Monday, October 18, 2010

The New Maxwell Street Market

Don’t ask me why I’ve never been to the Maxwell Street Market before because this flea market really took me back. This is how I use to spend every Sunday morning when I lived in Mexico.

There is such a sense of cultural connection at these local markets. Many families come from church to share a meal and do a little shopping. It reminded me why my mother use to make us sit down at the dinner table together every night at 5 PM.

There is a little bit of everything here. You can find a designer purse or necklace or an old telephone. There are antiques and there is junk. Whatever your treasure, everything makes the market appealing and colorful. There are over 300 vendors every week.

Many of the vendors are there year round which makes me want to go back in the dead of winter. If they can tough out the elements, so can I. This is when I will go for the Pozole.

The real reason for my trip was the Mexican food stands offering authentic fare like enchiladas, tacos, tamales, plantains and horchata. I really can’t remember the names of all of the stands on my first visit but I followed the magnificent aroma to where I located a very long line. I decided on Rubi’s. Yes, always trust your nose. This $4 plate easily served as my breakfast, lunch and dinner today.

After sampling my way through several stands, I determined that this is one of the best places in Chicago to get authentic, cheap Mexican food. Honestly, I haven’t had a meal this good… or genuinely Mexican… since the last time I was in Mexico. This was that great Mexican street food that I remember.

No surprise to see that they have finally brought some new vendors into the mix.

This couple leading off this post were so welcoming to me. They opened a Chinese stall with no name just 6 weeks ago and already have a huge following.

This BBQ vendor tried for 3 years to get into the market. Something tells me that he is going to have a long list of regular customers when word gets out just how good his brisket really is.

I also had to indulge in the elote. This grilled corn on the cob is dosed with butter, mayonnaise, Cotija cheese, lime juice, salt and spices. Load up the toppings and dig in!

This recipe can also be modified if you are watching your calories by using low cal mayo and butter.

2 tsp of the Cotija cheese has just 20 calories and 1.5 grams of fat. This cheese makes a great topping on a baked potato as well.

makes 4 servings

4 ears of corn

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1/2 cup Cotija cheese (Parmesan will work if you can't find it)

2 limes, cut into wedges

2 tablespoons chili powder

1 tablespoon cumin


Prepare a grill or grill pan with high heat. Keep corn in husks, or remove one strip of husks. Place directly on grill. Cook for 10-15 minutes, turning occasionally, until husks are well blackened and the kernels are bright yellow.

If serving on the cob, remove husks and slather each ear with a generous spoonful of mayonnaise. Add the juice of one lime wedge per ear, followed by a pinch of salt, a healthy sprinkle of cheese and a light dusting of cumin and chili powder.

If serving off the cob, cut the kernels off of each ear. Place into a jar or small cup and top with remaining ingredients.

If you prefer, serve the corn with the toppings on the side and let everyone dress their own.

I had a Churro from the blue Churro Factory truck. The price was just $1.25. I bought one but the people in line ahead of me were ordering dozens of these sweet treats.

I also had to sample the Bunuelos. They are made just like the Rosettes my grandmother use to make at Christmas.


3 cups flour, sifted twice

1 tbsp baking powder

1 tbsp salt

1 tbsp sugar

2 eggs

3/4 cup milk

1/2 cup butter or margarine

Oil for frying

In a large bowl, mix flour, baking powder and salt.

In a small bowl, beat one tbsp sugar, eggs and butter. Stir in milk. Add milk mixture to flour. If dough is too dry, add a few more drops of milk. Knead dough until it is very smooth. Shape into 20 balls. Cover and let stand for 30 minutes.

Heat oil one-inch deep in large skillet to 360 F.

Roll each ball out on a lightly-floured board into very thin six-inch circle. Fry bunuelos until golden brown, turning once. Drain on absorbent towels. Sprinkle with sugar-cinnamon topping while warm, or drizzle with syrup.

I spoke to a couple who comes here every Sunday and has for years. This taste of Mexican Chicago will definitely be on my Sunday to go list whenever I’m in town.

I spent under $10 and can’t remember the last time I wasn’t planning my next meal.

Bon Appetit!