Eating My Way Around the World... At the Chicago French Market

It always sounds a little strange to admit that one of our family's favorite places to eat is at a commuter train station. But it's true. We are very big fans of the Chicago French Market, located in the MetraMarket (adjacent to the Ogilvie Transportation Center) at 131 N. Clinton in Chicago's West Loop neighborhood.

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The Chicago French Market is, in my opinion, just what Chicago needs. It's got an amazing section of food from about 30 restaurants, bakeries and shops from Chicago and around the world. For my husband and I, it's the one food-court type of eating experience that we willing take our sons anytime they ask and we have no problem going on our own (sans kids) anytime too.

So what makes it so great? We love that you can walk the aisles, named Rue de Paris, Rue de Chicago and Avenue des Champs-Elysées and more, and sample delicacies from around the world like Indian curry, Japanese sushi and Montreal smoked meat sandwiches. While it lacks the some of the ambiance and charm of France's plentiful quaint and delectable markets, we willingly overlook this one short coming because of all that makes it great. And, then we go back for more!

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Some of Our Favorite Global Selections

When it comes to food, my husband and I are creatures of habit. We often order the same dish or two again and again, figuring why venture off our typical gastronomical path when we've already struck it big. And the same holds true for us at the Chicago French Market - but we're trying to change our ways, expand our culinary horizons, and try a lot more!

For now, some of our favorite selections at the Chicago French Market (that we've had numerous times) include:

- Saigon Sisters: Vegetarian Pho Soup. This soup is simply amazing. We could slurp the broth and noodles up all day long. We love that the lime, jalapeños, lime and bean sprouts come in a separate bag for you to add in at the last minute. And, we always grab some hot sauce to help spice things up some more - perfect for a cool fall day.

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- Frietkoten: Belgian Frites. Our sons always beg to get the gourmet Belgian frites from Frietkoten - and we never complain. It gives us the perfect excuse to try a few too! Frietkoten offers more than 20 sauces to dip your fries - something we recommend trying out even though our boys always stick with ketchup.

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- Flip Crepes: Crepes. Nothing beats a fresh, warm crepe - for breakfast, lunch or dinner! Our sons highly recommend the sweet ones filled with peanut butter and jelly and bananas and sugar. They smell, look and taste delicious

- Vanille Patisserie: Macarons. The selection of macarons at Vanille is just amazing. While we always deliberate over which ones to choose to try that day, we're never disappointed in our choices. Our favorite ones from our most recent trip to the Chicago French Market were cafe, fig, caramel, peanut butter and jelly, and chocolate mint. Their seasonal offerings for the holidays sound great too. We can't wait to go back and try them!

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We've been eyeing these Chicago and globally inspired food items available at the Chicago French Market too:

- Pastoral: Sandwiches and Salads. Pastoral has a great reputation in and around Chicago, and it usually has the longest line of any of the vendors at the Chicago French Market. We know people swear by their European-inspired sandwiches and salads - and we swear we're going to try them soon too. My sister recommends the Millennium Park Bean sandwich - a vegan, delicious option that is tops on our list of things to try next.

- The Hot Dog Guy: Hot Dogs. Our sons love hot dogs so we were so happy to learn that the Hot Dog Guy recently opened at the Chicago French Market. We can't wait for them to try one of his hot dogs even if they only order it plain - without the typical Chicago-style toppings.

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- Spicy Monkey: Soups and Grilled Cheese. Now that fall is here, we're feeling the need for warmth, the need for comfort food, the need for soup. We were excited to see that Spicy Monkey set up shop at the Chicago French Market, offering a big variety of soups and custom-made grilled cheese sandwiches too. There's nothing like indulging in a bowl of Chicago Chicken Gumbo or Hungarian Mushroom soup - with a grilled cheese sandwich on the side.

In addition to these culinary treats, which you can eat at the market, at your office or home, or on the train, we also recommend a stop at City Fresh Market, which offers a great selection of fruits, vegetables, meats, fish, bread and packaged goods. It's a great way to get your daily shopping done on a full stomach, with no threat of over buying because you're hungry. And, if you take your kids with you, they can help pick out the night's menu - and hopefully then eat everything too!

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Even More Reasons to Head to the Chicago French Market

We never need an excuse to grab lunch or dinner at the Chicago French Market - with or without our kids. But, here's two good reasons for you to head there soon:

- Trains, trains, trains. I have two boys and, boy, do they like trains. We used to go to the train station just to walk the platforms, looking at the Metra commuter trains, watching all of the travelers board their respective trains, and talking about all the places we'd go by rail. Even now that they're older, our sons can't resist the lure of the trains. We're just glad we've got a convenient snack/lunch/dinner option now right at the Ogilvie Transportation Station so we can warm up in between our train viewing times.

- Fun holiday events. We always try to go to the holiday events offered at the Chicago French Market. They always have great, usually free activities for kids that are always a hit with our sons. Our favorites have been the Christmas event with free Santa photos, treats and hot chocolate. And, boy did we love the chocolate event held around Valentine's Day when we got to sample chocolate from a lot of the market's vendors. We were delighted, amazed and totally full! In a few weeks you'll probably find us at market's Great Pumpkin Party. The event, taking place on Saturday, October 27 from 10 a.m. - 12:30 p.m., offers free activities like pumpkin decorating, a costume parade and trick-or-treating. We can't wait!

Lessons Learned from Our Global Eating Indulgence

As parents, my husband and I always like to make our adventures fun but meaningful too. For us, a trip to the Chicago French Market is an easy and delectable way to expose our sons to the world - at least through the food of the many amazing countries represented there. By walking down just one aisle of the Chicago French Market, you are overcome by the smells, foods and cultures of India, France, Poland, Japan and more! We love that it brings the world to Chicago - and it's housed indoors so we can go all year round!

Our only wish would be to be able to board one of the waiting Metra trains and head to an exotic locale... Oh well, for now we'll enjoy the foods and allow them to take our tastebuds to another country - and be content with an easy ride to the suburb of our choosing!

Have you been to the Chicago French Market lately? If yes, I'd love to hear about your favorite selections. Maybe it will help us try - and enjoy - even more of what the market has to offer!

Here's to world citizens!
Aimee

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