There are food festivals in Chicago every weekend. Usually there are more than one on any given day. Some center around a certain dish like macaroni and cheese, chili, bacon, sausage, hot dogs, while some celebrate a particular neighborhood or cooking technique. Not all of these festivals are worth going to, and many that are worth going to are cost prohibitive or invitation-only events.
On November 6, a new festival entered the highly saturated Chicago food event market. The First Annual Strange Foods Chicago Festival brought 15 different restaurants, folk dance schools, musicians and martial arts performers into an event space in West Town for an afternoon of bold flavors. Earlier this month we posted an article discussing the genesis for the festival, which sprang from an Instagram account and disenchantment with the gourmet festival scene in Chicago.
While most food festivals tend to focus on trends, the latest food innovation, flavor combination of the moment or creativity, the Strange Foods Festival celebrated traditional ingredients and dishes not popular in a mainstream American food scene, or even deemed strange. Steamed cow brain, whole prawns, lamb shank, eggs steamed in their shell and grilled, and meat cake were just a few of the ethnic foods available for sampling at the festival. As I walked around I began to make a mental list of new restaurants I had to go to and which dishes I wanted to get.
- Somethin’ Sweet Donuts: As a very experienced donut enthusiast, I was delighted by the vanilla and cinnamon sugar donuts. The more adventurous flavors weren’t as good as the more classic varieties.
- HoneyDoe: I’ve never had Syrian food before and I do not know why! The different cold salads and delicate savory pastries were delightful. This Syrian caterer is worth booking for a future party or meeting.
- Snow Dragon Shavery: Snow Dragon specializes in signature shaved snow, but they make awesome macaroons too. I never knew! They are some of the best I’ve ever had
- Sunset Pho: The couple who own this restaurant are inspired by their ethnic background– he is Croatian, and she is Vietnamese– making the menu a little bit different. Don’t be put off by peculiar combinations (spring rolls stuffed with Croatian sausage). Everything I sampled from this booth was phenomenal, including the throw-away side dishes and salads that usually come for free when you order an entree. Their cabbage salad was a stand out. If you can make cabbage memorable, you’ve really got something.
The festival felt like a family affair. It focused on family owned restaurants, and there were lots of children taking part in the dance demonstrations, creating an overall sense of warmth that most local food events lack.