Just when I think I know all there is to know about my favorite thing in the world, sweets, up springs another glorious treat that totally knocks my socks off. A few weeks ago, I happened to be drifting up and down the Indian section of Devon Avenue (yes, contrary to popular belief, there are different sections of this melting pot of a street; Jewish, Indian, Pakistani, etc…), and blindly came across one of the most fascinating and addictive faux-milkshakes I've ever encountered. I couldn't seem to stop thinking about it (even after a two-week stint out of town), so I headed back up for one more try. Yep, it's totally rave worthy.
The setting for this encounter was an inconspicuous corner joint called Amrit Ganga, a tiki-style chaat (the Indian version of tapas with a fast food spin) house that is usually packed with lots of local Indian flavor, all getting their spice fix. In the deadly heat that's rockin' the city right now, I can't even stand the thought of eating something warm, much less adding more fiery spice to my meal. That's where the acclaimed drink called "falooda" comes into play.
This exotic milkshake/float is stunning to the tastebuds, literally like nothing I've tasted before. Imagine a couple of big fat scoops of lip-freezing, butter yellow, vanilla ice cream doused in sweet-as-a-flower-bed rose syrup and then sprinkled with crunchy basil seeds (not basil leaves but basil seeds). The pink rose syrup floats up the ice cream, foolin' ya into thinking it's a close cousin of the root beer float, but the clincher is that when you shove the straw deep into the bottom of the plastic cup and take the first big gulp, straight-up vermicelli noodles race up and bombard your tonsils. It's so stunning, at first, but once the flavor has coated your tongue, the maniacal slurping and puppy dog licking along the inside of the cup becomes commonplace.
After finishing the falooda up (and in another cool-down frenzy), the Patel Brothers, who own the place, were delighted to whip out an old-school sugar-cane press that they'd just gotten in and hauled it up to the front of the store. Just a few cranks of the wheel and the boys were sweatin' bullets, but they did manage to roll through a few fresh stalks of sugar cane. The sugar cane came out flat as a pancake and out poured this grayish juice (it looked like dirty water) that was the ultimate sugar-rush-to-beat-all-sugar-rushes. Oddly, they toss in some fresh ginger and sprinkle it with masala and a bit of black salt before serving; bizarro all the way around, but delicious through and through.
QUICK SIDE NOTE: At Sukhadia's, a sweet haven just down the road, they have an incredibly sugary fiasco called kalakand. All there is to it is milk, sugar and pistachios. Though not a liquid, this dense cake-like dessert is one of the most intensely satisfying desserts I've come across. They keep is simple for us novices and call it milk cake.
The Final Rave: Be prepared for a taste bud meltdown after guzzling down these thrilling sugar-mad wonders. Though delicious at the time, I almost passed out on the way to my truck.
Keep It Going:
Read It: Ravenswood Used Books
After you've fed yourself silly, jam over to this tiny used bookstore and dive into their rather large cooking section. You'll find just what you need…plenty of diet books.
Indian Grill If you do want to get a little more on the spicy side and think your belly can stomach it in this heat, head to this new Indian joint in Lakeview. Unlike many hit-or-miss Indian estab's, it's right on the money.
Drink It: Tahoora Sweets and Bakery
Though the staff is sometimes a little off-their-rocker, they do make a mean falooda. And, that's really all that matters.
Get Crazy With It: Fields Culinary Studio
This fall, don't hesitate to get a little nuts and plow straight up to Devon on a bus full of Indian food lovers. First, you'll tour the markets, picking up fresh ingredients and then finish it off in the Fields Studio preparing not three, but FOUR, Indian recipes you can make at home (right where the Tums are, thank God).