Natalyn, a member of our tour group, volunteered to model a sari, giving us all a chance to see how the elaborate sari fabrics are wrapped and folded with care in various styles that are popular in different regions of India
Chicago’s Indo-American Heritage Museum (IAHM) has found a delicious way to introduce you to the diversity of both India and the Indian-American community in Chicagoland.
The thali dish that each person was served included: Northern Indian Mattar Pulau (basmati rice and green peas); Northern India Raita (whipped yogurt garnished with cilantro); Sambar typical of Tamil Nadu (lentil and vegetable stew in a tamarind sauce); Uttar Pradesh Palak Chana Dal (split peas with spinach); Telangana Hyderabadi Baigan (stuffed eggplant cooked with pungent spices); Kerala Thoran (stir fried green beans garnished with coconut); Kashmiri Roghan Josh (lamb in mild spice yogurt, saffron, nut sauce); and West Bengal Doi Maach (fish cooked with yogurt, onion, spices and raisins
With a focal point of a thali meal at Tiffin Restaurant showcasing various dishes drawn from the distinctive regional cuisines of India,
Happie (Harpreet Datt, one of our tour guides) gives a tour of Patel Brothers, explaining how various products are used in Indian cuisines
The tour took place on Sunday late afternoon, a prime time for regular shoppers, here picking up supplies of rice and various types of lentils
combined with a visit to a food market on Devon (Patel Brothers, 2610 W Devon)
We saw many vegetables that were familiar and also some that are not typically found in US markets
and a sari shop (Sahil apparel shop, 2605 W. Devon) the IAHM gives you a quick and easy-to-digest primer on Indian diversity. (Note: a thali is somewhat like a one-plate sized buffet that gives you a variety of dishes and sauces with accompanying rice and breads.)
Tiffin, which ordinarily serves an equally delicious Punjab style lunch buffet, prepared a special thali luncheon for the tour that showcased the varied regional cuisines of India
Ussal (sprouted mung beans cooked and garnished with onions and cilantro-- a Maharashtra dish--was served family style
We learned, for example, of the 28 languages spoken in India and how that comes to bear in creating a multicultural scene in cities like Mumbai (a.k.a. Bombay).
While touring Sahil, many questions were asked about the range of costumes worn in typical Indian weddings
The highlights of Indian immigration to the US in general and Chicago in specific- the very history that IAHM is devoted to preserve—was also reviewed in a short course that preceded our tour to Sahil apparel shop and the Patel Brothers food market.
We first gathered in the lobby of Tiffin, where our guides gave us a quick course on the history of Indian immigration to the US and the beginnings of the Indian markets on Devon
Our three IAHM hosts embodied the very diversity we were learning about: Lakshmi Menon is a Hindu from Kerala; Happie “Harpreet” Datt is a Sikh from Punjab; and Dorothie Shah, a native of New York, had married into a Gujurati family that had moved to Mumbai.
Our appetizers included Northern India Murgh Malai Kabab (chicken kebabs in a marinade of cream, ginger and garlic, cooked in tandoor), Punjabi Paneer Tikka (fresh cottage cheese marinated in spices and grilled in tandoor), and khaman dhokla, a savory steamed cake made from gram flour, is soft and fluffy, mildly tangy-sweet
By sharing their stories of traditions and rituals from their respective regions a picture of India’s rich diversity was conveyed. For example, we learned that bright red wedding attire is common in many parts of Northern India but that in hot and humid Kerala a bride would more likely wear an off-white muslin sari with gold trim.
Lakshmi, center, talks to the group in Sahil apparel shop, where we saw ornate bridal wear and sarees, lehenga cholis, salwar kameez, and kuriis for women plus formal Sherwanri suits and Kurta Pajama outfits for men, as well as Kulia (turbans worn by bridegrooms)
The group attending the Taste of India Tour was in itself diverse, not only by measures of race, ethnic background, marital status and age, but perhaps more to the point, also divided into those who are nostalgic for the India they had visited and others who have India travel high on their wish list.
Sahil's showrooms overflow with colorful sari fabrics and mannequins wearing ornate formalwear
Plugging into this and other IAHM events is a wonderful way to feed your wanderlust for India and get to know the cultural traditions of your Indo-American neighbors.
One of the high points of the tour was getting to see the Tiffin kitchen at work and in particular the clay oven used for Tandoor dishes and breadmaking
Here is a piece of naan bread being baked on the side of the clay oven
Do know to make advance arrangements if you want to attend a Taste of India Tour, as the event organizers need to pre-arrange the elaborate thali meal you will be served at the host restaurant such that last-minute drop-ins cannot be accommodated.
Lisa Gregor, owner of Church Street Brewery visited each table to talk about the beer pairings. Church Street Brewery had joined the tour to add a beer tasting to the event, showcasing three beers that pair well with Indian cuisines-- Heavenly Helles Lager, Shony Scottish Ale, and Brimstone IPA
To receive information about IAHM activities or to arrange a TASTE OF INDIA TOUR for your group of at least 12 people, email [email protected]
. Again, note that advance booking is essential.
Also, check the Indo-American Heritage Museum website to learn about upcoming events.