Think your days of tacos and edamame (not together, but you know what we mean) are behind you? Think again.
Most families aren’t planning to jet off to Europe, Africa orSouth America for a vacation anytime soon. However, there areplenty of opportunities to expose your family to different culturesright here in Chicago by simply dining out at the many local ethnicrestaurants.
Chicagoans could literallyeat their way around the world without ever leaving the citylimits.
Introducing kids to differentworld cuisines is a powerful way to teach them to value differencesand also understand that all cultures share commonalities(especially when it comes to family meals).
Before you explore a newcuisine with your children, be sure to provide some basicbackground information so they know what to expect. Take a look atthe menu in advance or ask questions of your server to ensure thatyou order kid-friendly dishes that will keep your tiny dinerssatisfied.
Here are a few highlyrespected local ethnic restaurants to begin your culinaryadventures.
Cumin 1414 N. Milwaukee Ave. Chicago cumin-chicago.com
This relatively newrestaurant serves up modern Nepalese and Indian cuisine. ManagerDipesh Kakshapaty says there are some significant differencesbetween the two types of food.
“Nepalese culture eats mostlya vegetable-based diet with very little use of spices and dairyproducts. On the other hand, Indian food relies heavily on spicesand a lot of dairy ingredients,” says Kakshapaty.
Despite sharing a religionand many cultural practices, Indian food has been influenced bymany outside cultures and has evolved because of those influenceswhile Nepal largely has the same cuisine it had 300 years ago,Kakshapaty says. At Cumin, most of the dishes are moderatelyspiced.
Kid-friendly menusuggestions: Kakshapaty says the chef can always customize
the spice level or accommodate food allergies.
Roditys Restaurant 222 S. Halsted Chicago roditys.com/index-5.html
Chicken malia tikka (white chicken breast marinated in mildItalian spices, cashew paste, sour cream and yogurt) is flavorfulwithout 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 familydining table is the central gathering place. “It is the single mostimportant place for showing loved ones and friends how trulyimportant they are to us,” Manager Joe Collado says. He recommendsparents treat the dining experience as a teaching tool.
“It is important to developdiverse taste buds in children and let them know that there is avast world beyond just the basic foods,” says Collado.
He says Greek cuisine isconsidered one of the world’s healthiest because it focuses onolive oil, fresh veggies and lean meats.
Kid-friendly menusuggestions: 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
The restaurant offers a kid-friendly dish nightly that’scomplimentary.The grownups, however, will be asked to donatethe amount of their choice to the restaurant’s designated charity.The beneficiary will change regularly, says partner and generalmanager Marcos Rivera.
Serving seafood with an authentic Mexican bent, thislively, family-friendly eatery greets guests with rows ofdelectable crab legs on ice and the aroma of sizzling platters ofspicy shrimp making their way to patrons of all ages.
1035 N. Ashland Ave., Chicago (773)486-6850
El Barco Mariscos
For families who can’t escape to the ocean for spring break butwant to delight in coastal ambiance and fresh seafood, the nextbest thing is waiting in Ukrainian Village: El Barco Mariscos.
Serving seafood with an authentic Mexican bent, this lively,family-friendly eatery greets guests with rows of delectable crablegs on ice and the aroma of sizzling platters of spicy shrimpmaking their way to patrons of all ages.
Owner and Mexico City native Rick Gutierrez says the inspirationfor El Barco is that of a bustling cantina overlooking the ocean inAcapulco.
“This is food you would eat at a beach in Mexico. We didn’t wantto be like any other restaurant in Chicago.”
And indeed, it is unlike any other venue.
The restaurant’s exterior is actually shaped like a boat with anautical interior décor to match. Kids marvel at the giganticCaptain Hook statue and the dozen life-size blue marlins hangingfrom the cobalt ceiling.
Not to be outdone by the atmosphere, the extensive menu boastswhat some declare not just the best Mexican food in town, but alsothe very best seafood in town. Try the shrimp fajitas or enchiladasand you’ll never want them with meat again. For seafood enthusiastswith an enormous appetite, order the parrillada, a feast teemingwith grilled and breaded filet of fish, chicken breast, shrimp,skirt steak, crab legs and octopus accompanied by onions, friedpotatoes, rice, beans and pico de gallo. Or go with what Gutierrezsays is among the best dishes on the menu: the red snapper ingarlic, wine and cilantro sauce.
One caveat for the squeamish: some fish dishes come intact, headand all. So if you prefer an entrée that doesn’t stare back, besure to confer with the server. For die-hard landlubbers orchildren whose palates are not quite ready for seafood, there areseveral chicken and steak dishes to choose.
Food is served Ethiopian style, which means there are noutensils. Instead, everyone’s order is placed on one large, roundserving platter. Diners break off small pieces of the spongypancake-like injera bread and scoop up whichever food they wouldlike to eat.
6120 N. Broadway Ave. and 7537 N. ClarkSt.
Psst. Want your kids to try new foods? Let them eat withtheir hands.
That’s the way they do it at the Ethiopian Diamond restaurantsin Chicago. Food is served Ethiopian style, which means there areno utensils. Instead, everyone’s order is placed on one large,round serving platter (eating from one platter symbolizes loyaltyand friendship). Diners break off small pieces of the spongypancake-like injera bread and scoop up whichever food they wouldlike to eat.
Almaz Yigizaw opened the first Ethiopian Diamondrestaurant at 6120 N. Broadway Ave. in 1996 and says it is now thelargest Ethiopian restaurant in the country. She opened a second,at 7537 N. Clark St., last year.
Both of the family-friendly restaurants often entertainschool groups. She says the kids “are not as afraid to try (exoticfoods) as they used to be.”
Yigizaw, who spent six months in a Sudanese refugee campbefore emigrating to Chicago with her brother when she was 15,never cooked when she was growing up. Despite that, she cooks theway she remembers her grandma cooking back in Gander,Ethiopia.
She imports her spices directly from Ethiopia and cooks”by taste,” she says.
There are savory meat dishes made with lamb, beef, chickenor seafood, but there also are many traditional vegan andgluten-free dishes, including injera bread, which is traditionallymade of gluten-free teff flour.
Portions are generous and, Yigizaw promises, her staff ishappy to offer guidance to Ethiopian Diamond newcomers.
I recommend first-time visitors order the “Tour ofEthiopia,” which offers a sambusa appetizer (thin dough shellsstuffed with minced meat or vegetables), Diamond salad, entréechoice (stew-like dishes containing lamb, beef, chicken, seafood,or vegetarian options with vegetables, lentils or chick peas thatcan be made mild or spicy), and sides (try the greens simmered ingarlic and onions). Finish with the not-too-sweet injera torte,made from injera bread and walnut cream and drizzled withchocolate.