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Sep 15, 2002 05:46 PM

Maxwell Street Foray, 9/15/02

  • d

It was “good eating” weather (cool and overcast) when about 20 of us arrived at Maxwell (Canal) street for a major chow foray through this remarkable Chicago culinary landmark.

I’m sure others will want to post about their favorites – but I’d like to focus on the subject of multiple posts on this board: empanadas flor de calabaza.

Many posts have speculated on the preparation of ingredients in this dish, and no doubt, those ingredients vary by location, day, chef, availability of materials, etc. My feeling is that the everyday Mexican cook chops up everything – pistil, stamen, squash itself – and puts it all together. That’s definitely the way they do it at La Colonial, one of my first stops every time I go to Maxwell Street -- and the first stop on today’s foray.

I like to come La Colonial first because the empanadas flor de calabaza are so simple and clean tasting that I’m afraid their delicate flavor would wither beneath the high-spice juggernaut of such piquant platters as tacos de los chicharones (knockout juicy pig skin, big flavor) and de los ojos (beef eye and head meat: weird, though memorable – with a taste that held on for a very long time).

For those who couldn’t make it (or for those who did and want to relive the flavor), I’ve attached a link to a site with a few photos so you can see the empanadas flor de calabaza prepared at La Colonial – when you get to the homepage, click the Photos tab.


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  1. v
    Vital Information

    Before I take a day off from chow for spirtutal pursuit, I make one last post...

    The ojo, as I understand it, come from a lamb, not a cow. I trust Seth will get a pic of the actually eye on the net soon enough. The whole enterprise of lamb head, regardless of the actually part, was really good in a very lamb-y way.

    For all the attention on taco and masa preparations, no one's mentioned, as far as I can tell in the past, the consomes. Today, I tried not one, not two, but three versions of soup. All chow-alicious and all very different. It's hard to pick a favorite, one tasted nearly Indian with a strong clove kick, another was nearly classic french with lip coating richness, and a third surprised with that great tummy filler, pozole (and its usual funny meat cousins). What a perfect thing to eat before fasting. In fact, next year, I've already declared that we go and eat at the Pozoleria on North Ave. on the night before Yom Kippur.

    Great to meet a few new faces today. I hope the couple of lurkers who showed up post soon. Look forward to more adventures. See you all after I've been purged.


    Look forward to many more pictures from ALL those who brought digital cameras.

    17 Replies
    1. re: Vital Information
      David Hammond


      I could be mistaken, but I thought Gary had asked the eye monger about the optical organ we were about to consume, and he was told "de res" (i.e., beef).

      I guess "lamb-y" might describe the slightly gamey undertones of the eyes we ate (a flavor that might also be traced to the big hunks of head meat), but these tacos were also very rich, and filled with strange textures. I think I felt a pop as I chewed through mine.

      1. re: David Hammond


        After a necessary visit to Dominick's, I never did quite catch up with everybody. I eventually made my way to the other side of the White Palace Grill. In the few stands there, I tried to learn where the Ojo tacos were and wondering how I had missed Mecca! All those vendors just laughed and shook their heads no! I'm quite jealous I missed the opportunity to pop an eyeball.

        I talked to one of the Health Inspectors making his rounds ... no, not about ojos (darn it). We were talking about the mechanics of the market. These vendors are paying fees of $30. each for their place on the street. However, these rates are about to climb significantly higher in the very near future. I commented - applying simple economics - isn't that going to cause a lot of vendors to move out of there? They didn't seem to think so commenting that many of these street vendors have done well enough they now have permanent restaurant locations. The City has been running the market at a loss and now wants it to break even financially. I feel some will leave due to these increased costs. So it may be reasonable to collect information where all these permanent restaurants are for future reference, if it wasn't done already.

        Has anybody trolled those Swap-O-Rama flea markets? I get the impression they are a for-profit Maxwell-Street-ish event. I mean who else advertises on the radio this is the place to get your hair cut, your shoes shined, obtain legal advice and eat a meal?

        I enjoyed myself thoroughly, then went home and slept for 3 hours!

        All the best,

        1. re: Cathy2

          Below is a link to my pictures of maxwell st. I lack the good judgement of Monsieur Hammond when it comes to narrowing down my photos by theme, and instead present you with smattering of photos on all topics. I went home from the market with some new questions. 1. What's the the name/use of the green skinny beany looking vegetable featured at the lower right hand corner of the picture page. And 2. what mexican national holiday has it been for the last two weeks, causing the raucous logan square car horn honking, and the ostentiatious display of the mexican flag (almost rivalling the late ostentation of our own american flag bearers)?

          Food highlights of the market were for me:
          1. The chewing of raw tamarind. Zim instructed me in the consumption of tamarind goo, which is far more delicious as any of the sour candies available on the market today. (one of my guilty pleasures: i may be single handedly responsible for the success of mouth puckering, brain damaging sourness in america's candy aisle).
          2. Brain empanadas from the deep fried empanada lady. I myself ordered an empanada with zuchini flowers, but g wiv's brain-filled version was really fantastic, with an unashamedly creamy brainy texture somewhere between hard boiled eggs and stiff panna cotta. Terrific and savory, if a little strong for ten in the morning.
          3. Fresh churros, speared and filled on a converted medieval torture machine.
          4. Tacos filled with all sorts of things you can cut off a lambs head.
          5. The fresh tortillas touted by richard -- though none that I saw were hand patted -- all were squashed in a metal press with a little dough in the corner acting as a shim.

          Again, it was wonderful to see all I had seen before, and great to finally meet some of the stars of the board who I had not yet met -- thanks to all for arranging this trip!


          1. re: Seth Zurer

            As an avid reader (and very occasional participant) of these boards I am sad that I missed the event. Regardless, I wanted to relate a story about those bean pods from a recent visit with a friend from San Diego:

            We approached a food stand and inquired about the bean pods he had for sale (friend speaking spanish) and he told us the name that I don't remember and forgot to write down.

            Friend proceeded to ask 'what do you make with them' and he replied 'Whatever you want'.


            1. re: Seth Zurer
              David Hammond

              Hey Seth,

              The "green skinny beany looking vegetable" is guaje, which, like tamarind, can apparently be eaten raw. Sorry I didn't buy some to nibble on.

              I've included a link to pic and text.


              1. re: Seth Zurer

                "what mexican national holiday has it been for the last two weeks"

                Sunday was mexican independence day - attached is a link from the la villita festivities.

                "i may be single handedly responsible for the success of mouth puckering, brain damaging sourness in america's candy aisle"

                For a long time I was pretty loyal to lemonheads - for 2 reasons - 1. local company, and 2. I loved the little ross perot lookalile logo. but recently i tried altoids' new fruit flavors and they're very very good and sour (motto - you want the fruit. you can't handle the fruit) Also you may want to look for a type of candy that's sometimes up on devon (little green packets if i remember right) Amchur candies - flavoring is green mango (which is the prime souring agent other than tamarind and lemons in indian cooking.


                1. re: zim

                  Hmm..That's what I originally thought, but I became convinced by some authoritative-sounding friends that cinqo de mayo was actually mexican independence day. Thanks for setting me straight. Now I have to remember who misled me so that I can pass it along.

                  1. re: Seth Zurer


                    I was wrong - today is the official independence day.

                    more on cinco de mayo at below link


                  2. re: zim

                    Ya gotta love Lemon Heads (and Atomic Fireballs), but like you, I've been won over by the Altoids sours, especially the tangerine.

                  3. re: Seth Zurer

                    In "Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen," he has a great recipe that uses guaje seeds. If I remember correctly, it is a pork stew. It is delicious.

                    The seeds are tasty, but it is a little time-consuming to strip them out of their pods. And they are wafer thin, so it takes quite a few to add up to the 1/2 or 2/3 cup called for in the recipe. Always seems worthwhile when eating the finished dish however.

                  4. re: Cathy2

                    sorry I had to miss all the fun, again! I'm still trying to get the building ready for the October rental blitz...

                    A quick note about the resturants. A year or two ago when I had the opportunity to question one of the health inspectors (which, it was news to me even circulated the market) I was told that either the vendors had to have a resturant or had to be grandfathered from the old market.

                    Over Labor Day weekend, I asked one of the ladies at the Quesadilla place where their resturant was located. She explained that they did not have to have a resturant, but had to take classes to get a [permit/license]. She also told me they hope to open a resturant someday soon. I told her, I hoped they opened it close to me.

                    I'm not sure if anyone can clear this up, but I agree many of the vendors have independant resturants and I would like to try a few. Any reports on the indy resturant visitations would be welcome.


                2. re: Vital Information

                  I second the thought that it was great to put a few more names to faces and meet folks. we had a great time, unfortunately we had to leave early and did not get to decide if those were indeed the greatest tacos on earth - comments anyone?

                  Did run into GWiv post maxwell st. at village creamery. Us coming from a soccer game and he straight from maxwell an impressive 4 hours later and had a chance to enjoy his description of los ojos - i know he has a few pics of those and maybe he'll post a link to his photography for others interested.

                  I also forgot to get some pupusas on the way out which i had specifically promised my daughter we'd get (they're mentioned in a kid's storybook we've been reading recently) I guess we'll have to go back soon.

                  1. re: zim


                    Of course I went to Village Creamery. What other possible dessert could there be after Goat Eye Tacos, than corn ice cream?

                    It was nice to run into you and your family at Village Creamery, and even though you may have forgot the pupusas, the kids did not look all that neglected. {Smile}

                    If you are still on the hunt for pupusas, you might wish to try Cafe Las Delicias on Western. The cheese and squash pupusas are quite good, but I would stay away from the fish, at least from my experience. You will also like the curtido that they serve with the pupusas as a salsa/relish, it is reminiscent of the habanero/cabbage accompaniment at Flower's Pot, though not as spicy.


                    Cafe Las Delicias
                    4911 N. Western Ave
                    Chicago, IL

                    1. re: G Wiv


                      I too like cafe las delicias and think they do not get enough credit - not so much for their pupusas but for the fantastic guatemalan tamales there is something about the absolute creaminess of those that I adore.

                      If folks know of better tamales of this subgenre which makes those at cafe las delicias a shadow of the real thing - please, please let me know

                      1. re: zim

                        Creamy is something close to the word I'd use to describe the ones at La Pena, 4200 or something N. Milwaukee. I'll see if I can find the thread on that a few weeks ago...


                    2. re: zim
                      Ron Rosenbaum

                      Hello all,

                      Had a blast yesterday. A pleasure to meet so many of you and hope to be able to do something similar soon.

                      Were these the best tacos in the world? I don't know, but they were pretty darn good.

                      Are any of you familiar with Patricia Quintana's "Taste of Mexico", a coffee table type cookbook published in the mid eighties? There's a picture of a corn tortilla with perfectly poached bone marrow, coarse salt and raw onion. To me, that would be the world's best taco, maybe with the addition of some roasted jalapeno or serrano.

                      I had a memorable taco (probably more like ten, actually) many years ago in San Antonio, during a fiesta of some sort. This was long before the riverwalk became so built up. The mariachis were playing that night and at this little stand, two ladies were patting out corn tortillas by hand and cooking them on a comal, which they then topped with a spoonful of the creamiest pinto beans you ever tasted. The only condiments were raw onion and a salsa of roasted chilies. Absolute perfection.

                      Then there are the famous fish tacos of San Diego.

                      And tacos de trompa...and cabesa...and carnitas...and patas...and ...

                      I think we need to go back this coming Sunday, and continue the quest for the world's best taco.

                      1. re: Ron Rosenbaum

                        "Are any of you familiar with Patricia Quintana's "Taste of Mexico", a coffee table type cookbook published in the mid eighties? There's a picture of a corn tortilla with perfectly poached bone marrow, coarse salt and raw onion. To me, that would be the world's best taco, maybe with the addition of some roasted jalapeno or serrano"

                        oh man does that sound good. where did she eat that?

                        BTW my wife had the idea of keeping my daughter veggie - she's a little dismayed by the little one's new words of praise for food:

                        "tastes like marrow"

                  2. I had a chance to catch up with a couple of folks for a very few minutes before having to run on to another engagement. Before leaving, I had the cahnce to sample a consume from a non-descript vendor near the south end of the market. It was spicy and flovorful in a way that made me want to return and try more again when I had time.

                    Does this Market open every Sunday?

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: YourpalWill
                      David Hammond


                      The market is open every Sunday of the year -- it seems to open around 7:00 AM or so (maybe earlier) and runs until mid-afternoon. I'm interested in dropping by in December/January to see how the place runs in freezing weather.

                      For those who may not know how to get to the "Maxwell Street" market -- which is actually Canal Street -- I've attached a link to a map. The market extends along Canal Street, a few blocks north and about 7 blocks south of Roosevelt.


                      1. re: David Hammond

                        Its kind'of cool to see in the wintertime (pardon the pun).

                        Lots of the venors have charcol or gas heaters to keep warm. In fact for the many years I have been going to "Maxwell," I never had the consumme until last January on a very cold day...we were looking for anything warm and several people were lined up to drink in this treat.

                        One good thing is less crowds, however, less vendors. Good news: since most of the food vendors have a heat source, they are the ones that show up.

                        Watch out for those surprise sunny 60 degree January days...the crowds come out in droves.

                        Its a beautiful and vibrant part of the City no matter how you slice it.


                    2. I ate, I wept, I ate some more.

                      Yes, RST's Masa Madonna was pure magic with the masa, and a fair hand with chicharones in a deep, rich red sauce as well, which I had the pleasure of sharing with Ron, Chris, David and his Chowerific wife Carolyn. Ron is a professional chef, and judging from where he is executive chef, a pretty good one at that, so we were all interested in his opinion of the masa. Ron’s comment, was ummmmmmm, fantastic, which, coincidentally, coincided with ours as well. {Smile}

                      On to the Goat Eye Ball, complete with optical nerve still attached, taco, which David, Chris, Carolyn and I all Chowed upon, interesting. {Smile} I found the flavor a bit like a combination of barbacoa and sesos. Rich full roasted meat flavor, with the texture of brains. By the way, the brain empanadas and empanadas with zucchini flowers that I shared with Seth were exceptional, as were the Huarachitos that David, Carolyn, Ron and I shared.

                      Ron and I found exceptional steak tacos made with skirt steak grilled over live coals at the very Southwestern end of the market, and the Huitlacoche tacos Rob et al searched out at the very beginning of the Maxwell St Chowhound get together were delicious as well. Only wrinkle was I could not seem to find my favorite octopus and shrimp cocktail, which is the same vendor that makes a terrific octopus and shrimp soup.

                      I have a Maxwell Street Market Goat Theory. My theory is that most of what we think is goat, is actually goat, e.g. when asked as to what type of consommé a vendor is serving goat becomes lamb if the question is asked in English. Goat eyeball tacos being another example. Three different people asked, David, Gary and Rob, three different answers given, lamb, cow and not goat. {Smile} For the record, I am referring to the eye taco as goat until proven otherwise.

                      I will say that it was really great to put faces to the names, each and every Chowhound that I met on Sunday, and have met in the past, has been interesting, informed and just simply pleasant to be around. It was also nice to, though it was only briefly before we chowed in different directions, see the Zim and VI families once again. Nothing like a goat eyeball taco to build family unity. {Smile}

                      I was, I’m guessing I was the second to last Chowhound to leave, Chris being the last. I left him on his quest for the deep-fried rice pudding filled empanada, which did not seem to be in evidence that particular Sunday.

                      I put a few pictures of Maxwell Street up on a web site, please click on Photos to view the pictures.



                      1. v
                        Vital Information

                        Now that I've fasted, I've got a few more things to say about Maxwell St. and our recent foray.

                        First, in those darkest hours when it seemed like services would never end, it was thoughts of Maxwell St. that kept me going. I have no idea who though fasting would keep your mind on spiritual pursuits. To me, fasting just keeps your mind on food.

                        What did I think of? Well, one thing I thought of was the salsas. No one's really mentioned them, but one of the greatest thing at Maxwell St. was all the varied salsas. The Greatest Taco Stand featured not only outstanding massa, but an extrememly garlic heavy salsa that married everything together.

                        Speaking of The Greatest Taco Stand, I've really grown fonder of the quessadilla vs. the taco. The melted Mexican cheese, which the recent visitor from Queen's noted defiled reason to be so good, adds just that much more. I mean if more is more, you got the fresh made tortilla, the steak grilled on live coals, the surreal cheese AND the garlic heavy salsa.

                        RST may have inspired a bunch of us to eat at a certain taco stand, but he also inspired me to pay closer attention to the herbs. Papalo was at several places and we picked up a bunch for a buck; whether we ever eat it will be for another post. We also picked up some epazolte. Once you start looking, you will see there are a bunch of mysterious green things all over the place. See link for more info.

                        Gary mentioned that he saw no seafood coctails. Neither did we. I wonder if they did not meet sanitation standards?

                        Whoever was looking for the rice pudding empanda should have asked me. While I did not try, I could have at least pointed out the vendor who usually carries them--it's at the Canal and the cross-street, what ever that name is that would be the next block after Roosevelt. The vendor has elotes as well as the rice emananadas.

                        I almost rarely visit the north part of the market, and it is a shame. I have yet to try the pupusas, but they looked try worthy. At the time I was too full. I like the fact that the cole slaw was on the table, in big shakers, for your use at will. We also ended up at a tacqueria that looked decidedly average--the oldest person working at this stand was about 18 and most of the helpers did not appear to have reached their bar mitzvah age. Still, the tortillas were fresh made and everything we had there was good.

                        I thought the pictures Dave, Gary and Seth took really captured well, the creature that IS Maxwell St. From the empanada lady to the tool displays, I got to imagine people now have the visual reference to all previous discussion. Nothing says Maxwell St. than that picture of the tamale stand next to the tube socks. I do, however, in the spirit of RST's corrections, have some additions to some of the pics:

                        - In DaveH's pictures, the last picture, Seth is holding an excellent tamal, but it is NOT an Oaxcan tamal. They reserve that name for the longer tamal steamed in banana leaf. Their remaining tamales, all still good, are steamed in corn husks. (And I split an excellent Oaxcan tamal with Cathy2 and her friend.)

                        - The intrepid eater pictured by Seth, who never blinked in the quest for eyes (hahaha), is named Muman. I know, I spent the whole afternoon forgeting his name! The bit where the guy at the eyeball stand insisted he was Chinese was priceless.

                        - DaveHammond's wife's name is Frannie (or Carolyn)

                        Thanks again for an enjoyable outing.



                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Vital Information
                          David Hammond

                          Hey VI,

                          Carolyn/Frannie and I bought some papalo, and I’ve had it about three times in the past 48 hours. We use it like cilantro, in Mexican soup or salad. Actually, the leaf is a little toughter and the taste is not so fine as cilantro, which I prefer. Variety being the spice/herb of life, though, I’ll probably continue through, eating the whole damn bunch. We also bought a bunch of rude, which is an herb that is not eaten but rather dried and added to alcohol – it can then be applied externally to the temples to sooth headaches (which is good, as I’ve built up a resistance to Tylenol).

                          I actually bought a dozen pairs of tube sox at that stand that Seth snapped – medium quality, but hey, less than half-a-buck a pair.

                          About Seth’s tamal: actually, I didn’t see what he had in his plate that everyone was ogling: I just assumed (incorrectly) that he had bought the signature dish of Oaxaca Tamal – I brought home two of these for the stay-at-home daughters, and they were consumed immediately.

                          1. re: Vital Information
                            Ron Rosenbaum

                            Great post Rob.

                            FYI, the key sanitation requirement is food temperature. More specifically, that protein laden foods be held at proper hot or cold temp, just as they must be handled at a more permanent location. Hot foods such as cooked chorizo: 145F or higher. Cold foods such as cocktail de los mariscos: 45F or lower.

                            I don't believe that the absence of seafood cocktail was due to city health issues.