Ali Baba and Gino at Baba’s Village

Baba's Village

When you have gone to India and eaten at any restaurant, home, or down some alley, the standard for preparation of Indian food is pretty much ingrained. You might not know the exact amount of herbs and spices that each dish should have, but you know when the food is so good that talking to someone while you are eating is the last thing you want to do. And when you hear people say that cab drivers frequent a certain Indian eatery, you think authenticity. You get slightly hyper, ready to gnash away at something spicy, hungry like the wolf.

Hmm.

Samosa

Samosa

Last year my colleagues took me to a nearby Indian hole-in-the-wall at 310A S. Canal Street named Baba’s Village. As far as quick goes, it fits the bill. At the time, there was a constant ebb and tide of suits, ties, and wanderers off some Amtrak train from the neighbouring Union Station. It looked like it had all the trappings of the Indian spots that have endeared themselves to my appetite. And without extra charge, you got a bit of attitude with your order. I never bothered to return because the personnel atmosphere had ruined the meal, which was so Americanized that it was practically American food being passed off as Indian food.

I returned recently after work when there was no crowd and noticed a change. Granted the Indian guy at the cash registered barely looked at me while I was placing my order, that changed with a little bit of Hindi that I let sprang forth. I have a habit of unconsciously letting people know that I’m not as typical as I look. So, he was rather engaging thereafter, and it may have been the few short sentences of Hindi that resulted in my food being – and I must apologize for the blatant continuation of my sentence – so DAMN DELICIOUS.

Chana Bhatura

Chana Bhatura

Veggie samosa. Chana bhatura.

The samosa was spicy and almost the size of a fist. Considering my hands are extra large, I will say that the samosa was about the size of a large fist. It came hot and flaky, not cold or lukewarm and chewy. That was a big change from what I remember during the lunch order I had last year, in which the samosa had the texture of toast. Where there was indeed a HUGE improvement was with the chana bhatura. I am a fan of choley and bhatura. The bhatura was certainly not a let-down. The chana was still very much like seasoned chickpeas in a spicy stew gravy, but there was flavour this time. I have no idea what the concoction was that I had last year, but its bland-as-a-rice-cake flavour then was nothing like the pop that I had during this recent visit. I actually finished everything and when I say everything I mean I took the last pieces of bhatura and went around the bowl to sop the last bit of gravy.

It may have been my appetite. It may have been that the cook had more time to prepare dishes without the rush of the lunch crowd. Whatever it was, this most recent visit was an indication that Baba’s Village may be worth avoiding during noon and waiting until after 5:00 PM when everyone is rushing home or to some watering hole to turn up some beers. The prices aren’t all that expensive. I can’t speak to any dishes other than the chana bhatura and the sampling of some “You call that tender?” butter chicken that a fellow colleague had last year. I wouldn’t be surprised if the butter chicken doesn’t have a wow factor after 5:00 PM. I can’t say. But maybe during your visit, you can let me know thereafter.

Baba's village on Urbanspoon

Bismillah, Let Him Go

Bismillah

Every time I go back to London, I return to America with my pores exhaling curry, cumin, and other spices found in Indian food. London has a large Indian population and with that comes the best Indian food outside of India. Chicago doesn’t fall too far behind in having a plethora of restaurants representative of the flavours of India. I exude curry since I am constantly in any one of the Indian cafes on Devon Street. If you are a diligent foodist like me, you will manage to discover some fooderies that are not on any main stretch or within sniffing distance. For example, with traffic being incredibly congested in a section of the North Side — in Edgewater to be exact — I had to snake my way down a side street to avoid sitting still. And what to my surprise should I spy at 6301 N. Ridge Avenue but a hole-in-the-wall by the name of Bismillah. It had to have been serendipity because I was listening to “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen at the very same time I spotted the restaurant. Imagine that.

Vegetable Samosas

Vegetable Samosas

In true hole-in-the-wall fashion, Bismillah will not win any awards for interior decoration. And if you go to the restaurant for aesthetics, you may be too caught up in cosmetics to enjoy the good food that Bismillah serves. While at the counter, I scanned the one menu that was available and placed my order. I was not going to waste my time playing like a curious eater while fighting the temptation to jump behind the counter and start attacking the tasty food that I could see being cooked in the open kitchen. I ordered two vegetable samosas and chicken boti. The two fist-size samosas came with a mint sauce. I mashed up the samosa, poured a nice amount of the mint sauce on them, and handled my business. I smiled. When the skewered, boneless pieces of chicken that looked and tasted like tandoori chicken arrived at the table with basmati rice and a small salad, I was then ready for devouring my main dish. The chicken popped with each bite, an explosion of flavour, a revelation of having something several notches past delectable. It was so good that I exclaimed, “In the name of God,” or bismillah for those in the know. If I continue to eat at all these ethnic eateries, I will become fluent in more than the short list of languages that I speak. When I was done, I had a chai in the traditional manner of an after-supper drink.

Chicken Boti

Chicken Boti

Bismillah is a cash-only restaurant. Yes, many restaurants accept MasterCard, Visa, Discover, and American Express. The prices are incredibly reasonable for the quality and the quantity that you receive. I should warn you that the portions are substantial. And if you are accustomed to going to restaurants that deliver your order in the speed that you get your food when you go to fast food restaurants, every order is prepared on-demand. Nothing is sitting in pots and pans or under heat lamps, so you get everything fresh. Devon Street where? This off-the-path find was worthy of the discovery. There is something to be said for traffic congestion in Chicago and things that you stumble upon when you are trying to circumvent sitting behind the wheel without moving. Bismillah is one of those discoveries that pleases the appetite. And in “Bohemian Rhapsody” when Queen asks the question, “Bismillah, will you let him go,” picture me smashing the record and declaring, “Bismillah, never let me go! Bring me some more chai.”

Bismillah Restaurant on Urbanspoon Bismillah Restaurant on Foodio54