Nostalgic Nosh

Michael Nagrant / 08.05.07

Nothing tastes better than mom’s chicken soup. Unless of course your mom is Indian or Ecuadoran—then you’re probably yearning for a steaming bowl of dal or a rich cow’s foot caldo. But when mom’s not around, you’ve got to find a local source for the comfort foods that remind you of your childhood abroad. Here, eight of Chicago’s top food personalities tell us where they go for a little taste of home.

Alpana Singh, director of wine and spirits for Lettuce Entertain You

While Singh’s a first-generation Indian-American, her parents lived in Fiji, and she was raised on her mother’s South Pacific–inflected Indian cuisine.
Heads to: Café Trinidad (557 E 75th St, 773-846-8081) for curry goat. “They use turmeric, so the curries are yellow, not tomato based like traditional Indian curry,” Singh says. “I like to wrap the meat and cauliflower up in the griddled roti [thin, crepe-like bread] like a burrito.”

Giuseppe Tentori, executive chef of Boka (1729 N Halsted St, 312-337-6070)

In his hometown of Lodi, Italy, Tentori would spend hours helping his grandmother stir polenta in her farm kitchen.
Heads to:  Juicy Wine Co. (694 N Milwaukee Ave, 312-492-6620) for culatello and lamb prosciutto. “You just don’t see culatello in the city,” Tentori says of the prestigious salumi made from the pig’s haunch. “It melts in your mouth, and the lamb prosciutto tastes like the stuff my dad used to make when we lived on the farm.”

Kendal Duque (pictured above), executive chef of Sepia (123 N Jefferson St, 312-441-1920)

Chef Duque lived in Quito, Ecuador, until he was eight. His great-grandmother, known for her rich soups and stews, inspired his own passion for cooking.
Heads to: Mi Ciudad (3041 W Irving Park Rd, 773-866-2066) for caldo de patas, cow foot soup with onions, garlic, yucca and hominy. “It reminds me of my grandmother’s,” Duque says. “They use really authentic Ecuadorian ingredients, including larger hominy than typical Mexican versions.”

Malika Ameen, pastry chef/co-owner of Aigre Doux (230 W Kinzie St, 312-329-9400)

Ameen grew up in Pakistan, where her mom would pack chapli (minced beef) kebabs in her school lunches.
Heads to: Kamdar Plaza (2646 W Devon Ave, 773-338-8100) for khandvia, a steamed crêpe made with chickpea flour and yogurt, then garnished with mustard seeds, green chile, cilantro and coconut, and served with tamarind and cilantro chutney. “These Indian Gujarati snacks are very hard to come by,” Ameen says. “This is the only place I know of that makes it.”

The Holy Land
Nader Salti, owner of Saltaus (1350 W Randolph St, 312-455-1919)

Salti is a Jerusalem-born surgeon who grew up in the West Bank city of Ramallah, where he recalls lining up at the famed Abu Alexander for lamb shawarma.
Heads to: Salam (4636 N Kedzie Ave, 773-583-0776) for mensaf, rice with lamb cooked in dried reconstituted yogurt (the Wednesday special). “This is cooked to celebrate special occasions,” Salti says. “Salam’s is very good, served with saffron and turmeric–spiced rice.”

Nick Zarzour, co-owner of Pasticceria Natalina (5406 N Clark St, 773-989-0662)

Zarzour spent his childhood in Lebanon, and recently opened a Sicilian-style pastry shop with his wife, Natalie.
Heads to: Maza (2748 N Lincoln Ave, 773-929-9600) for imam bayaldi, braised eggplant with shallots and chickpeas in tomato-pomegranate sauce. “This is one of the few places that offer homey rustic Lebanese food liked stuffed cabbage, zucchini and eggplants,” Zarzour says.

Kate Milashus, pastry chef of Avenue M (695 N Milwaukee Ave, 312-243-1133)

Originally from Warsaw, Milashus immigrated when she was three.
Heads to: Czech Plaza (7016 W Cermak Rd, Berwyn, 708-795-6555) for liver dumpling soup and roasted pork with sauerkraut. “Technically it’s Czech food, but the two heritages are practically identical,” Milashus says. “It tastes like someone’s grandmother is in back making it. They know it like the back of their hand.”

South Korea
Byung Kyu Park, sushi chef of Aria Bar (200 N Columbus Dr, 312-444-9494)

Born and raised in Korea, Park is a six-year veteran of Division Street’s Mirai. He recently made the move to the Fairmont Chicago hotel’s slick sushi bar.
Heads to: Chicago Kalbi (3752 W Lawrence Ave, 773-604-8183) for pajun. “It’s a grilled pancake with scallions and baby octopus,” Park says. “It’s very similar to the one I grew up on. It’s something you’d find in a neighborhood place in Korea, and it’s great if you’re drinking.”

This article first appeared in Time Out Chicago in a different form.