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Nov 11, 2002 01:06 PM

A Chicago communal Keralan take-out

  • r

I visited Malabar Catering this weekend (came home with some delicious items) and chatted informally with the owner Elizabeth about the possibility of putting together a communal take-out.

The idea is for them to prepare a selection of typical Keralan dishes as well as unusual items using rarer ingredients (duck?, jackfruit?), pack them up in to-go boxes ready for pick-up within say a 2-hour window on the assigned day. We can then all enjoy the cuisine in the comforts of our homes (perhaps using our fingers to eat, in typical Keralan style) and chat/review the meal LIVE online.

There has been quite a bit of Chicago interest in Keralan cuisine of course. Professor Bruce Kraig has done a show on this for PBS, Kristin Eddy wrote a piece (or a few pieces?) about it for the Tribune. And if I remember correctly (and Cathy2 can correct me on this), the Culinary Historians Group featured it in one of their monthly lectures not too long ago.

I thought that this would be a wonderful way of solidifying this curiosity and a way of shifting it from the level of lectures and shows to the level of actual eating and enjoyment.

Perhaps through our collective connections, we might even be able to convince Prof Kraig and/or Kristin Eddy and/or perhaps (if I could convince her) a well-known expert on Keralan cuisine to take time out from their busy schedules to come join us online within a few-hours online-window to answer questions.

It would be a way to encourage as many lurkers as possible to join in and sample a lesser-known cuisine. I imagine setting-up a temporary email account where I can get a count of the number of orders. There is no need to identify names, just number of orders requested. We just expect people to be honorable and let us know if they cannot make it, so that the folks at Malabar will not be stuck with too many unsold boxes.

I am thinking of working with a figure of $15.00 per order (each order = 2 servings plus plenty of leftovers). Is that too much? Too little? If we can arrange for truly unique/unusual ingredients, could I be authorized to go for as high as $18 an order?

I am thinking of doing this on a Thursday (perhaps the first Thursday of December), perhaps with a pick-up window from 5 to 7. People living in same general areas (northern suburbs, western suburbs, southside etc) can of course make arrangements to do some car-pooling and have one representative pick-up for the rest (Malabar is in the 3500W block of Montrose).

Those who have made plans for dinner on that night can still enjoy the boxes the next day. Most dishes from tropical cuisines taste unintegrated when they first come off fresh from the stove and actually taste better through the next few days when the flavors have had the chance to meld and mellow. In fact, I might deliberately ask Malabar to prepare certain items ahead of time.

I would try to get a list of ingredients used if not the actual recipe so that we can all follow the logic of the dish. Perhaps we could even bribe David Hammond or someone with a digital camera to take one picture of the herbs/spices (green cardomom, livered coconut meat, mustard needs, curry leaves etc) used so that we can all identify them as we pick pick pick through the dish.


Any interest in such a project? Any additional thoughts? A prelimary count of hands perhaps?


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  1. Sorry, I meant green cardAmom pods + Slivered (not livered) coconut meat.

    1. Hi!

      Bruce Kraig lives in Carbondale but is in Chicago often. I can help coordinate him into this communal meal and on-line chat --- though couldn't we all meet at a third location?

      All the best,

      1. richard, this is a great idea, if you are up to the work involved. if each order makes 2 servings, i'd happily pay a few dollars more for the more unusual ingredients. what would be even a better idea would be for a chowhound with a large house or apartment to offer us the chance to gather and eat our take away together. (that wouldnt be me). anyone???? joan

        16 Replies
        1. re: joan

          It could happen at my House of Many Colors. (You'll have to see.) I'm with VI, that I eat alone in front of a computer enough as it is, and since Chowhound is no small part of my social life, desocializing it in favor of more computer time does not seem to be moving in the right direction.

          1. re: Mike G

            mike, did you just volunteer your house?? yes,THANK YOU, great idea. i forgot to say that the online apart is of no interest to me either. rob made an excellent point,in general, abouthow eating together means tasting and sharing more food, except that i believe the plan is we all get the same food packages (right RST?) joan

            1. re: joan

              Sorry, I too, in my enthusiasm about the food, neglected to mention that I probably would not chat online, certainly not while eating. There is, however, something intriguing about the idea of coordinating independent take-out experiences. Of course, there is also something intriguing about Mike's House of Many Colors.

              1. re: Aaron D

                Yes, I volunteered the House of Many Colors.

                This was RST's idea and I don't want to co-opt it and change it, but I do understand that for many of us the fun part is the real-world social part too. (It's sort of like all those book groups people belong to now, except instead of reading Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, we're eating Devon's secrets.) I will point out that there will be handy computer access at the HOMC, so if RST still wants to remain mysterious and remote-accessed (well, he's got his restaurant on Armitage to run, plus that new one he's opening in London)* and if there are others who want to pick it up but can't get away for the evening, we can plug in along the way.

                So, seem reasonable? Do it the cyber way or come to the House of Many Colors, whichever works better for you?

                * Joke. Though I wouldn't entirely rule it out. Have you ever seen them photographed together?

                1. re: Mike G

                  With due respect to RST's original idea, may I, in light of the fact that Mike has volunteered his house, suggest a catered dinner at Mike's house. The company RST suggested is, after all, called Malabar Catering, dinner for a few hungry Chowhounds should not pose a problem. This way we could sample a greater variety of foods and interact with each other in person, as opposed to online.

                  If people are open to this idea, (I ran it by Mike prior to posting) we could, with RST’s input, work out a menu, price, time, etc with RST, Mike and Malabar.

                  Couple of additional thoughts. If Mike is kind enough to open his house to Chowhounds for a dinner catered by Malabar, people who have not met Mike in person and are interested in coming should, out of courtesy, send Mike an email as a method of introduction. I would also strongly suggest that RST join us for dinner, many of us would like to meet you and shake your hand for the generous way you have shared with Chowhound.

                  This being the Internet most have impressions of others that are quickly dispelled when meeting in person, mostly for the better. In preparation for my first meeting with RST I would like to give a bit of background on myself. I am a retired fighter pilot/astronaut who has also spent many years driving Gran Prix cars in Europe and I still consult to some of the factory teams like Lamborghini and Aston Martin. I was also a technical consultant on the last Bond movie and, for a while, was Pierce Brosnan’s stand-in until the director decided I so much better looking than Pierce that I was a distraction.


                  1. re: G Wiv

                    Interested attendees should email

                    I realize we don't have a date for this wingding yet, but I'm sure that will be worked out shortly.

                    1. re: Mike G

                      ;) Well, being so much better-looking than both Pierce AND Gary, I'm afraid that if I show up, I would be a distraction and no one would end up eating Keralan :)

                      I'm in the middle of a really nasty day and can't reply at length, but what I'll probably end up doing is make it a catered dinner for the group that wants to meet at MikeG's with the option of pre-packed boxes for those who, like Tonya (Hi, Tonya, everyone would love to have you come by of course!) may not have the time or the energy to socialize, but would like to join in anyway by doing the take-out. Does this sound like a good solution? This way, we also get to have as many people as possible sample this unique cuisine.

                      And guys, I didn't ltierally mean eat-in-front-of-the-computer. This website is not set-up for that kind of chatting anyway. By online eating, I am just trying to express this idea of everyone eating out of the same pot, but at their own leisure, in their own homes, the way they like to eat at home (dressed up in tails and gown, naked etc) and then discussing what is effectively the exact same meal together afterwards.

                      Zim, great site! (the one on spices as well as the great one on soul food in Chicago). The reason we want a picture of Malabar's spices is that we want to take the discussion of spices to the next level: i.e. not just discussing ANY generic cardamom pods or black pepper or curry leaves but really figuring out which cultivar, which import, which type they actually used. They use prime spices here and I am dying to find out the exact source of this raw material. This is why a picture of these exact spices would be interesting. I'm dying to get some high-flying talk going on the terroir of spices!

                      Who gave the lecture on Kerala at the Culinary Historians meeting? That was in July wasn't it?

                      The extra cost may not necessarily go to rarer ingredients. I'm trying to make this a typical Keralan meal with several little portions of varied dishes (instead of the "Western" idea of one dish per person) for everyone and thought I would ask about $18 for 2 in case Malabar needs this leeway. At any rate, I will try to have Malabar offer an unusual menu (but steering clear from challenging ingredients: offal etc; I'm trying to make this a "popular" event) that tries to balance adventurous and typical.

                      I know that a couple of you guys are familiar with your Maya Kaimal cookbook. Any items in there that you might want to see? I can't promise to have it of course, but I will transmit this input to Malabar for them to consider.


                      If this thing works out, we have to do Filipino (perhaps focusing on Kapampangan cuisine) next. And then Nigerian (with 7, 8, perhpas more Nigerian restaurants around, it shouldn't be a problem arranging this). Chicago must take the national leadership in the rediscovery of these great cuisines.

                      More later,

                      1. re: RST

                        Okay, let's pick a date. Wednesday, Thursday or Friday the 20th, 21st or 22nd would be good. Otherwise, it'd have to be after Thanksgiving. Thoughts?

                        1. re: Mike G

                          Please do this sort of organization work off the boards; preferably via email. That way we can keep this Chicago message board as chowcentric as possible, to everyone's benefit.

                          1. re: The Chowhound Team

                            Apparently an openly Chowcentric invitation is supposed to be worked out in secret, though I would have thought "Pick a date" would have been an easily ignorable message for those not interested. Please email me if you are interested and we will work this out as best we can.

                            1. re: Mike G

                              mike, i agree. the chowhound team, IMO, jumped in way too early on this one. i believe, and i know other regular posters do to, that it's important not to appear to be cliqueish. because we ARE NOT. yes, some of us post frequently,and not everyone who reads this message board is interested in social get togethers. but people who lurk, or who post irregularly should feel as comfortable participating in the all important selection process of dates and menu as the regulars do. first times must feel as welcome attending their first chowevent as regular chowgoers do.not to mention how tedious it would be pingponging back and forth between RST regarding menu and mike, regarding the date. i hope the chowhound team will reconsider and relent. when it comes to discussing mike's address; well,i agree that's best left to email exchanges. but until there is a free exchange of ideas regarding the date, i think this message board is the proper venue. joan

                              1. re: joan

                                Okay, we will work out a date and then post it, but anybody's who's interested is invited. Send expression of interest to and details will follow as well as final details being posted here.

                                1. re: joan

                                  Many thousands of people come here daily (only a tiny percentage post) for chow information...period. We realize it's temptingly convenient for small groups to use our public forum to arrange and schedule. But that's a misuse of our limited bandwidth and storeage and a dilution of the unprecedented signal-to-noise ratio of these boards. We work hard to maintain the focus and usefulness that attracted you to Chowhound in the first place.

                                  If you feel need to address the issue further, please do so on the Site Talk message board (feel free to leave a "marker" message here so others know to look on that board). This discussion is likewise dilutive of a board intended solely for focused discussion of good food in Chicago.

                                  1. re: The Chowhound Team

                                    A few posters this morning apparently missed this request:

                                    "If you feel need to address the issue further, please do so on the Site Talk message board (feel free to leave a "marker" message here so others know to look on that board). This discussion is likewise dilutive of a board intended solely for focused discussion of good food in Chicago. "

                                    We do require users to respect our moderation requests. Chowhound's not anarchic discussion (like Usenet, etc). We're moderated, and reserve right to set boundaries. So far it's worked out quite well, we're very happy with how the site's turned out and 350,000 users agree. We regret that we can't please everyone.

                                    Those displeased...or, for that matter, pleased...are welcome to discuss on Site Talk. This board is exclusively for discussion of good food in Chicago.

                          2. re: RST


                            Bruce Kraig gave the lecture on Kerala at the August meeting. About a week later, there was a luncheon by the chef from Monsoon featuring some Kerala specialities.

                            FYI: Next Culinary Historian meeting is this Saturday featuring Chicago Tribune's Judy Hevrdejs who found the Cheap Eats column.


                            1. re: RST

                              no disrespect Richard, but I think it unlikely that we'll be able to identify much distinguishing about their spices (which i am sure are of good quality) after they've gone through the oil, simmered in sauce, and then been fished out for a photo.

                              I'm not sure that most of us would be able to distinguish that much differnece when they were fresh, except maybe for the "greenness" of the cardamom, the size of the black peppercorns or the freshness of the ginger.

                              One question on the spice front - I know you mentioned that they are syrian christians so they don't use this as much, but do they use cassia bark as north india (dal chine) or the real sri lankan cinnamon?

                              I'll start a new thread about menu possibilities

              2. I, too, think this sounds like a marvelous idea. And yes, $18 for two meals is perfectly acceptable in my book.

                1. I'm a "lurker" and would love to join in. I don't post often because I'm in my first year of law school, new to the area, and unfortunately have had time to sample only a few of Chicago's wonderful restaurants. That said, I can munch carry out, study , and chat on-line all at once!