Nothing tastes better than mom’s chicken soup. Unless of course your mom is Indian or Ecuadoranâ€”then you’re probably yearning for a steaming bowl of dal or a rich cow’s foot caldo. But when mom’s not around, you’ve got to find a local source for the comfort foods that remind you of your childhood abroad. Here, eight of Chicago’s top food personalities tell us where they go for a little taste of home.
Alpana Singh, director of wine and spirits for Lettuce Entertain You
While Singh’s a first-generation Indian-American, her parents lived in Fiji, and she was raised on her mother’s South Pacificâ€“inflected Indian cuisine.
Heads to: CafÃ© Trinidad (557 E 75th St, 773-846-8081) for curry goat. â€œThey use turmeric, so the curries are yellow, not tomato based like traditional Indian curry,â€ Singh says. â€œI like to wrap the meat and cauliflower up in the griddled roti [thin, crepe-like bread] like a burrito.â€
Giuseppe Tentori, executive chef of Boka (1729 N Halsted St, 312-337-6070)
In his hometown of Lodi, Italy, Tentori would spend hours helping his grandmother stir polenta in her farm kitchen.
Heads to:Â Juicy Wine Co. (694 N Milwaukee Ave, 312-492-6620) for culatello and lamb prosciutto. â€œYou just don’t see culatello in the city,â€ Tentori says of the prestigious salumi made from the pig’s haunch. â€œIt melts in your mouth, and the lamb prosciutto tastes like the stuff my dad used to make when we lived on the farm.â€
Kendal Duque (pictured above), executive chef of Sepia (123 N Jefferson St, 312-441-1920)
Chef Duque lived in Quito, Ecuador, until he was eight. His great-grandmother, known for her rich soups and stews, inspired his own passion for cooking.
Heads to: Mi Ciudad (3041 W Irving Park Rd, 773-866-2066) for caldo de patas, cow foot soup with onions, garlic, yucca and hominy. â€œIt reminds me of my grandmother’s,â€ Duque says. â€œThey use really authentic Ecuadorian ingredients, including larger hominy than typical Mexican versions.â€
Malika Ameen, pastry chef/co-owner of Aigre Doux (230 W Kinzie St, 312-329-9400)
Ameen grew up in Pakistan, where her mom would pack chapli (minced beef) kebabs in her school lunches.
Heads to: Kamdar Plaza (2646 W Devon Ave, 773-338-8100) for khandvia, a steamed crÃªpe made with chickpea flour and yogurt, then garnished with mustard seeds, green chile, cilantro and coconut, and served with tamarind and cilantro chutney. â€œThese Indian Gujarati snacks are very hard to come by,â€ Ameen says. â€œThis is the only place I know of that makes it.â€
The Holy Land
Nader Salti, owner of Saltaus (1350 W Randolph St, 312-455-1919)
Salti is a Jerusalem-born surgeon who grew up in the West Bank city of Ramallah, where he recalls lining up at the famed Abu Alexander for lamb shawarma.
Heads to: Salam (4636 N Kedzie Ave, 773-583-0776) for mensaf, rice with lamb cooked in dried reconstituted yogurt (the Wednesday special). â€œThis is cooked to celebrate special occasions,â€ Salti says. â€œSalam’s is very good, served with saffron and turmericâ€“spiced rice.â€
Nick Zarzour, co-owner of Pasticceria Natalina (5406 N Clark St, 773-989-0662)
Zarzour spent his childhood in Lebanon, and recently opened a Sicilian-style pastry shop with his wife, Natalie.
Heads to: Maza (2748 N Lincoln Ave, 773-929-9600) for imam bayaldi, braised eggplant with shallots and chickpeas in tomato-pomegranate sauce. â€œThis is one of the few places that offer homey rustic Lebanese food liked stuffed cabbage, zucchini and eggplants,â€ Zarzour says.
Kate Milashus, pastry chef of Avenue M (695 N Milwaukee Ave, 312-243-1133)
Originally from Warsaw, Milashus immigrated when she was three.
Heads to: Czech Plaza (7016 W Cermak Rd, Berwyn, 708-795-6555) for liver dumpling soup and roasted pork with sauerkraut. â€œTechnically it’s Czech food, but the two heritages are practically identical,â€ Milashus says. â€œIt tastes like someone’s grandmother is in back making it. They know it like the back of their hand.â€
Byung Kyu Park, sushi chef of Aria Bar (200 N Columbus Dr, 312-444-9494)
Born and raised in Korea, Park is a six-year veteran of Division Street’s Mirai. He recently made the move to the Fairmont Chicago hotel’s slick sushi bar.
Heads to: Chicago Kalbi (3752 W Lawrence Ave, 773-604-8183) for pajun. â€œIt’s a grilled pancake with scallions and baby octopus,â€ Park says. â€œIt’s very similar to the one I grew up on. It’s something you’d find in a neighborhood place in Korea, and it’s great if you’re drinking.â€
This article first appeared in Time Out Chicago in a different form.