I've been trying to make it back to old favorite Kababish for some time, but have been thwarted in my last three attempts to do so by intriguing options along the way. I wonder if students at Moody Bible realize the depth of dining options that await literally outside their doors. Surveying my surroundings upon entering the squat, decrepit building attached to the yellow Daavat sign advertising Indian and Pakistani food, I was hard pressed to imagine serene, fresh-faced MBI students, filled with the Holy Spirit, frequenting places like this. The narrow entranceway felt exactly like the long hall at the old 70's car washes, where as a kid I'd watch through thick-paned glass as the big brushes broke off dad's antenna. The other side of the hall consisted of the steam counter, which was doing a thoroughly grim job of showcasing the day's offerings.
These consisted of three stews: a chicken in red curry, a mutton in brown sauce (untried) and a lentil dumpling in yogurt sauce. The menu, scribbled haphazardly with grease pencil on an acrylic sign that may have actually lit up back during the Gene Sawyer administration, was of no help. "Combos" were advertised at various price points, followed by wording that seemed to indicate that no, combos were not an option. With the world-weary eyes of the cook/counterwoman/owner fixed on me, I reverted to instinct; pointing out the chicken and lentil dishes and muttering "nan", which prompted her to yell "nan" to an unseen lacky back in the darkened prep area. That seemed to be a good sign. The woman tried to talk me out of the lentil dumplings, but I insisted. She still neglected to give me a full portion, instead ladling some into a styrofoam bowl separate from my chicken curry plate. What was the deal? Was she saving this for herself? Did something horrible befoul the stuff, something so unspeakable that my largely unintelligible counter woman could not begin to convey it in English?
Steaming, huge nan was placed in a basket alongside some lime, onion and jalapeno "salad" and I followed the indigo bathroom-tiled back wall into the main "dining room." The cluster of smoking locals paused briefly in their animated conversation as I made my way down the dim rows of empty naugahyde booths. I took a seat with a view of the TV, which was playing a Bollywood shoot-em-up Western (Eastern?) at top volume. The only other thing to look at in the room was a Ms. Pac Man arcade game shoved unceremoniously into the corner. I would have been less surprised to see a talking bear in its place, holding court in the corner, than this weirdly misplaced scrap of Western pop culture refuse. On the screen, the Indian Gary Cooper type was looking ravenously into the eyes of his fair maiden as I tucked into my lunch. The chicken pieces were small, and the lentil dumplings merely representative of the type, but the real sizzle was in the two great sauces and some of the best nan I've had anywhere. Crispy browned exterior and tender and chewy inside, it served as the perfect complement to the spicy curry and the tangy white yogurt sauce.
The place was hotter than a cow in a Bangladesh traffic jam at high noon, so I ate fast and headed to the counter to settle up. The woman gave me the lentil dish for free, convinced to the end that I was going to hate it. Total bill was $5 for a ton of food. One of these days I'll make it back to Kababish, but the Chow life is a journey, not a destination. I think Reverend Moody himself said that.
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