There have been plenty of occasions over the last few months when I’ve sat down to write about ersatz Chinese food, or half-assed barbecue, or yet another costly multicourse tasting menu, when I’ve been hit by one thought that stops me midsentence: Who the hell can eat at a time like this?
Historically, in wealthy societies subjected to unusual periods of anger and anxiety, a common first impulse has been to stuff yourself with something destructive that will make you feel comfortable and safe in the short term, but would probably kill you if you ate it as much as you wanted to.
Other countries aren’t so lucky. They’re living through wars, so if they’re feeling stressed out about, say, their loved ones being subject to a horrific death from above at any given instant, eating probably isn’t their immediate impulse. Worse, they may not have much to eat.
When the Trump administration turned its shambling orange posterior in the direction of the people of seven of those countries, it made their individual predicaments far more precarious. The jury—or rather an appellate court—is still out on whether the president will be permitted to sustain that particular insult. Meanwhile, the people affected by Trump’s executive order on immigration—better known as the Muslim ban—who have good reasons to get out are still in limbo, and by extension so are their friends and relatives that live here.
For generations of immigrants, the restaurant industry has been a hub of steady work. New Americans have blessed cities like Chicago, opening their own spots to serve the food from their countries of origin and providing spaces for the homesick to get together, eat good food, and feel connected to the people and places they left behind. They’re also good places for the rest of us to go, eat good food, and try to connect to people we may know nothing about.
That’s the best way to get to know a person, right? Eat with him. Once you know someone, it’s harder to close the door.
You might have trouble finding restaurants that identify specifically as Sudanese or Libyan in Chicago. If you know of any, please let me know in the comments. In the meantime, here are a handful of restaurants that offer an experience of the food and the people from five other countries targeted by Trump’s executive order. Go enjoy them.
Around the intersection of Elston and Lawrence there’s a triumvirate of Yemeni restaurants, the newest and most exciting of which is called Mandi Noor. The three-month-old spot has a huge menu characterized by hefty platters of various lamb and chicken preparations piled atop rice, all meant to be scooped up with oven-blistered fresh flatbreads, and bubbling cauldrons of saltah and fahsa, the fenugreek-activated frothing stews that are the Yemeni national dishes. Get in there with your hands!
I already told you about Rogers Park’s Eric Grill, the place to satisfy your Friday camel-meat needs, but closer to downtown, where all the cabbies hang out, Mogadishu Restaurant does a brisk business in heaping platters of chicken or fish piled atop rice and vegetables. Don’t forget to mash your banana into the rice.
Also try . . .
Everybody loves the kebab-and-rice mountains at perennial favorite Noon-O-Kabab, but my go-to is always the ghormeh sabzi, a seemingly bottomless stew of greens, lamb, and beans tarted up with Persian dried lime. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a portion of tahdig with this, the crispy fused rice from the bottom of the pan. Up the street, Kabobi Grill does an equally commendable trade in kebabs, but I wouldn’t consider one without an order of kashkeh bodemjan, a sumptuous mash of roasted eggplant and caramelized onions enriched by reconstituted dried yogurt.
I would never tell you to sleep on the namesake shaved meats at Shawarma Inn. In fact, there’s nothing among the typical Levantine meze, kebabs, and meaty breakfast scrambles I’d not recommend. But here you have to get the masgouf, a flame-grilled catfish with crackly skin and moist, voluptuously fat flesh, dressed in onion-and-tomato sauce and served with a heaping pile of rice. It’s the national dish of Iraq—if times were better, it would be a carp pulled from the Tigris River.
Also try . . .
I couldn’t find any dedicated Syrian restaurants, but a South Loop caterer called Honeydoe (1400 S. Michigan, 312-391-3110) is awaiting your call.
These aren’t ALL of the restaurants representing the Trumpfucked countries in Chicago. I invite you to share your favorites in the comments. v