Sunday, August 16, 2009

Neighborhood Tours: Maxwell Street Market

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Today, I took my group of What's Cookin, Chicago to the market... the Maxwell Street Market! This is a long standing open-air market in the city where you can find delicious Mexican eats along side some pretty random items for sale.

Continuing its long tradition of offering Chicago immigrants and locals a space to sell odds and ends, the colorful flea market hosts 518 vendors every Sunday, year-round. In addition to household goods, clothing, CDs, jewelry, power tools and produce, there are several Mexican food stands offering authentic fare like enchiladas, tacos, tamales, plantains and horchata. Live blues is played at the market weekly (weather permitting). A bit of history: After 120 years of operation, Maxwell Street Market was closed down in the mid-'90s, a controversial city decision. The open-air market was relocated to Canal Street, about a half-mile from its original site. After 14 years at the second location, the market moved to Desplaines Street in late summer of 2008.

The Maxwell Street Market is full of great sights, sounds and especially tastes. Here's a few pictures from our tour along with stops we made. If you ever get a chance to visit (whether you're a Chicago resident or not) I highly recommend it! The market is open all year round every Sunday.

Churro Factory - Great freshly made churros and filled to order with strawberry or vanilla cream. It hit the spot for our morning start on the tour.


Green House Steaks's Tortas Ahogadas —bolillos (short baguettes) stuffed with skirt steak and pickled onions then drenched in red enchilada sauce


El Güero's Birria y consommé
— lamb or goat stew in broth served with tortillas, cilantro and onion


Tamales Oaxaquenos's Chicken tamale — soft corn tamale stuffed with shredded chicken then steamed in banana leaves


Lencho’s Tacos's Carne asada taco — marinated, charcoal-grilled skirt-steak taco topped with onions, cilantro and housemade red or green salsa


Rinconcito Salvadoreño's Pupusas — griddled pockets of masa stuffed with cheese, chicharron or refried beans, served with pickled slaw and chunky, spicy red salsa


Rubi’s Tacos's Tacos al pastor — homemade tortillas wrapped around spit-roasted pork and diced pineapple

Tacos D.F.'s Cecina taco — corn tortilla stuffed with thin sheets of marinated, thinly sliced grilled beef


Maxwell Street Market Legendary Polish & Burgers


Mario's Nieves/Italian Ice - Here we got to cool down a bit with refreshing ices made with either strawberry, coconut, lime or mango.


Fresh Fruit Spears
usually seasoned with chili powder

To quench our thirst on such a warm day, we treated ourselves to Aguas - flavored water using fresh fruits. Here, a vendor has tamarind, watermelon, and lime, along with horchata (a rice milk flavored with cinnamon).


Some other drinks seen at the market included Mexican mineral water and sodas along with non-alcoholic Pina Coladas...


Aside from the wonderful food to be had at the market, there were some amazing produce available....

Can you believe it? A box of 8 - 1lb packages of strawberries = $7?!

During our tour, we even got to try a few things such as green & red prickly pear and tamarind. Prickly Pear comes in either red or green... and they come from completely different plants, not the same plant as many may think. The red is much sweeter and is often seen used in drinks or eaten chopped up and seasoned. Both are full of very small seeds and can be consumed without any harm.


Mamey - The fruit is eaten raw out of hand or made into milkshakes, smoothies, ice cream and fruit bars. The fruit's flavor is variously described as a combination of pumpkin, sweet potatoes and marschino cherries with the texture of an avocado.


Mexican Guaje - seeds are used in cooking. The seeds are about the size of a small lima bean and are eaten raw with guacamole, sometimes coked and made into a sauce. They can also be made into fritters. The ground seeds are used to impart a slightly garlicy flavor to a mole. The dried seeds may be toasted and salted and eaten as a snack referred to as "cacalas."


There were even fresh potted herbs available for purchase including espazote, basil, rosemary, dill, etc...


Because of the heavy use of dried chiles in Mexican cuisine, you can find quite a few varieties here, along with beans and spices...


Spiced Mango Slices


Some wooden spoons, scoops, rolling pins, all made in Mexico...

Then there's always the peculiar Market finds... who knew you'd find these all in one place?!

A vendor dedicated to shoelaces of all lengths, widths and colors...
A vendor dedicated to African items like these African incense...
A vendor dedicated to military gear...

A vendor who sold wrestling masks for children and adults...

Are you a Tigger fan? This vendor will surely have what you're looking for!
Just when you thought you saw it all... yes, these were for sale!

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