- Mike Sula
- Thattu's masala biscuits
Since I wrote about the cuisine of Kerala and Glenview's terrific grocery-caterer Kairali Food & Events last week, someone pointed out that there is, in fact, a full-service restaurant in the area featuring the food of India's southwestern state. That would be the two-year-old Mainland India in Niles, whose menu looks very promising.
But I said I was going to tell you about what turns out to be the city's only Keralite restaurant, Thattu, which opened last month. OK, technically it's a stand in the West Loop's Politan Row food hall, but for chef Margaret Pak it's the realization of something she's been dreaming about in one way or another for years.
It all started with the masala biscuits. Every year when Pak and her husband, Vinod Kalathil, visited his hometown, Calicut (aka Kozhikode), Kerala, his father would greet them with a particular sweet, savory, and spicy cookie from the venerable, now 75-year-old Delecta Bakery. Made with nearly two-dozen ingredients—including cashews, nigella seeds, asafetida, ginger, garlic, chile, cumin, and black salt—they're meant to be eaten with black tea. Known as khara biscuits, they're popular all over Kerala, and even though Delecta doesn't seem to tout them as a specialty, they became an obsession for Pak, particularly after the bakery gave her its industrial-scale recipe nine years ago.
Pak couldn't get all the ingredients here in the States, but she experimented with scaling down the recipe's quantity and heat level, thinking that one day she'd open a dedicated biscuit business. Then she started working as a line cook at Kimski and preparing Kalathil's mom's egg curry recipe for staff meals. Before long she was hosting pop-ups featuring the Keralite dishes her mother-in-law had taught her.
- Mike Sula
- (counterclockwise from bottom) Kimchi upma, kadala curry, and appam, crepes made with fermented rice flour and coconut milk
Necessity was the mother of invention. "That's my take on kimchi fried rice," she says. "I needed something crunchy on the menu."
- Mike Sula
- Coriander chicken curry
Worth it, I think. And worth it to keep your eye on Thattu, to see what other Keralite foods (and Keralite mash-ups) Pak brings to the table. v
Thattu at Politan Row, 111 N. Aberdeen, $, recommended