WEST LOOP — When Margaret Pak was offered one of the food vendor spots at the highly anticipated food hall Politan Row, the West Loop resident said it was an offer she couldn’t refuse.
For the self-taught chef, joining Politan Row was a “no- brainer,” especially since she had long envisioned opening her own brick and mortar restaurant serving Indian street food from the southwestern state of Kerala.
Last week, Pak came one step closer to that dream when she debuted Thattu at 111 N. Aberdeen St.
At Politan Row, Pak joins a slew of popular chefs from around the city like Victoria Salamanca of Cafe Tola, Sarah Weitz and Sam Barron of food truck Fat Shallot and Sandra Holl of Floriole.
Pak said the food hall was a “perfect platform” to introduce folks to the street food not typically found in traditional Indian restaurants. And there was an added sense of excitement to do so in a community she and her husband, Vinod Kalathil, have called home for the last 12 years.
Pak’s dishes are heavily coconut based and use an assortment of aromatics. The Thattu menu features hearty Kerala curries, house-made appam, and savory masala cookies, as well as Pak’s signature egg curry — boiled eggs simmered in coconut gravy, served with fermented rice flour pancakes.
Pak said she fell in love with the Kerala cuisine shortly before meeting her husband. In 2005, the couple married in India and she became immersed in her mother-in-law’s cooking.
“Every time we would visit once a year, my mother-in-law would teach me so many recipes,” Pak said “Before Instagram, I would take a boatload of photos and videos to make sure I was doing it right.”
His mother still consults from across the world by phone when a dish seems to be missing something, Kalathil said.
In 2017 — after 12 years working in the corporate world — Pak left her office job and began working at the Korean Polish restaurant Kimski, 954-960 W. 31st., in Bridgeport. During her time at Kimski, she recalls the egg curry dish she now serves at Thattu always becoming the staff meal.
Pak began doing popular Kerala street food pop-ups in the West Loop and at Kimski, and the buzz eventually reached the team of Politan Group CEO and Founder Will Donaldson.
While raving about the egg curry dish, Donaldson said Pak was bringing the “under-told story” of Kerala cuisine to the food hall.
At the end of the day, Pak said, she wants to expose more Chicagoans to a different story of Indian food.
“It’s so unlike any other parts of Indian cuisine,” Pak said. “It’s so diverse, I want people to experience this little gem.”
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