Celebrate the Indian New Year with Chicago

| October 6, 2009 | 0 Comments


Chicagoland is known for its huge St. Patrick’s Day Parade, Pulaski Day and Cinco de Mayo celebrations. We’re a proudly diverse city and now may be the best time of year to taste the flavors from a lesser-known ethnicity: India. September and October are important months on the Hindu calendar, as they mark both the Dasara and Diwali festivals. The first holiday, usually celebrated in late September, marks the victory of Lord Rama (the key figure in Hinduism) over Ravana, the figurative victory of light over darkness. The second holiday, the Festival of Lights, is on October 17 this year, and is the Hindy new year, the day that Rama returned home after 14 years of exile. Both are huge holidays in India which involve parties, light festivals, visiting friends and, as in most cultures, eating. So let’s explore the plethora of Indian restaurants and experiences in Chicagoland.

Presumably you know of Devon Avenue’s Indian neighborhood. It runs about from Ravenswood to California and contains South Asian grocery stores, restaurants, music and book stores and sari shops. For my wedding (to the son of Indian immigrants), I decided to wear a lehenga choli (a long, straight skirt with a short, form-fitting blouse) and while I could have had one sent from the cousins back in Pune, I thought I’d first try my luck at Taj Sari Palace. As you walk in the door, you are greeted with a bright jumble of colors and material that you can have custom-made into a lehenga, a sari (the long piece of fabric that wraps around over bloomers and a blouse) or a salwar khameez (long shirt with legging-like pants, the most ‘modern’ attire of the three). It’s overwhelming and nerve-wracking and also wonderful. We wound up getting an off-the-rack lehenga and with a little bit of tailoring from Subash, I had the perfect attire for my wedding. If for some reason you can’t find what you like at Taj, you can run across the street to India Sari Palace, which has a similar look to it. I had some new blouses made there recently and was pretty happy with the result, though I did have my mother in law to do the price negotiations for me; I haven’t quite mastered the art of the haggle.

If you need to pick up some grocery items like ripe mangos or coconut while you are on Devon, try Fresh Farms, a small produce store that has fresh fruits and vegetables at rock-bottom prices. For non-perishables, like star anise and tumeric paste, check out Kumdar Plaza. And of course, don’t forget to take time to eat. The ‘best’ place, from my very reliable sources of authentic Indian cuisine, is Tiffin House, with its daily lunch buffet featuring classics like samosas and tandoor and pakora. There are also traditional Indian sweets like ladoos and gulab jamun, in case you don’t eat enough at the buffet. A second great restaurant in the area is Viceroy of India, also an authentic meal that can also satisfy the Western palate. Both Tiffin and Viceroy offer vegetarian and non-vegetarian meals, though keep in mind Indian food does not feature beef. It’s chicken, shrimp, fish or lamb for the most part. If you are afraid to get something too hot, stick with the naan (the soft, chewy bread), basmati rice and the chicken tikka or tandoori and a mango lassi to drink. You won’t be disappointed.

If you don’t feel like braving the Devon parking situation (my only real complaint with the neighborhood), you might try the Indian Gardens restaurant. There is one downtown, but the one in Westmont (now called Saffron) is also excellent. They catered the Indian-half of our wedding reception and once I had a fabulous pumpkin chicken at the buffet that hasn’t seemed to reappear yet. Keeping my fingers crossed for that!! Downtown, you might also try Gaylords, with the same set of lunch buffet items but at a slightly higher ‘downtown’ price. Still, it’s very good and worth the price if you are in the area. If you are in the mood for some fancier Indian dining, don’t miss Veerasway, with its modern feel and loft-like décor. I recommend the masala pan-roasted diver scallops, the tamarind-date chicken kabobs and the spiced fudge brownie for dessert.

One last stop to make on our Little India tour is the Hindu Temple of Greater Chicago in Lemont, about 25 miles southwest of the City. If you are not interested in joining them for a service, you can sign up for a yoga class or a music festival or even a free health screening. Or perhaps just visit the grounds so you can acquaint yourselves with the culture of about 13,000 families in Chicagoland alone.

At any rate, Happy New Year!

Photo Credit via flickr by dan.be

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About the Author ()

Cindy La Greca is a part-time children’s librarian and full-time mom. She writes to you from the Chicago’s northwest side.

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