Today I stood at the edge of the Pacific Ocean. Nothing but huge thrashing waves and a dark, moody blue attitude. Its unruly ferociousness matched the puddle of emotions welling up inside of meŚlittle nuggets that have been building up since I left the easy-come-easy-go interior of Mexico and landed in L.A. a scant few weeks ago for a short, three-month gig. At first, I wasn't sure why I was so melancholy. The weather has been fantastic, the job has been great and the little apartment I am calling home is two blocks from the beach. What could possibly be wrong with this scenario? After inhaling some chicken noodle soup loaded with saltines and a big bowl of chocolate pudding, I realized what was brewing around in my confused mind. I'm homesick for Chicago. Simple as that.
It wasn't until I spied a full pantry yesterday at a friend's house that I even remembered that I have a home in Chicago. A cute home, right on Lake Michigan, dotted with my global treasures and really, my entire life. I've spent the past few months traveling around Mexico in my 14-foot solar travel trailer and before that, I was volunteering in Indonesia. It's been such a busy few months I've not had time to stop and remember and think and reminisce. Blame it on another perfectly sunny day in L.A. because this afternoon, when I thought about my heavily ethnic neighborhood, Rogers Park, and all of the 'round-the-world food that is within a few miles of my front door, I almost broke down in tears. I just want some good food. Some dirt-cheap, standout grub from an unsuspecting hole-in-the-wall, much like the kind that Kiko's Market and Restaurant on North Lincoln Avenue slings out.
This filled-with-locals Bosnian gem is of the blink-and-you'll-miss-it kind and is famous in the Eastern European crowds for its meat. Big, hulking sides of juicy meat pepper every table in the spacious cafe, along with steaming baskets of homemade bread. There's grilled calf's liver with sauteed onions, Wiener schnitzel and specialties such as incredibly rich bean stew studded with chunks of meat and chubby white beans. My personal favorites include the legendary homemade cevapcici with raw onion and flat bread (which you can also purchase to go at the connecting butcher shop) and the grapefruit-sized sirloin burger stuffed with wads of oozing mozzarella. You've never had meat until you've partaken in a bundle that has been freshly chopped up moments before.
The adjoining market has a wall full of Eastern European imports and shelves full of creamy chocolate bars, all at half the price of what Whole Foods would charge. They hawk meats, hot-from-the-oven crusty breads and phyllo bread stuffed with meats, cheeses and/or spinach. It's so difficult not to snatch up every treat on display, especially since you can hear and see it all being prepared in the back kitchen.
I have yet to find even a decent Mexican meal in Los Angeles, much less a homegrown ethnic community that supports restaurants like Kiko's. To me, uber-healthy So-Cal food is for the birds. I will happily take the El Salvadoran pupuserias, the Vietnamese storefronts, the Georgian bakeries, the Afghan grills, the Colombian dives and the Cuban cafes of Chicago any day of the week. That being said, I'm walking back to the beach to daydream about returning home just a little more!
The Final Rave: The portions at Kiko's are table-filling, so it's best to drag a good friend along with you so sampling the entire menu is an easier quest.
Do it: Bel Ami
I've said it before and I'll say it again. The filling bean soup, soft, homemade bread and frothy cappuccinos are to-die-for.
Eat it: Balkan Restaurant
Lots more Balkan cuisine and super-stout coffee concoctions can be found at this Lincoln Park haunt. Along with what seems like every one of the 50,000 some-odd Bosnians populating Chicago.
Watch it: Lana's Rain
One of the first films I worked on in Chicago showcased dozens of Chitown locations and some surreal footage from the true Bosnian-Herzegovian motherland. It's still one of the best indie films I've ever seen.
Get crazy with it: Volunteer in Bosnia
It's an affordable way to give back, it helps impact devastated communities and it gets you one step closer to mastering cevapcici. Nothing in the world could be more appealing right now.
Fatcake Misty Tosh explores back-alley eateries, holes-in-the-wall and seedy ethnic joints as she treks the city in search of the next raving dish. Join her in the quest.