Southern fried chicken and mysore pak. Sometimes going home again is sad. Sometimes it’s delicious!
My parents and I moved from Wisconsin to Georgia when I was nine. Culture shock is an understatement. Milwaukee is one of the most segregated cities in the country. My high school, on the other hand, was the most or one of the most diverse in Georgia.
Milwaukee is a food town, for sure. One can feast on Italian and Greek food, as well as German and Slavic food. Thanks to the large Catholic community, most restaurants serve a delicious Friday night fish fry, as well.
Atlanta, when I lived there, wasn’t so foody. Large chains dominated the landscape; growing up, I’d say my favorite restaurant was Bennigan’s. But fried chicken, oh, the fried chicken.
When I was in fourth grade, my upstairs neighbor would take her daughter, me, and another girl in our apartment building out for breakfast to Mrs. Winner’s Chicken and Biscuits. Mrs. Winner’s. A haven of heavenly fried chicken, potato triangles, and flaky biscuits.
I mean, it was nothing special in that it was just a fast-food restaurant. There were many all over town, along with Popeye’s, Church’s, and KFC. But it was one of the first new experiences of my Georgian life. I miss their red boxes of chicken.
I Googled them today. No.
The company filed for bankruptcy and the name has been changed to Umphey’s.
How can one eat at a place called Umphey’s?
I am preparing Indian food for a party this week, and I needed some special ingredients. There is a large Indian community, served by half a dozen grocery stores, about 30 minutes away from where I live now. One website included a photo of mysore pak.
When I was 11 or 12, my good friend invited me to join her family for a Diwali celebration, a Hindu festival that usually occurs in the fall. I was excited to attend. She let me borrow some clothes: a purple salwar kameez. I felt so beautiful! At the community center where it was held, the adults ate Indian food and we kids ate pizza. But there was a large table of Indian desserts.
I ate something, a small square of sugary something. My friend, alas, didn’t know what it was called. “It’s a sweet,” she said.
As an adult, I scoured the Internet, and my best guess is what I had is mysore pak, which is made from ghee, sugar, and chickpea flour. I tried and failed to make some at home. I’ve never seen it for sale or on any menu.
So! Off to the grocery stores. The last store of the day, by which point I’d gotten everything (chutney, black salt, chaat masala, etc.), was the one with the picture of mysore pak on its website. I walked all throughout the quiet store, but didn’t see it. I decided not to get anything, and had already said goodbye to the cashier when I happened to look down and –
A small table, just inside the door, piled with mysore pak, and barfi, and other desserts. I had almost missed it! I grabbed a box and happily paid and ate a piece in the car.
I remember the one I had as a kid as being sweeter, much sweeter. But otherwise, this was it. This was the dessert I’d been thinking about for more than 15 years.