- Mike Sula
- Brinjal moju, innala curry, Sinhalese pickle
Let's say you recently arrived in Chicago from Sri Lanka. You're here for school, or work, or just to get the hell away from whatever unspeakable horrors warring parties have inflicted on your homeland. With only a couple thousand or so of your countrymen here, there aren't too many community groups to bring you together, and certainly no restaurants where you can gather and feel a little more comfortable in your skin. And if you can't cook because you're too busy working, or you're just disinclined, what are you going to do to give yourself a taste of home?
You were pretty much on your own up until three months ago, when Mohammed Izmi opened Rio Mart, a tiny Sri Lankan grocery store* just south of Devon on Oakley, next door to Best Naan. Izmi carries a small, typical selection of Indo-Pak nonperishables, but it's two large shelving units stocked with purely Sri Lankan goods that are going to ease your homesickness. Those include pickles, vegetables, dried fish-powered or vegetable-based curries, soy-based meat substitutes, and canned fruits and vegetables, such as sweet and creamy wood apple pulp, which kind of tastes like a cross between coconut and tamarind.
Most of these products were totally unfamiliar to me, but Izmi helped me pick out a few jars, including a cuminy onion, chile, carrot, and papaya Sinhalese pickle; a pungent, blazing hot, dry mustard-spiked eggplant and green chile curry called brinjal moju
; and a thin, mild coconut-based curry built on a tiny tubers called innala
(aka the hausa, or "Chinese" potato).
Izmi told me just to heat the curries through and eat them with rice. Is that cooking? It's probably not like mom used to make, but it's something. (Then again, if you want to try some of these thing from scratch here's a good place to start).
Rio Mart, 6350 N. Oakley, 773-338-2000
*h/t Colleen Taylor Sen
Mike Sula writes about cooking every Monday.