As a part of my culinary mission to educate people about healthful eating, periodically I conduct a day trip to "Little India" in Chicago(an area of several blocks on Devon Avenue.) Many, but not all , who go with me are my culinary students and their friends. This trip is open to anyone who is interested. I arrange for a limousine to take a group of about ten people on the trip. Parking in this area is extremely difficult. Travelling by the limousine not only solves the parking problem, but also provides an opportunity for those who make the trip to get acquainted with each other. And more importantly, it gives me an opportunity to discuss Indian culture, food and customs during the comfortable and elegant ride.
Our limousine chauffer Joe, a very accommodating driver, picks up the passengers at different pick-up points in Milwaukee. The students are enthusiastic about getting a feel for Indian stores, food, people and ambience through a day-trip instead of embarking on a full pledged 30 hour (flight) travel to the real India!
In this particular trip (June 14, 2009), ten of us including me, started our journey around 9:30 AM on a beautiful sunny Sunday. We had so much fun being together discussing Indian culture and customs during the ride. We reached our destination around 11 AM.
Our lunch reservation was for noon at Udupi, a well known popular South Indian vegetarian restaurant. We had one hour to spend before lunch. Our first stop was at a snack shop. I wanted my students to see the grand display of crunchy Indian snacks and sweets. Everyone eagerly asked the owner about his delicious looking products. He not only answered their questions but he gave samples. Once they sampled the snacks, they could not resist ordering take-outs to be collected later in the day when we were ready to leave.
Next, we went to a large Indian grocery store called 'Patel Brothers". The display of big rice bags and the sight of many aisles of spices and legumes thrilled my students. They were also fascinated by the unusal and fresh Asian vegetables that they do not normally seen in reguar grocery stores. All of them wanted to shop right away, but we decided to wait till the evening. It was noon, and we swiftly went to Udupi for a scrumptious lunch.
The resturant had reserved a nice table to seat us. The staff and the owner greeted us warmly. We started out with appetizers like Medu Vada (lentil donuts), Aloo Bonda (lentil dumpling with potatoes and onions), Iddly (steamed lentil and rice cakes) all with assorted chutneys and sambhar (vegetable sauce cooked with lentils). Then, for our main course we had Masala Dosai (large crepes filled with vegetables), Poori (puffed whole wheat bread), an array of assorted vegetables like chickpeas in a sauce, soya beans with vegetables in a sauce, okra masala and vegetable korma. For dessert we were offered Badam Halwa (almond cooked in honey and saffron), and Payasam (vermicelli cooked in milk, honey garnished with nuts). The meal ended with a taste of Madras coffee (similar to capaccino). After this royal meal and treatment, we thanked the staff and we were ready to explore the rest of Little India.
Our next stop was India Sari Palace where exquiste saris, dresses, shawls, handbags, and fashion jewellery were sold at very reasonable prices. After extensive shopping there we headed to the more formal Raj Jewellers, a store that sells (24 karat) gold and diamond jewels. We just walked through this beautiful show room admiring what was displayed!
Before returning to Patel Brothers (the grocery store) we took a break. On the side walk of this busy street we saw vendors cracking fresh coconut and selling the milk, There were also venders crushing fresh sugar canes and selling the juice. Naturally my students tried and enjoyed these refreshments. Standing on the side walk and observing stores, and the people in colorful Indian clothing, including many in saris, gave us the feeling that we have been transported to a shopping area in Chennai or Bangalore in India.
We finished our grocery shopping , picked up our carry out snack orders and came to our limousine pick-up point. Joe arrived on time and picked us up at 5 PM. On the way to Milwaukee, we had a "tea party" of sorts in the limousine, eating snacks and reminiscing our wonderful experience. Everyone seemed to be uplifted and excited as we returned to Milwaukee. Joe, the limo driver looked at me and said, "Why don't you do your tour every week". Joe could also sense that all of us had a memorable day!