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Go South of the border, but skip the TSA line

Chicago is home to arguably some of the best Mexican restaurants around, many of which are located on the North Side’s Clark st. Unofficially dedicated to Chicago Mexican Americans, it is the perfect place to get a taste of Mexico without a pat-down by the TSA. Take a listen to hear what to expect from N. Clark st.’s Mexican food scene and what local residents have to say about it.

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Shrimp fajitas from El Chorrito, located on 6404 N. Clark st.

The Americanization of ethnic food

The Americaniziation (real technical term) of ethnic food is something I am incredibly argumentative over. Don’t get me wrong, I love chipotle as much as the next college girl, but the fact that ethnic food is being marketed to an American audience in such a watered down way is a waste of the flavors and tradition ethnic food offers us. After visiting my local Whole Foods the other day and being assaulted by a variety of Americanized ethnic foods (red pepper hummus?? Hummus isn’t just any ol’ vegetable pulverized into a dip…but I digress) I realized how the American palette is so used to Taco Bell and Olive Garden that when confronted with real authentic ethnic food, it is completely foreign (pun intended).
This is why when I went to breakfast this morning at newly opened Bryn Mawr Breakfast Club and saw “Italian pancakes” on the menu, I was a little confused as to what that would entail. But my craving for pancakes got the best of me and I ordered them, and out came a stack of ordinary, though very pretty looking, pancakes. The server explained that the “Italian” aspect of the dish was that the batter was lightened with whipped mascarpone cheese, a classic Italian cheese used in several desserts like tiramisu. Though incredibly delicious, stamping on any country’s name on a dish with little influence from the country is a little cheap to me. Though it may not be a big deal to some, I feel that Italians have a lot more culinary genius to offer us than mascarpone pancakes (try anything at Eataly if you don’t believe me)
Overall, the pancakes at Breakfast club were amazing, and also a great reason for me to touch upon this topic to anyone who may listen.

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Dia de los Muertos

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In honor of Dia de Los Muertos today, here are a few food ideas to help you celebrate this week

Cook one of the 12 Spanish and Mexican recipes Cosmopolitan (yes…that cosmopolitan) chose as the easiest and most delicious

Bake these cinnamon skull cookies that use popular Mexican ingredient corn flour (impressive frosting piping skills optional)

And if (when?) your cooking fails, eat at Cesar’s in Andersonville, and take a walk around the block after your delicious and food-coma inducing fajitas

Andersonville Dessert Crawl

Halloween is just around the corner and just because you are too old to go trick or treating while praying the house down the street has full-sized candy bars, doesn’t mean your sweet tooth is out of luck. The Andersonville Dessert Crawl, taking place October 26 from 2-5 pm, is the perfect way to indulge all while familiarizing yourself with all the restaurants and bakeries Andersonville has to offer.

The event will begin at the Swedish American Museum, located at 5211 N Clark St. From the museum, patrons will follow a pre-planned path sampling a variety of desserts ranging from traditional Swedish fare, as well as sweets from other ethnic restaurants in the area.

Tickets can be purchased online for $20, or on the day of the event from the Swedish American Museum for a $5 up charge. For a full list of all participating restaurants and for more information, visit http://www.andersonville.org/events/dessert-crawl/

South-Asian cuisine made simple

Muslims around the world and in the Chicago-land area celebrated Eid al-Adha this past weekend. One of the biggest religious holidays for Muslims, the celebrations often include music, dancing, visits with family and friends, and lots of food.

The past few years, Eid has taken a back seat for school work and my busy schedule, but with it taking place on a weekend this year, I was determined to celebrate properly. With my parents were oversees in Saudi Arabia to take part in the hajj pilgrimage, and my siblings busy with schoolwork, I decided to stay in with friends and cook up one of my favorite Pakistani dishes, but with a simpler twist.

During a trip to Whole Foods, I spotted this canned bottle of Calcutta Masala simmer sauce by Taj Ethnic Gourmet. After reading the ingredients, the sauce had all the spices and components I would normally put in the dish separately. Usually not a fan of canned sauces, I decided to give this a try as it meant about 50 less steps for me (Pakistani food is definitely a labor of love!)

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So along with the sauce, I picked up some garbanzo beans and Jasmine rice, as well as 1 lb. chicken breast and a medium sized onion. That is all I needed to make this super delicious, easy Pakistani dish, perfect for the chilly fall-weather we are experiencing!

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I started off my cubing the chicken and browning it, as well as adding in the chopped onion. The instructions on the sauce said to just toss in the raw meat, but I always like to be on the safe side by cooking it a little first.

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Then I added in the garbanzo beans after a quick rinse with cold water. Rinsing the beans is an option step, but I prefer to wash off the liquid the beans are canned in so I can control the salt-level of the dish.

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All the while, I had the Jasmine rice cooking according to the package instructions. After browning the chicken and cooking the garbanzo beans a bit, I poured in the simmer sauce, along with 8 oz of water (roughly half the jar full)

I let it simmer for about 20 minutes with the lid on, on low heat.

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It was perfectly cooked and not too spicy, perfect for the average spice palette. For just under $4 for the bottle of simmer sauce, I would definitely purchase it again when in need of a short cut.

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Looking ahead to Friday night date night, we’re starting to exhaust our typical trips to our favorite dumpling shop or falafel dive. That being said, it is clear that we need a change of international proportions. So what country do you think has the best food? Are you a poutine lover, pasta fanatic, or do you prefer parathay. Did I miss a country that has amazing food? Let me know in the comments.

Caramel latte and mocha from Java and Mug

Caramel latte and mocha from Java and Mug

Beef bimbimbap from Cafe Orient 33

Beef bimbimbap from Cafe Orient 33

Arabic coffee and shisha at Ugly Hookah Cafe- best part, you can bring your own food in! (Rice and chicken shawarma pictured from Shawarma Inn)

Arabic coffee and shisha at Ugly Hookah Cafe- best part, you can bring your own food in! (Rice and chicken shawarma pictured from Shawarma Inn)

In the Albany Park or North Park area? Here are some of my favorite places to visit in the neighborhood! Click on the pin within the google map for more information.

A Taste of the World- A trip to Devon ave, Chicago

Growing up in Detroit, a melting pot of cultures, finding Pakistani restaurants was never hard. Finding good Pakistani restaurants was a completely different story. Whenever my parents were feeling homesick or had a serious craving for pani puri, a trip to Chicago was always in order. Devon avenue is well known among the American Pakistani community as being the place to get authentic Pakistani cuisine. After moving to Chicago, I always loved living so close to Devon ave. as it not only reminded me of my Pakistani roots, but also of my family’s several trips during my youth.

After exploring Devon a few times, I realized that there was so much more than the Pakistani restaurants my family frequented. In fact, you could find almost every Asian and South Asian cuisine on the street. Upon realizing this, Devon became my go-to for practically every craving, and the perfect place to take friends when we weren’t quite sure what mood we were in for dinner.

September being a sacred month for my roommate and I (birthday month!), over-indulging was definitely called for. We started the lead up to our birthdays by visiting one of our favorite spots for sushi. Hello Sushi, located on 1553 W. Devon ave is a great spot to go, especially if you’re a newcomer to the world of sushi like I am. The menu is approachable and the staff is very friendly, and the food is absolutely delicious.

Later on in the week, my mom paid me a visit and we had lunch at our favorite restaurant on Devon. Kabul Express, sister to Kabul House located in Skokie, IL, is a restaurant that serves traditional Afghan fare. We ordered our usual- an order of Kabuli pulao (a rice dish with carrots, golden raisins and braised lamb) and a chicken kebab sandwich with mint chutney. We had no problem eating both dishes between the two of us.

Finally, as the weekend approached, my roommate and I took a trip to Royal Sweets. One of the restaurants my family used to visit when I was young, Royal Sweets is a traditional Pakistani chaat house that sells small meals and snacks meant to be eaten with afternoon tea. We ordered masala chai (tea spiced with cinnamon and cloves) and, perhaps my favorite Pakistani snack, samosa chaat.

Embedded is a short slideshow detailing my trips to Devon ave. After watching it, I hope you crave a trip to Devon as I do, though I should probably be craving a juice cleanse.