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BoredinChicago from TikTok visits every country through Chicago food

When I met Cam Brenson the other day, she had dived deep into the E’s – Estonia, Eritrea, Egypt. We ate Ethiopian for lunch. He expected to continue with Ecuador the next day. He had already chosen Chile, Cuba, Cameroon and Croatia and was making plans to strike Finland, Fiji, the Federated States of Micronesia and France.

I’m a fan of people with unnecessary goals. It’s like collecting every vacuum cleaner model or visiting every Taco Bell in existence. Working in marketing at a tech company in Chicago, Brenson has a more thoughtful goal: He wants to eat at least one meal from every country on Earth without leaving the greater Chicago area.

She has been sharing videos of her eating those meals on TikTok since January. He uses the hashtag @BoredinChicago, but he may be the least bored person in town given the work and tough challenges he has to overcome to reach his goal.

His videos, which were published alphabetically by country and only now moved to F’s, attracted an average of 100,000 viewers per post. What started out as a personal project has definitely become public.

“I went to Dear Margaret’s (Lincoln Square’s) when I visited Canada, and some people got very grumpy in the comments section of the videos,” she says. “Dear Margaret is clearly French Canadian, but still people were warmly welcomed and told me this is not real Canadian food. Even in the comments I made about whether the salad I ate was Macedonian or Bulgarian, there is now a war. A shopka salad. It is the national dish of Bulgaria and even has the colors of the Bulgarian flag, but many people from North Macedonia, which borders Bulgaria, shopka as much as their tradition.”

He looks at me cautiously and breaks off a piece. needlespongy Ethiopian bread that is part of Eritrean and Sudanese tradition, depending on who you talk to.

Consider even the question of how many seemingly uncomplicated nations exist.

The United Nations recognizes 193, as well as two “observer” states, Palestine and the Vatican City. But not every UN country recognizes all other UN nations. Of the 193 UN-approved countries, you won’t find Taiwan and Kosovo. Mostly self-controlled Greenland is a territory of Denmark, unlike Puerto Rico’s relationship with the United States. Scotland and Wales are part of the United Kingdom and therefore Really independent. But don’t say that to a Scotsman. As a matter of fact, if we were to determine the number of nations according to the flags, there would be about 250 countries.

Brenson somewhat adheres to the UN definition of a country; It goes with 197, including Palestine and Taiwan.

Sovereignty is a slippery question.

But salad is a minefield.

When Brenson started making these videos, he just wanted to try Cambodian food. Or Romanian. There are larger TikTok accounts, but if BoredinChicago were a nation, judging by the audience and the weather, it would be midsize, bona fide Sweden.

It was tempting to have fun with the definitions. His father is British, so he considered rocking the boat here and there and accepting the fluidity of cultures. For Great Britain, he considered eating chicken tikka masala as one of their national dishes, although it is often associated with South Asia and certainly not with Yorkshire pudding.

Brenson’s wife says she’s not that excited about her ambitious project. This has become a time sucker. Every Wednesday, when their corgi went to nursery, there was a chance to dine out. “We don’t argue about where we eat anymore,” she says. But he needs to help him hold the camera.

At our Ethiopian spot, a waiter approaches with a jug of coffee.

A dark Ethiopian stream pours in. Brenson stops him. “Sorry, I’m disturbing,” he says, “but can you pour it again and I can make a movie too? Sorry, I’m causing chaos.”

He smiles and pours again.

Brenson sips. His eyes widened: “Wow.” He looks at me: “I’m sorry for the camera stalling, but I came across an expression ‘Camera must eat first’.”

Despite the risk of journalistic perversity, I must disclose that I held his camera for a single Ethiopian food shoot. Brenson directs me to move the camera stand and record him shuffling a large tray. He gnaws at every meal and looks slumped to the floor. He says this is his main reaction. “I am not a food critic and I am not very critical. I would never post a negative experience,” she says. “Because of all this, I cannot say that I have a refined taste. I haven’t been anywhere I didn’t like. Worst of all, the places I chose were 6 out of 10.”

Still, compared to the billions of other TikTok accounts claiming to reveal Illinois’ unusual kitchen secrets, their videos may be unusually clever. For example, when he can’t find a restaurant dedicated to Estonian food, he eats at a festival organized by the Chicago Estonian Center in Lake County. When he finds that finding a truly Egyptian restaurant is more difficult than he expected, he settles for a bowl of wine. molochya, A traditional Corn chowder served at Salam, a Middle Eastern restaurant in Albany Park. It includes flags, maps, biodiversity notes, and the correct order to eat Danish food, and although he is offered many free meals these days, he never accepts it.

“I first joined TikTok in 2019,” he says. To the point where I don’t go to TikTok to browse. It’s all the same thing. That’s all: ‘This is my day in the life I live in Chicago. I go to the gym and shoot some content, then I get invited to this awesome pop-up and go to this awesome bar I looked, so yell at this great company for cooking…’ Is anyone really living these lives?

He shakes his head and takes a bite. sambusaA fried pocket similar to samosa folded like origami.

“You have to explain whether you’re getting free meals in these videos, and I bet most of the time (free meals) aren’t disclosed,” he says. “I mean, look, I can afford the $20.”

Brenson, 30, who lives in Humboldt Park, grew up in La Grange and attended Wake Forest University in North Carolina. Having studied abroad for a while in China, when it came time to eat Chinese food in Chicago, she ran into another irritating question: If I’m dining all over the world, eat Chinese food (or Italian food, Japanese food, or Mexican food). obvious and ubiquitous food for most Americans) or trying something interesting? Went with the latter, which was pancake-like for China. jianbing At Jian on Clinton Street, a typical Chinese street food that he trusted as a college student.

He says their tastes did not develop in the first months of this project. Instead, it “forced me to do what I hoped it would do – to expose myself.” More. “There’s so much in Chicago that people don’t even try once,” he says. “For Chile, I had a Chilean corn pie with egg that looks like a pot pie and the server said, ‘Are you sure you want this?’ And I was excited. And it was ridiculously sweet, it was mind-blowing to me.

I went to Khmai in Rogers Park for Cambodia, which is actually a fine dining. Unbelievable. I had no idea what to eat and I got this grated papaya salad, this coconut salmon curry thing wrapped in a banana leaf, sour beef soup. Wonderful things.”

The project not only expanded his taste buds, but also his mindset.

“Most of what we think about food is defined by what people hate and how they hate the food of different cultures and how weird it is to them,” Benson says. “But there is a reason why these dishes have come so far, moreover, flavors are growing and flavors are changing. Plus, I’ll probably never go to Afghanistan, but I take it as an example when shooting these videos.”

To eat. Watch. To do.

Weekly

What to eat. What to watch? What do you need to live your best life… now.

Winter started with A’s – Armenia, Algeria, Austria.

Spring split into B’s – Belgium, Bolivia, Belize.

Cam Brenson is seen in front of the Albany Park Guatemalan restaurant El Quetzal in Chicago on August 4, 2023.

He never found Azerbaijani food in the Chicago area, and his preliminary research on national cuisines came up empty in Ivory Coast. (Yes, he’s open to tips and suggestions. Send him a note through his website BoredinChicago.com.) “The best experiences – this is self-explanatory – have been times when I didn’t do the research I did before finding the next one. I walked into the restaurant blind and someone saved me,” she says. I went somewhere in Belarus and the menu was in Russian. What do I do? Someone helped.”

When I first saw his videos and the sense of duty in his approach to his project, I assumed he was doing it in part as a humble 2023 cry for understanding of the world. Apparently, he was looking for an ongoing hook for new videos, something to do between lunch specials and more mundane videos about weekend things to do – that doesn’t take away the project’s ambition and thoughtfulness.

He’s not inclined to gush in front of the camera. He eats, “like a mindless zombie staring into space,” he says. Sometimes he raises his fist after a particularly good bite, but even then he’s timid. Willingly or unwillingly, it gives you the space to even question what “authentic” world cuisine means in an online global community. It eats the “best Czech grandma meal” (a dill soup named after). coping) and makes you hungry for a Belizean restaurant on 63rd Street.

“I’ll eventually make my way to Yemen, Zambia and Zimbabwe,” he says, “but I don’t know exactly where to eat it. That’s a question about two years from now.”

cborrelli@chicagotribune.com

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