Most families aren't planning to jet off to Europe, Africa or
South America for a vacation anytime soon. However, there are
plenty of opportunities to expose your family to different cultures
right here in Chicago by simply dining out at the many local ethnic
Chicagoans could literally
eat their way around the world without ever leaving the city
Introducing kids to different
world cuisines is a powerful way to teach them to value differences
and also understand that all cultures share commonalities
(especially when it comes to family meals).
Before you explore a new
cuisine with your children, be sure to provide some basic
background information so they know what to expect. Take a look at
the menu in advance or ask questions of your server to ensure that
you order kid-friendly dishes that will keep your tiny diners
Here are a few highly
respected local ethnic restaurants to begin your culinary
1414 N. Milwaukee Ave.
This relatively new
restaurant serves up modern Nepalese and Indian cuisine. Manager
Dipesh Kakshapaty says there are some significant differences
between the two types of food.
"Nepalese culture eats mostly
a vegetable-based diet with very little use of spices and dairy
products. On the other hand, Indian food relies heavily on spices
and a lot of dairy ingredients," says Kakshapaty.
Despite sharing a religion
and many cultural practices, Indian food has been influenced by
many outside cultures and has evolved because of those influences
while Nepal largely has the same cuisine it had 300 years ago,
Kakshapaty says. At Cumin, most of the dishes are moderately
suggestions: Kakshapaty says the chef can always customize
the spice level or accommodate food allergies.
222 S. Halsted
Chicken malia tikka (white chicken breast marinated in mild
Italian spices, cashew paste, sour cream and yogurt) is flavorful
without being spicy. Other good options include palungoko saag
(sauteed spinach), vegetable samosas (stuffed dough), dal makhani
(lentils), naan bread, mint-cucumber raita (yogurt dip) and lassi
(a yogurt drink).
In Greek culture, the family
dining table is the central gathering place. "It is the single most
important place for showing loved ones and friends how truly
important they are to us," Manager Joe Collado says. He recommends
parents treat the dining experience as a teaching tool.
"It is important to develop
diverse taste buds in children and let them know that there is a
vast world beyond just the basic foods," says Collado.
He says Greek cuisine is
considered one of the world's healthiest because it focuses on
olive oil, fresh veggies and lean meats.
suggestions: Kids love the "sights and sounds" of the
flaming saganaki cheese. The cheese is set on fire tableside as the
waiter exclaims "Opa!" Other family-friendly options include
tzatziki (a yogurt dip), chicken shish-kebab (skewers), and rice
pudding for dessert.
4801 N. Broadway
Ethiopian cuisine features
one large plate where everyone serves themselves, primarily with
their hands. Tigist Reda, the chef/owner of Demera Ethiopian
Restaurant, says the most well-known dish is messob, a large plate
containing vegetarian, chicken, beef, and seafood options.
"In Ethiopian culture, it is
very common for everyone to feed each other. The experience is
about spending intimate family time together sharing food," says
She says more than half of
her customers are new to Ethiopian cuisine. "The first question our
server asks is whether you've dined with us before. Our entire
staff takes a lot of time going through the menu and explaining it
to our diners," says Reda.
suggestions: Reda suggests ordering the family-style menu
so that there will be lots of dishes for both kids and adults to
try. Other good options include doro alicha wot (a mild chicken
dish), shiro (yellow split pea with onion, garlic and tomato),
quosta (spinach) and sambussa (stuffed dough).
1865 N. Milwaukee
Owner Henry Cerdas describes
the menu at Irazu as "Latin soul cuisine-an overlap of Mexican and
South American food."
The menu focuses heavily on
white rice and beans. Cerdas stresses that the restaurant features
a very casual, non-pretentious atmosphere suitable for kids.
suggestions: Cerdas recommends the pepito sandwich (ribeye
steak with a non-spicy lizano sauce, black bean spread and cheese
on french bread). Other highlights are the "potted rooster" or
gallo pinto (white rice and black beans blended with cilantro, red
pepper, onion, and garlic) and the very popular oatmeal shake (a
frothy, thick horchata sprinkled with cinnamon).
Caitlin Murray Giles is a full-time mother of three and part-time freelance writer living in Wicker Park.
See more of Caitlin's stories here.
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