In Search of the Deep Dish Pizza

Last night, my dear friend Javed arrived in Chicago, the heart of the "land of milk and honey". The Windy City, the hog-butcher of the world and the city of big shoulders is also the home of the deep-dish pizza. New Yorkers might think that their thin crust pizzas are rather elegant and stylish, but they look rather malnourished when placed next to their muscled Midwest cousins. So early in morning, skipping breakfast we drove deep into downtown in search of the deep-dish.

Since it was Javed's first day, the focus of the conversation was 'here vs. there'. It brought back memories of my own first few weeks in America and how comical 'Coming to America' can be. Like most of us he was well-stocked with:
a)bags filled with food and,
b)armed with some hilarious advice and suggestions from friends and relatives.

If all of us pool the various suggestions given to us we could write a book - A Beginner's Guide To Living, Studying and Working in America. The most confident and definitive advice is given by people, umm... who have never been here! When you confront them with it they defend it by saying that they learned it from someone who has. Since, these first-hand accounts were obtained from a close family friend or a relative you shouldn't have any doubts about their authenticity. (Miraculously, the gospel truth survives each retelling.) Also quite surprisingly, much of the advice given by people who have been here or lived here for years has proved to be even more useless. It does not matter if you are a motel clerk, or did not ever leave your university campus, or even if you got the "US-returned" stamp on a mere technicality (because you spent 2 hours in transit at JFK airport): the stamp makes you an expert on everything that has to do with America. The reputation of this expertise has somewhat suffered lately due to the profusion of 'experts' in India and has exposed its rather dubious nature, but even now an audience for a US-returned XYZ can be summoned quite instantly. I am always eager for information and I had lapped up all versions by first-hand and second-hand experts. I must atleast give these stories some credit for making my actual American experiences more engaging and vivid. In fact, I spend a lot of time seeking to confirm or disconfirm the various theories.

In addition, each person has his own personal idea of America. The skeptical quite naturally shy away from the Hollywood version but often cling to either the 'America: The Big Bully' version or a 'America: the Land of Freedom and Opportunity' version. Of course, there is some truth to the various versions but these truths are rather partial ones. People believe what they want to believe. Then you get here and face the reality of America. Nothing quite prepares you for that. At the same time, there is no such thing as the 'real thing' because we perceive the same thing so differently because each one of us has a different lens.

People deal with the reality in different ways: some rush headlong into America and consider it some wild adventure; then there are others who are in perpetual state-of-denial and are constantly trying to re-create or carve out an India within America. No one is disappointed, but then no-one is completely satisfied. You may get what you were looking for but might also end up with extras that you did not bargain for and that causes a shift in perception.

We walked block after block to find nothing open. Hunting for the traditional Chicago dish on Easter Sunday is not the greatest of ideas. The only food places that were open for business were the chain restaurants. Who drives 5 hours to Chicago to eat at a MacDonald's? The good Italian-Americans were in church repenting for their sins and we were out on the cold, windy streets paying for ours. It would have been some story if we had persisted walking for another couple of hours in our quest and then finally, found one place open before we starved to death. But, that's not how it turned out. We found a Panera and its lovely sandwiches were rather enticing and we walked in. Another day, another observation. On some days you might end up driving 5 hours to Chicago to eat at a chain. Reality is like shit. It happens!


Sinfully Pinstripe said...


And if I could ask, which category do you consider yourself belonging to? The 'I am Mr. America, or at least will become him soon' category or the 'Mera Bharat mahaan'? Is there a middle stage? What would that be?

Hirak said...

Really, I can't say for sure. Judgements are better passed by others. But, I can say one thing for sure - there is a middle ground far from the muddle ground of silly nationalism. I am not there yet, but I think I can see it.

I don't have answers but I have questions:

What should an Indian guy tell a homeless guy begging on a Chicago street corner? You - are a citizen of the most advanced country on Earth and all you can do is ask for change from an alien?

Would I want the Sahyadris become more eco-touristy to avoid them from being damaged and destroyed by locals and officials who could not care less?

Did Woody Guthrie write this song for me? And would he have written a similar one if he was Indian?

Ashutosh said...

Apt observations! I also realised that we think that many 'bad things' could have happened to us, but did not, and think that this is actually the result of shrewd insight of some kind on our part, whereas many times it can just be our luck!! So we sometimes actually conjure up do's and dont's and chant them to prospective America travelers. On the other hand, we can also tell them "Look, I did not experience this...but that was just my luck. So you better watch out..."!

anya said...

..and I was hoping this would be a post detailing some hidden gem of a restaurant which serves the most delectable deep dish pizza!! Well .. I was staying in chicago for 6 months and none of their pizzas really impressed me. The 'Old Chicago' pub in Minnesota had a better deep dish (both for pizza and brownies) than what I chanced upon in chicago itself.

And Panera Bread .. mmm .. have had quite a memorable lunch there.

Sorry if I hijacked your thread from 'Coming to America' to this .. but food is always a higher priority ;-)

Sinfully Pinstripe said...

Would I want the Sahyadris become more eco-touristy to avoid them from being damaged and destroyed by locals and officials who could not care less?

Nice point.

But I doubt if the middle ground is possible. Just my IMHO kinda point of view. More so because one who want the middle ground becomes a minority among minorities. Most desis in the US, would either hang on to one end of the pole or the other.

Hirak said...

Well, you are really lucky. Ann Arbor has tons of pizza place like any college town, but those that offer a good pizza? 1, maybe 2.
I have made a note of "Old Chicago" if I make it up there someday.

I agree it is really hard to achieve a balance. Right and responsible approaches need a lot of forward planning and vision. The plans have to be really good to satisfy both kinds of people - the locals and the trekkers/tourists. For a number of people in Western Maharashtra, the hills are held really close to their hearts and any radical changes are going to meet a lot of protest. However, slow and quiet changes will go unnoticed till a great deal of damage is done.

Javed said...

You might want to check out my first impression and thoughts here.

CAR said...

That was a good read! My transformation in America has always been one of my favourite topics! ;-)