As of late, I have been pining for my London days. And it has apparently manifested itself in some physical sense that I exude because I have been stopped rather frequently as of late and asked if I am “one of those Africans who come from Europe.” From my attire — which is always polished — to a bit of my recent vernacular to my scheduled tea times, a lot of my British sentiments have become noticeable. There is even the non-physical aspect that I have not been fighting, which is my constant want for some Indian food. Anyone who has been to London knows that outside of India, London is where you find the absolute top Indian restaurants. Durban, South Africa, comes next in queue of places that have fantastic Indian cuisine. With this particular Chicago Sunday being rather congested and aggressive on the North Side of the city, I decided that I would return to Chicago’s University Village to sample a small Indian cafe that I had passed and eyed, but never visited.
Tucked away at 1512 W. Taylor Street walking distance from the University of Chicago medical centre district is Taj Mahal. This small cafe is one of those hidden gems that you may pass but pay no attention to since it is down a few stairs, not at eye level jumping out to meet you. Quaint and small, but clearly appealing to other Indians, this quiet little eatery was a perfect escape from the chaos and pedestrian confusion that had the North Side in gridlock. I entered and greeted the first server who approached in Hindi. There was silence, all eyes looking at me, wide with surprise — no doubt. I switched back to English quickly. With it being lunch and havng had a very satisfying breakfast earlier, I ordered two samosas that were for take-away. For my meal at the cafe, I ordered a daal makhani. These lentils that had been slow cooked in a seasoned gravy and accented with a dollop of butter made the vegetarian in me nod with approval. Served with rice and also with roti, I had to acknowledge that whoever in the kitchen cooked the dish had talent to capture the goodness of India. Certainly my days of having food satisfaction in the countless Indian eateries in London made the trip worthwhile. Needless to say, there was not one spoonful of happiness that my cake hole did not appreciate. The spices were just right and the portions were enough to leave a rugby player stuffed. I am going to say that the trip to University Village was the right decision.
Chicago has a stretch of Indian restaurants that is popular. But the crowds can be so daunting that you start to feel like you have been transported to Delhi and plunked down amid a multitude of families for your dining experience. Then there are small cafes like Taj Mahal. The food is outstanding. The service is great — even more so after they relax from hearing a non-Indian speaking in their native tongue. And the price is a magnet for having you return. For this being my second day visiting University Village for food, that says a lot about that area and the dining options available. But when I have a longing for London again and my palate has a hankering for Indian food, I will make my way to the #9 Ashland Avenue bus and head south to Taylor Street so that I can enjoy some other menu item from Taj Mahal while daydreaming of a familiar place once called home. In the meantime, I shall have one of those two samosas I ordered for take-away.