Table Hopping: Spicy Bites bursts with exotic flavors of India
Pani Puri, crisp semolina puffs filled with mint, diced potatoes. | Lee A. Litas~Sun-Times Media
139 E. Townline Road, Vernon Hills
11 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday. Closed Monday.
(847) 549-0099 or see: spicybitescafe.com
131 E. Townline Road, Vernon Hills
Updated: February 13, 2013 2:42PM
“Traditionally when people talk about spices they just mention black pepper, salt and sometimes chile powder,” says Miki Trikha owner of two successful businesses geared at upending that notion.
Together with wife, Nidhi, the India transplants forged an upscale spice store, the Spice Bazaar, and an Indian street food stand they dubbed Spicy Bites in their adopted Vernon Hills.
“What people fail to realize is that there are hundreds of spices out there that we use in Indian cooking,” he said.
Today, both establishments are doing swift business within a few doors of each other. The Spice Bazaar offers over a dozen different kinds of imported rice and more than 60 authentic Indian spices. And Spicy Bites is as close as one can get to eating Calcutta finger food without leaving the country.
“Back in India, fast-food vendors are very popular and we wanted to bring that concept here,” said Nidhi.
The practice of offering affordable fast food on-the-go dates back to ancient times when the absence of kitchens in urban homes made the practice necessary. While the city of Chicago may be a bit slow in terms of allowing street food vendors, in other metropolitan centers stretching from New York to Mumbai, such kiosks are a daily stop for millions.
The Trikhas operate Spicy Bites out of a space just 1000 square feet, huge by true street vendor standards. Customers call ahead to confirm that Miki is cooking that day. His specialty? The Bhel Puri, a spicy concoction of crispy puffed rice and semolina canapés drizzled with sizzling hot sauces ($4).
“People often get intimidated by Indian food. They think that it’s difficult to prepare but it’s just an art of blending all these spices,” said Miki.
Try popping a Pani Puri into your mouth — the traditional way to eat these crisp semolina puffs filled with mint, diced potatoes and chickpeas — so that all the flavors burst at once ($4).
A bit less spicy is the Aloo Papdi Chaat, a mixture of fried canapés topped with mashed potatoes, yoghurt and lentils with a mixture of hot and savory sauces ($5).
And a typical weekend brunch in India includes the Chole Bhature, a simple dish made of sautéed chick peas, fried bread and a side of pickled mango ($5).
On Saturdays, Spicy Bites also features an Indo-Chinese buffet ($7-$8), in homage to the many Chinese immigrants who came to India through Calcutta in the 1800s and settled there.
“What happened was that Chinese immigrants started to cook with Indian spices,” explained Miki about the style of cuisine he grew up eating as a boy. The amalgamation of cultures resulted in dishes still featuring the staple soy and Szechwan sauces but now also incorporating the curries, coriander and tamarind, and many other traditionally Indian flavors.
Because people have such a wide array of palates and Indian food is just bursting with flavors, said Miki Trikha, “you taste many different spices when you bite into each dish. This is home cooking for us.”