My dad and I are twin flames in almost every way — aside from his severely selective memory. Though he can’t recall what he ate for breakfast, his ability to dredge up random facts from decades earlier remains unscathed.

A former Kellogg Wildcat, I made sure to ask my dad for restaurant recommendations before embarking cross country this past September. I hoped to visit the places he frequented when he too studied in Deering and explored the Evanston area, granted they survived the pressures of the pandemic.

Experiencing the flavors that defined my dad’s time at NU was a way for us to remain connected, despite the 800 mile distance now separating me from our home in New York City.

Without hesitation, he gave me the name of his favorite Indian restaurant: Ghareeb Nawaz. His enthusiasm twenty-five years later was a clear indication for me to try whatever the Devon Avenue location had to offer.

What I found after dining on the perfect paratha and kababs was not just my new go-to Indian food spot, but a lifeline to the comforts of my culture amidst unfamiliar terrain.

My meal at Ghareeb Nawaz served as a reminder that food is far more than what is on the plate. Every bite brought me closer to the comforts of home and opened me up to a community of students who similarly use the menu to remain tethered to their identity.

Ghareeb Nawaz is renowned among South Asian students and the greater Chicago-Evanston area for its adherence to authentic Indian flavors. Since opening in 1993, the family owned-and-operated restaurant has never failed to provide hefty servings of biryani, curry and kababs at a fair price. It seemed everyone knew the food and long-time owner Muhammed “Bashir” Bozai. 

In the midst of a particularly stressful midterms week, I decided to treat myself with a trip downtown to Devon Avenue. At that moment, all I needed was a taste of home. After an unnecessarily confusing stint on the CTA (the New York City subway system will always reign supreme), I stepped off the L right into the heart of Little India.

I immediately felt at ease. All down Devon, restaurant owners, street vendors and dozens of families exchanged familial embraces and lovingly complained about their impending post-meal food comas. I walked into Ghareeb Nawaz, my excitement bubbling over, and grabbed a seat and a menu. Despite having already scoured the offerings online, I couldn’t resist another glance at the long list of traditional Indian dishes.

Small details from my meal at Ghareeb Nawaz seemed familiar, from conversing with my sociable waiter about my progress in school (much like a relative would inquire about my studies) to the extensive menu which captured all my favorite comfort foods.

After restudying the menu, I finally chose the Chicken Shami Kabab Paratha for lunch. When, fifteen minutes later, my piping hot plate arrived, I swear the world stopped short.

I knew in an instant I had made the right decision. The paratha, an Indian-style flatbread habitually served across Southeast Asia, boasted an impeccably crispy top and a soft center. Warm and lightly browned, the bread complimented the tender meat of the grilled Chicken Shami Kabab, scores above any dining hall rendition.

While the food exceeded all my expectations, the best part of my incredible $8 meal (tip included!) were the connections I made with the Ghareeb Nawaz employees based on our common cultural background.

The rumors I heard from other students rang true: eating at Ghareeb Nawaz was akin to visiting your favorite relative.

I learned from my server about his family and took in all the life advice he had to offer. To remedy my nerves, he recommended the best “brain foods” to help me ace my midterms. He pointed out his favorite dishes on the menu, insisting I order the Gobi Biryani the next time I stopped in. Surrounded by his warmth, I could have just as easily been talking to extended family members around my kitchen table.

Not much has changed at Ghareeb Nawaz since my dad sat down to eat twenty-five years ago, but it is easy to see why the location stuck with him. The excellent food is amplified by the incredible community created by the restaurant on and around Devon Avenue.

It seems for both my dad and me, Ghareeb Nawaz provided an escape from the buzz of school, and a reminder of how meaningful a good meal can be. As an Indian-American student learning to adjust to college life, I speak from experience in saying: when you’re at Ghareeb Nawaz, you’re home.