Sunday, March 14, 2010
Speaking of India, one of the terrific things about living in Chicago is that it’s a short trip to any place in the world and India was no exception. I took a 40 minute trip by train and a 30 minute walk to Devon Avenue.
Here is a place where I did not understand the language at all (but I must learn some before I go back) but the culture was implicit and by the end of the day I embraced it.
I have been the foreigner before and I think that once that you are one, you totally understand. The difference between you and the residents is a smile. That’s often all it takes to be accepted into the crease of a new culture.
I have heard that Devon Avenue does not quite transfer the memory of the bustling bazaars of Delhi but it comes pretty close.
Rediff.com, a leading India based web authority, has said that “the marked difference between Devon and India is the lack of roadside hawkers and peddlers with their cacophonic calls, the stray cow or dog pottering around. Maybe even a snake charmer as is the western but mythical view of India.” I laughed when I read this but it also made me long to see that stray cow promenading down Devon.
The restaurants have an abundance of curries, spicy vegetables, red-tinted tandoori chicken and thick doughy naan at any place along the avenue that you want to settle in. And there are many.
You can also get into the shopping (and there is lots of it) and then devour some “street food” by ordering chai and split samosas, chickpeas, yogurt, mint chutney and sev.
In fact, this is a place where you can get lost in the culture and suddenly wake up and remember it’s Friday afternoon, you actually do live in Lake Bluff and have to go home.
Devon Avenue has been settled by many immigrant groups, which is perhaps most apparent between Kedzie and Ridge Avenues in West Ridge, Chicago. If you travel east, you will encounter, in succession, an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood, a Russian American neighborhood, an Indian American neighborhood, a Pakistani American neighborhood, and a Bangladeshi American neighborhood. One could explore this section of Chicago for months and still only scratch the surface. This is an area rich in culture and diversity.
A big part of the Pakistani culture has Afghan-Turkic-Iranian roots, a heritage of centuries of Muslim rule in South Asia. The content of spices in the food can range from very spicy/hot to mild, although spicy/hot seems more popular.
I also loved the Naan, the traditional Pakistani bread that is also cooked in the ever so guarded clay oven. I definitely have to check that oven out the next time I am here because Naan could be my new favorite bread.
The Basmati Rice was also really good, characteristically free flowing rather than sticky. I am a “Botan Calrose” kind of girl so this was all new to me. I asked the owner what it was they put in the rice that made it so pleasing to look it. He never really answered me and just said it was a “little of this and that.”
Cayenne pepper, cumin, mustard seed, crushed garlic with fresh cut mint, onion slivers and coriander leaves…these are just some the flavors you’ll find in a Pakistani kitchen. This is food that I can definitely experiment with and see where it goes. That is what cooking is all about. Trial and error – experimentation.
The next time I do India, I’ll pack my bags and take that 16 hour flight. In the mean time, this was an amazing way to get a taste for what is to come next.
Bonus: This day was so much fun and only cost $11.00. Get your walking shoes out and you can find a lot of neighborhoods in Chicago to explore and enjoy on the cheap.
P.S. Next week, I’ll take a left on Devon instead of a right and see where it leads me…Stay tuned!
Posted by Susan York at 5:12 PM