Sunday, July 5, 2015

I did not grow up going out to eat. I grew up in a family of four kids, with a stay at home mother and a dad who turned down certain jobs so he could spend his weekends at home with us. We were a road tripping and motel-staying family, a pack-your-lunch-when-you-head-to-Great-America kind of crew. My parents thought they wouldn’t be able to swing a vacation one summer because expenses were too tight but then they decided against it, driving us all to the Rockies and managing to never surpass their $100 a day budget (that was total to feed, shelter, entertain six humans). When we were home, we always, every night, had dinner at the kitchen table.

So to me, the eating out lifestyle seems a bit excessive. I'll enjoy a meal out because food and company is enjoyable but mostly, the simpleton in me would rather be at home, cooking a meal. The places that do get me blissed-out excited aren’t necessarily the trendiest (although I admit, I love a trip to Lula). The places I frequent are the places that cook what I could never make. Pupusas with curtido, cabbage slaw and vinegar. Korean stews with kimchi. Veggie biryani and a big side of naan. There’s a place two blocks away from my house that I swear por la virgen sells the best tortas in the city, and I'm the happiest little drunkard whenever the tamale man comes by a bar.

Usually I don't venture outside of my neighborhood too much but a couple work events have taken me to the outskirts of the city lately. I went through Archer Heights and into Englewood the other week, and go up to Bronzeville every week to volunteer, with my eyes scanning the streets of Chicago that are still unknown to me. After driving up North one day, I stopped on Devon St. after work, heading to Ghareeb Nawaz, an Indian restaurant that I haven’t been to since I moved to Chicago six years ago. A man was eating his Indian food alone at my table, and after introducing himself, he asked out of the blue, “Hablas espanol?” I looked at him, blonde-haired and green-eyed, and laughed, saying, "Yes, I do speak Spanish." He was Colombian, a teacher. We talked about Honduras, A Hundred Years of Solitude, the West side of Chicago all while we ate our biryani on a metal plate. 

Chicago is very flat, concrete, and big but what it lacks in terrain, it makes up for in cultural richness. I could watch Anthony Bourdain for days - and I did once when I had mono - but I forget that sometimes out my door is the best Korean, Indian, Mexican, Vietnamese dishes I’ll have without stepping onto a plane first (which reminds me of Bourdain's Bronx episode). The beauty in the ethnically diverse make up of my city just seems like an important thing to acknowledge right now, especially since so many current events make you realize that others still have trouble seeing the privilege of it all.

Pictured above: Pupuseria El Excelente in Pilsen; Joong Boo Market in Avondale

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