For me and most world travelers, I'm sure, being in one place for too long can quickly turn into itchy feet. To anyone who has been around a lot, travel quickly becomes like an addiction; always looking for the next fix. When I decided to stay ‘domestic’ and root myself in the Windy City of Chicago, I was hesitant at first. Though I was aware of confluence of many diverse cultures in here, little did I know just how much there was to explore. Here are my recommendations for taking a ‘staycation’ trip around the world, neighborhood by neighborhood, through this amazing city.
Devon Street or “Little India”
If you are driving on Devon Street, take it slow; pedestrians here pop their bodies into the street with little hesitation. Donned in saris and burkas alike, Devon is home to a diverse array of Indians and Middle Easterners. From halal meat markets and Pakistani restaurants like Sabri Nihari to jewelry shops filled with exotic gold, Devon Street is a feast for the senses. One of my very favorite places to visit is Argo Bakery, which touts traditional Georgian bread making out of a tone, or an open pit oven. Grab a loaf of lavash for later, as you stroll the street and work off the cuisine of your choice. If you’re still feeling hungry, stop into Pateel Brothers Grocery Store to pick up snacks and spice. One thing’s for sure: you’ll never go hungry on Devon Street.
Andersonville, The Sweden of Chicago
Long ago Andersonville, a northeastern neighborhood that meets at Clark and Foster, was full of cherry orchards for Swedish immigrants. After the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, wood was outlawed in the city, although brick remained more expensive. So the Swedes kept north, outside of the then-Chicago city limits, and started to create a community built on tradition – and wood. Today, although the neighbourhood has certainly diversified, there are still traces of these Scandinavian roots. If you’re looking for an historic experience, head to the Swedish American Museum, which has permanent and temporary exhibits, as well as a great area for children. Then, cross the street to Svea, a restaurant so quaint you may never want to leave. There you can feast on the traditional Swedish fare: lingonberries on top of pancakes, genuine Swedish meatballs and pickled herring, if you dare. The price is right, with nothing over $10. Then browse the cute shops and stores of Andersonville and if a sweet tooth arises, head to the Swedish Bakery for a treat. Valkommen!
Home to the second largest Greek-American population after NYC, Chicago loves its Greeks. Heading to Greek Town is an experience that has a clear circuit. The first stop is for saganaki (flaming cheese announced by an “Ommpa!”) and lunch at either Greek Islands Restaurant or its nearby rival, Athena. After lunch, take a stroll to the Hellenic Museum to learn about Greece and Greek-American culture before swinging back to the Pan Hellenic Pastry Shop, which has been family operated since 1974 and has some of the most delicious baklava I’ve ever tasted. Top it off with coffee, then a strange yet magical adventure to Athenian Candle Company, where candles—and spells—are made on the spot!
Pilsen, Bohemia Turned Mexicano!
First settled by Czech immigrants in the 19th century, the homes of Pilsen reflect this influence architecturally, yet the current culture does not. Now the neighborhood is home to predominately Mexican Latino families who have made it a vibrant place to visit. One of the most notable things to see here are the murals that line 16th Street. If you love Mexican art, head to the always-free National Museum of Mexican Art, which houses a permanent and traveling exhibit. Then, get hungry and walk 18th Street, which has no shortage of taquerias or panaderias—joints to get your local taco and Mexican bakery hook-up. If you still have time to explore, head to the ‘Mexico of the Midwest’, Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood. If you can make it for Mexican Independence Day on September 16th, you will be in luck; there’s a special parade that fills the streets with true Mexican colors and culture.
Though Chicago can’t lay claim to a Chinatown anywhere near that of San Francisco’s, the Orient still comes alive in this neighborhood. Come to eat, shop and explore; Chinatown is full of festivities from the Dragon Boat Race in July to the Chinese New Year’s celebration. Two great features of the area to start with are the Chinatown Pavilion and the Chinatown Gate, both at S. Wentworth and W. Cermak Streets. After you’ve had your fill of these beauties, head to the Chinese American Museum, which boasts a real brick from the Great Wall. If you feel like shopping, stop along the way at the various stores that sell groceries, tea and traditional herbs. Then, head to eat some dim sum, a traditional dish of steamed dumplings that literally means “touch the heart”. The food is so good, and has spanned for so many decades, eat it as a toast to your health!
Though these neighborhoods are far from exhaustive of the diverse cultures of Chicago, they stand out as places not to be missed. If you’re looking for even more worldly adventure in this city, Little Italy, Puerto Rican flavoured Humboldt Park pockets of the ever-present Polish population and the Korean-Middle Eastern-Jewish neighborhood of Albany Park will not disappoint. The world and its colours, cultures and tastes are right here at your fingertips; all you have to do is get out there and enjoy it!
**The original version of this story first appeared in Oddisay (www.oddisay.com) and was edited and reprinted here with permission from the author.
About the Author Samantha Schoville has the soul of a gypsy, traipsing the world in search of everything and anything it has to offer. People are what inspire her travels, with the belief that the best way to create peace is to greet it face-to-face. For more information on Samantha and her travels, visit her site at www.wix.com/sschoville/samanthagill.
About the Author
Samantha Schoville has the soul of a gypsy, traipsing the world in search of everything and anything it has to offer. People are what inspire her travels, with the belief that the best way to create peace is to greet it face-to-face. For more information on Samantha and her travels, visit her site at www.wix.com/sschoville/samanthagill.