There are a lot of similarities between the ingredients in Indian and Pakistani kitchens. Cumin, mustard seed and dried chilies come to mind. But to truly understand traditional Pakistani food, you need the help of an expert. There's a well-known restaurant in the heart of West Rogers Park where tradition is served daily.
Faisal Bokhari lives in the northern suburbs, but when he longs for a taste of his native Pakistan, where he makes the drive to Chopal Kabab, along Devon Avenue.
"The decor, the furniture, it's very authentic," said Bokhari. "If you were to go where I'm from, Lahore - sort of the cultural capital of Pakistan - this is where people... you could go see them literally sitting there eating there, smelling the sort of aroma, the spices of the breads, the masalas."
Bokhari says due to religious reasons, Pakistanis consume a lot more meat than Indians do.
"So they eat a lot of goat?" I asked.
"A lot of goat. And the major meat in Pakistan is goat. Beef, not so much," Bokhari said. "This is um, the literal way you say it is haram masala gosht, which means green spices goat."
Massive kebab platters seem to be the norm.
"What we've got here is we've got bihari kebob, chapli kebab, shish kabob, there's a chicken kebob, and then chicken tikka," Bokhari said.
Frontier chicken is a staple in Pakistan. Usually dark meat thighs with onions and tomatoes, cooked with a garam masala, or spice blend, plus a bit of fresh lime juice to brighten it up. Chicken biryani rice is another favorite his mom makes back home. Bokhari also orders at least one vegetable side dish.
"This is called sarson ka saag. So basically I think the literal translation is mustard leaves and spinach. This brings back really childhood memories for me because my Mom would make this at home," Bokhari said.
"A little bit oily. There's a little bit of oil in this, it's a rich dish apparently," I said.
"There's garlic, and then I think the mustard leaves that have been blended in as well," Bokhari said.
A blended yogurt lassi can be either sweet or salty, depending on your taste.
"Typically it helps you cool down, and it's very refreshing as well," Bokhari said.
"OK now Faisel, I know that the native tongue in Pakistan would be Urdu, where you're from? So how would you say 'this is delicious' in Urdu?" I asked.
"Yid hot masadai hed. This means 'this is very flavorful, this is very tasteful,'" Bokhari said.
Chopal Kabab and Steak
2240 W. Devon Ave.
Chicago, IL 60659