FOOD AND DRINK
Food on Foot: Chicago Culinary Walking Tours
It will come as no surprise to visitors that Chicago is an incredibly diverse city. But it’s also one of the most segregated cities in the country. Many of the neighbourhoods were established by one particular culture, and over the years certain communities have grown to become virtually a city within a city.
The diversity of local cuisine is something that Chicagoans love, but it can also be a challenge to navigate, even for a local. Certain neighbourhoods require an insider’s knowledge if you’re going to find the tastiest morsels.
What is the visitor to do? Taking a food tour is one way to accelerate the process of finding the best there is to eat.
For one thing, the guides are knowledgeable about the food, history, culture and its context within Chicago at large. Second, those guides double as a kind of security blanket, leading you to the tried-and-true spots that reflect the best of a particular neighbourhood, while opening doors to experiences you might not otherwise take – whether it’s trying on a sari in Little India or watching a baker make pita bread from scratch in Little Arabia.
Ready to walk and eat? Here are some great food tours to get you started.
Listen closely when you arrive at Devon Avenue, located on the north side of the city, and you can hear up to 40 different languages spoken on any given day. This area is known as Little India, but it’s actually packed with newcomers from all over Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Eastern Africa and beyond. Your guide on Spice of Life Tours, Mohammed Ali, grew up here. While a newcomer may wander the streets thinking all of the restaurants look similar, he knows what separates the Northern Indian menus from the Southern Indian, and beyond. He’ll take you into shops where you can try on saris and then lead you to a henna boutique, where each participant will get inked. Add to the mix plenty of food such as naan pizza, samosas, tandoori, Pakistani barbecue and more, and plan on leaving enlightened – and stuffed. The 3½-hour walking tour is $75.
Meet at 2541 W. Devon Ave., 773-644-1202
Prepare for a major culture change on the city’s south side, where block after block of dim sum restaurants, Chinese markets, bakeries, souvenir shops and more make up Chicago’s Chinatown. Make the most of your time there by booking a Chinatown Food Tour through Chicago Food Planet. An expert guide will introduce you to the food, history and lore of the area. On the tour, you’ll try Hong Kong-style dim sum, Peking duck, spicy Sichuan cuisine and more. The 3½-hour walking tour is $55 for adults and $35 for children 12 or younger.
Meets near Cermak and Wentworth (location provided with ticket purchase), 312-818-2170
Ah, yes. Chicago pizza. So many visitors inquire about where to get the best that this brilliant company planned an entire tour around pie. You’ll learn about what differentiates styles of pizza around the city, including deep dish, stuffed, coal oven, tavern-style and Neapolitan, and enjoy plenty of slices along the way. This 3 to 3½-hour bus tour is $60.
Meets at 27 N Upper Wacker Dr., 888-210-3237
Kedzie Avenue in Albany Park is the, er, Mecca of Middle Eastern food and culture in Chicago. While locals know they can get some of the best hummus in town here at restaurants like Semiramis, there aren’t exactly placards or street maps that explain where to go next if you want an Arabian cultural adventure. Which is why it’s so great to have The Little Arabia Spice of Life tour guide act as your Sherpa. On this tour, you’ll get to try that hummus at Semiramis, along with falafel, shwarma, baba ganoush and tabbouleh at other stops along the way. Then head to a Middle Eastern grocery store and watch a baker make pita bread from scratch, visit a hookah shop to learn about shisha (i.e. tobacco smoked in the hookah) and try your hand at Arabic calligraphy in your little Beirut adventure. This 3½-hour tour is $60.
Meet at 4639 N Kedzie Ave., 773-830-4277
The Year 1893
You’ll hear the year 1893 bandied around quite a bit in Chicago. That’s the year this fair city hosted the World’s Columbian Exposition, aka the World’s Fair, which drew 27 million people from around the world. On this tour, you’ll get a feel for how Chicago looked – and tasted – in 1893 as you sample foods that made their debut at the World’s Fair, including the hot dog, Cracker Jacks and the brownie. This 90-minute walking tour costs $30.
Meets at 224 S. Michigan Ave., 312-922-8687