Egg-O-Holic puts together Gujarat's vast eggetarian street food | Restaurant Review | Chicago Reader

Egg-O-Holic puts together Gujarat's vast eggetarian street food 

Eggs: they're not just for breakfast anymore.

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click to enlarge Lachko and roti

Lachko and roti

Alexus Mclane

The famously vegetarian state of Gujarat in northwestern India is also famously dry. And yet after dark in many large cities, out come the laaris, street food carts, many trafficking in an endless variety of egg dishes well-suited to meet the restorative demands of anyone who happens to have imbibed. Eggs—boiled, fried, folded into omelets, simmered in curries, swaddled in chapati, scrambled with rice, or even sandwiched between grilled white bread—are a popular street food (and hangover preventative) all over India.

But their ascendance in Gujarat—especially over the past decade or so—is a more recent development, according to the Times of India. Those were the days when Lay Patel and his older cousin Bhagyesh were growing up in the former capital Ahmedabad, and "Egg Night" meant a run on the laaris for egg bhurji, scrambled with onion, tomato, chili, and spices; lachko, a thick, puddinglike mix of shredded green chilis and cheese and soft cooked eggs; or surati gotala, shredded boiled eggs in a spicy tomato-based gravy, topped shakshuka-like with two just-set cackleberries.

"Every time we'd go there, we'd try something different," Patel says.

After the older Patel, 30, immigrated to the western suburbs in 2005—eventually opening a handful of Subway shops in city—he was followed by the younger ten years later. Both lamented the absence of the laaris and the universe of egg possibilities they offered.

"We thought there's this really popular concept," says Lay Patel. "It's new and it's getting hyped up. We don't have something like this where we live."

Last spring they teamed up with Bhagyesh's old schoolmate Vilas Patil—who used to operate a laari back home—and hatched Egg-O-Holic in a Schaumburg strip mall. Egg-O-Holic adopts the model not so much of laari but the eggetarian sit-down restaurants that have subsequently popped up not just in India, but increasingly wherever large numbers of Indians resettle.

The 2001 Bollywood comedy Jodi No. 1 featured an infectious musical number called "Ande ka Fanda," which, from Hindi, roughly translates to "the fundamentals of an egg." The partners took the title as a slogan and bedecked the interior of their store, subbing the names of their dishes—both street food classics and popular new innovations—into the lyrics of other popular songs.

The menu is extensive, with "eggetizers" ranging from plain boiled eggs, to masala-spiced French toast, to cheesy egg masala roti; more substantial rich curries and scrambles; and grilled egg and cheese sandwiches. Egg abstainers are appeased with grilled cheese sandwiches and dishes that substitute paneer for the ova. For those who prefer more developed poultry there are chicken kabobs and sandwiches, after all: "Anda agar na hota toh murgiyan na hoti," as the song goes, or "without an egg there wouldn't be any chicken."

Not a year in and the concept proved popular not just with the broad Indian community in the western suburbs but many from out of state as well. A little more than a month ago they opened their second location in the former Thalia Spice space on Chicago near Halsted, in part to make things easier on customers coming from Indiana.

I worked my way through just a fraction of its lengthy (eggspansive?) menu, and if there's one unifying characteristic it's that these egg dishes are extraordinarily rich, thanks largely to their common cooking medium: butter—not ghee—produced by Gujarat's Amul Milk Union Limited, an iconic cooperative credited with sparking India's White Revolution in the 70s, which made the country the world's largest dairy producer.

Its presence is unmistakable in the aforementioned lachko, surati gotala, egg bhurji, and green egg curry rice, a kind of breakfast biryani whose richness is buoyed with mint, mustard seed, and curry leaves.

Amul-brand cheese contributes to that richness too in many dishes, forming a gooey double layer on the anda masala sandwich, a tandoori-spiced subcontinental disruption of the common egg salad sandwich.

A bubbly Thums Up cola, or any of the three other imported soft drinks, would probably be just the thing to help handle this sort of lactose overload, but I found relief in a cold glass of masala chhaas—a salty, spiced buttermilk. Alternatively one can chew it off with a bundle of pan: betel nut leaves wrapped around candied aromatic fruits and seeds, rose petal preserves, coconut flakes, and dates.

The partners are already dreaming of laying a third midwestern location, incubating the embyro of a potential empire.  v

Eds. note: This story has been updated to correct that Ahmedabad is the former capital.

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