Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Walking Tour of La Villita

This past Saturday, I went on a walking tour of La Villita (or Little Village) as part of a larger group organized by Slow Food Chicago. We met at the famous clock arch that is the entrance to La Villita at 26th Street and Kedzie Avenue. Our tour guide gave us some background information and history on the neighborhood; here is an excerpt from the Little Village Chamber of Commerce website that describes the vitality and importance of this area:

A Driving Force in Chicago’s Economy
Little Village is a thriving commercial area in Chicago’s West Side with more than 1,000 businesses that offer a vast array of goods and services. It is also home to the largest Mexican community in the Midwest, a fact reflected by the many unique Mexican specialty products available from merchants in the area. Little Village residents and business owners are amply recognized for their entrepreneurial spirit, strong work ethic, and commitment to family and community. Businesses in Little Village create jobs for thousands of residents.

Th Little Village commercial area generated nearly $900 million in sales in 2001, a year that saw the nation endure a severe economic downturn. This fact reflects the perseverance and creativity of the area’s business owners and residents and serves as testament to the community’s vitality.

Our first stop was La Baguette, a locally-owned chain bakery with twelve locations in Chicago – this location being one of the largest. We sampled wide variety of pastries and cookies.

Next, we went to El Milagro to sample some freshly made tortillas made from masa ground on-site at 26th Street location. The business was started in 1950 by Raul Lopez and the tiny, homegrown tortilla operation grew into a well-established brand that you can find in grocery stores big and small across the Midwest.

We headed to a Western wear shop and briefly spoke with the owner and then headed back out into the heat to try out a street drink called “champurrado”. It’s a warm, thick, chocolate beverage made with milk, masa harina, chocolate and spices. It’s definitely a drink better suited to cold, winter days, but I’m glad that I had the opportunity to try it.

Moving on to a corner grocery store, we stopped in for a sample of some Mexican cheese. It was similar in texture to string cheese, but it had more flavor and depth. The owners of this small store travel to Mexico every two weeks to buy authentic ingredients and products. They started their business by bringing back Mexican cheeses from the markets. The wheels of cheese are coated in chili powder to keep insects away at the open-air farmers markets.

Next up, a candy and pinata store. It was so bright and colorful and alive. We sampled two different types of candy – a caramel wafer and a tamarind chili pepper candy. The tamarind chili pepper candy was a little sweet, sour and spicy – a great combination.

Our last stop was Carniceria Aguascalientes. It’s a grocery store with a restaurant inside. They’re famous for their gorditas or “little fat ones”. We chose from a variety of fillings and it was a good end to an informative and fun day.

Slow Food Chicago periodically offers walking tours of Little Village, Argyle Street and Devon Avenue. For more information on upcoming events or to learn more about Slow Food, visit their website at www.slowfoodchicago.org.

And for some really great photos of the Little Village walking tour, check out nibblekibble’s flickr album.


Photos by Russell said...

When I come to visit you in Aug. I'll be sure to visit this are for breakfast.

Kiersten said...

Thanks for writing this.