The main focus on the Spice of Life Food & Culture Tour is culinary, but it is more than just your average eating tour. Food is the focal point, but the culture of India and Pakistan and the “Little India” neighborhood on Devon Avenue are the other main aspects.
Our tour guide Mohammad Ali quoted Mark Twain early on our tour when he said “travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” I was struck immediately by his passion for bringing cultures together. This is more than a job or a business for him. It is what he loves to do. Food, he said, is the best way for people and cultures to come together.
I could not argue with him on this point as I had eschewed NFL football on a Sunday afternoon and braved weather that spawned tornadoes across the Midwest in order to eat some delicious Indian cuisine. Fortunately, I did not have long to wait.
We met at the India Book House in Chicago’s Little India neighborhood on Devon Avenue. Mohammad sat in front of a table of what Americans would call appetizers. Mohammad introduced the tour, the basics of Indian cuisine, and discussed the dishes in front of him including samosas and aloo tikki. The items were served with a side of delicious tamarind and mint chutney.
The tour was off to a great start, and we had not even sat down at a restaurant yet. The next stop was Saahil Exclusive to check out and try out Indian traditional bridal wear.
This was a blast as the ladies were able to adorn themselves with a saree, and I was able to try on a long vest with a turban. I looked like royalty in this outfit. Where is my elephant it made me think (not to mention my princess).
After waking up and realizing there was no Indian princess and elephant, it was off to Roopkala Beauty Salon for some henna. In only five minutes a beautiful design was drying on my hand.
Now that we had some culture under our belt, it was time to eat again. We hit Tiffin Indian Restaurant for more deliciousness. We enjoyed garlic nan with rice and several chicken and vegetable entries including buttered chicken, which was my favorite.
Every dish was very flavorful and none of it was all that spicy contrary to what many think and are turned off by Indian cuisine. We also enjoyed red wine that Mohammad picked out that paired perfectly with the menu items in front of us. The meal was topped off with an incredible frozen orange peel dish with whipped cream on top. It tasted like orange sherbert. It was fabulous.
After food, clothing, and more food, it was time to get some religion – after all, it was Sunday. We stopped in at the only Sikh Temple in Chicago. We had to cover our heads and take off our shoes in order to go upstairs, but once inside we were greeted warmly.
After getting our religion, it was shopping time. We entered Resham, a shop on Devon that features authentic Indian goods bought from artisans in small towns located throughout the country. The owner frequently visited India and instead of buying assembly line goods, would go to small villages and buy from local craftsmen.
Pakistan was next on the menu. We entered JK Kabab just off the Devon strip on Rockwell. This one was for meat lovers as we enjoyed chicken, beef, and lamb over rice. They can accommodate vegetarians with a tofu option. Mohammad offered us all a Pakistani cream soda, which had a unique floral taste to it.
The last stop was for coconut water at a small little bistro. We were given a coconut with a hole in the top and a straw. I was surprised how fresh the juice was and cracked open the shell when I got home and enjoyed the jelly. It was a perfect end to the afternoon.
Although this tour was compliments of Spice of Life Tours, it does not alter the fact that I would completely recommend the tour to anyone else and would pay myself to go on it again.
The price of the tour is $65.00. If this sounds a little high at first, you have to break down what you are receiving. When you do this it is very reasonable. If you went to each restaurant on your own and ate what we ordered, that would probably be $40.00 per person. Then you throw in a free henna tattoo, which would likely run $10.00 – $15.00 per person.
If there was no food involved and you just went on a cultural walking tour with someone with Mohammad’s knowledge and experience for an hour or two, that would break down to another $15.00-$20.00 per person. You can add up those figures and see the tour is well worth the cost.
The best reason for the tour is for Mohammad’s personality. He is passionate about what he does, enjoys the interaction with his clientele, and is happy to tailor it depending on the needs of the group.
Although this tour was complimentary, the opinions, photos, and five pounds gained from this tour, are my own.
For a different perspective of the day check out Francesca’s write up of the day from Work Mom Travels
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