Pilsen Hosts Beethoven and World Food

Formerly Czech & German, then Hispanic, now Pilsen Goes Global

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By David Hammond

Earlier this year, I posted about  Carnitas Uruapan, one of my favorite restaurants in the largely Hispanic Pilsen neighborhood.

Named after Plzen in what is now the Czech Republic, Chicago’s Pilsen was at one point populated largely by Czechs (or Bohemians, as they were called in those days). Later, it was the Germans who filled the neighborhoods.

That Germanic heritage – nestled between waves of Eastern European and now mostly Mexican population influxes –will be celebrated during the Beethoven Festival 2011, which runs September 14-18 at the Chicago Urban Art Society (2229 S. Halsted).

Billed as a “multi-disciplinary celebration of the life, works and spirit of Ludwig van Beethoven,” the festival features 120 musicians performing over 80 works of classical and contemporary music, as well as a number of visual artists, filmmakers and poets.

Of course, there will be food. Reflecting the rich and varied cultural heritage of the neighborhood, the menu will be global in range, including:

* Peruvian butifarra: Aji roast pork sandwich

* Mexican cemita: Roast beef, white cheese, morita sauce, pickled green onion on a sesame roll (thus the name, “cemita,” which means seed).

* Indian vada pav: Curried potato cake, tamarind and cilantro chutney

* German curry wurst: Spiced sausage in a curried tomato sauce (yeah, curry is big in Germany)

* Vietnamese bahn mi: Lemon grass ginger marinated tofu, pickled veg, spiced mayo, on a crusty roll (reflecting the French influence on Indo-China)

* South African bunny chow: Indian style chicken served with a curry leaf in a buttered naan (there is not a lot of South African food in Chicago, so I’d go for this one)

* Hawaiian saimin: Polynesian noodle broth with pork and green onion

It seems to me very fitting that this neighborhood that has seen so many cultures come and go is now celebrating a German composer with dishes from places like South Africa and Hawaii.

Like the city of Chicago, and Oak Park itself, Pilsen is a densely woven fabric of cultures that makes living there more interesting…and delicious.

For more information about the Beethoven Festival 2011, email ibp@internationalbeethovenproject.com or call 312-772-5821.

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