That phrase sums it all up; Everything dope in America starts in Chicago, the most beautiful city in the whole wide world for me. I love her grace and beauty, her diversity. I love the lushness, and the inclusivity
Recently I took my umpteenth trip to Chicago. My whole family lives there in various parts of the city and the suburbs, so I have been visiting since the late 1980s. I have seen it all, eaten at so many places, swam from so many beaches, and I have generally had a fully good time over the years. But this last trip was the most tranquil, the easiest, most beautiful trip I ever did have in Chicago.
Travel I realised is not what you go to see, it is what you feel when you are there. In my years visiting Chicago it was always about pleasing family, going places, seeing things, shopping. Attending family gatherings where everyone thought it was a good idea while apart, but once they got together everyone suddenly wanted to air every little err from over the years.
This time, after my cancer battle, I knew exactly what I wanted and what I will not tolerate; I want peace and quiet. I want to spend meaningful moments with people who appreciate me and whom I appreciate. Setting myself up with that mindset really set in motion a Chicago trip that I never thought existed.
Before I move on, I have to say, Chicago is the most beautiful city in the whole wide world for me. I love her grace and beauty, her diversity. I love the lushness, and the inclusivity. I love the midwestern charm and the unsolicited smiles and greetings. I love the fresh air off a lake that looks like a whole ocean when you stand at its shore. I love the shopping, and the insurmountable food offerings.
Here is a breakdown of a week in Chicago.
Start by popping into any Chicago Marianos for food supplies, or head over to one of the many farmers markets around the city for all kinds of produce, fruits, local cheeses (Wisconsin is an hour away), meat, eggs, yogurt, preserves and the list goes on. It is a veritable feast on the street.
And talking about street, did you know the best street foods started in Chicago? We have Mexican corn with all the toppings, Chicago hotdogs done just so, tacos like you have never tasted before, and things from ovens that are mind blowing.
Like a Chicago deep dish pizza, you have never tasted it unless you have been there. We are talking deep pastry-like crust, like a big ole sour dough bowl, except full of flavours. This is layered thick with cheese that turns into a gooey madness, once it is baked – then filled with meats and more cheese and then a thick layer of deep dark delicious tomato sauce that imparts the heart of southern Italy bursting with ripened tomatoes, roasted garlic, fragrant herbs, sunshine and sea. I tell ya, it is a culinary journey in just one slice of Chicago deep dish pizza. It is a once in a lifetime flavour trip you must have.
For those seeking a finer experience, there are 23 Michelin-starred restaurants. Alinea in Lincoln Park, a stone’s throw away from my family’s home, is the 3-starred maven of fine dining cuisine, dry ice and compressed things and all. There is Ever with a Prix-fixe menu, and Moody Tongue the brew masters, and a few other American fine dining. But then there is Mexican Topolobampo (Got to love the name!), Omakase Yume Japanese, and Israeli Galit. And gasp! even Filipino Kasama! Only in Chicago.
I also got to enjoy the culinary prowess of my sister’s cooking. Her Guyanese family recipes, her easy way of cooking was a deliciously joyful event. Watching her create dishes was like peeping at a private tea ceremony – she was doing a ritual, completely in her own heaven. Beautiful. The pleasure of eating childhood dishes cannot be described in mere words, because it is not only taste and senses, it is the memories of a time long before the death of a sibling, or battling cancer, living through pandemics and world disasters. It was a like my childhood was re-gifted to me briefly for a whole 12 days.
Moving on. Check out the breathtaking offerings for scrumptious visual pleasure at The Art Institute of America. And the 47 other museums celebrating cultures, like Ukraine, Greece, Mexico, Puerto Rico. Veterans museum, and American Writers Museum (my heart). Then there are murals everywhere and art in every single Chicago park, of which there are many, many parks.
I walked 10,000 steps a day in Chicago. Every day we went in a different direction, and in every direction we walked under lush trees surrounded by green grass and wildflower gardens. We strolled sandy beaches and sat in cool grass under ancient trees. We stopped for the best coffees at the quaintest cafes.
We sipped rich Italian coffees and nibbled at cherry crumble cakes. We shopped for spices at my favourite place The Spice House in Evanston, Illinois, just a walking distance from my family’s home.
And then there is downtown Chicago, with the architecture that is mind blowing, the history that reads like fantasy fiction, the river tours, the cafes and restaurants and the artwork everywhere. I love this city, so much. Not only because it is absolutely stunning, also because my beautiful-kind siblings, and my hero whom I worship, my mama, lives there too.
Every time I go to Chicago, it is like coming home.
“Everything dope in America comes from Chicago” is off a tee from Mahogany Tours, join them for a brilliant and in-depth tour of the city of Chicago!