Vik's, Berkeley

Last stop on the road trip: home. Home as in where my parents now live, which is not exactly home since I didn’t grow up in their current house, but a kind of home since that’s where the ‘rents live. I guess I’m making that more complicated than necessary, but home is a special place for me, something I write a lot about. It’s more a state of mind, I guess.

Berkeley has been home for me, as both an actual place to live and a state of mind. Some heavy life shit has gone down in Berkeley for me. It’s a weird place, a place where my teenage memories merge into my young adult, mid-twenties memories, and now a place I have a completely different opinion about. Take Fourth Street. Uh, wow.

I should tell you that I grew up in the East Bay in the eighties. I later lived in Oakland, Berkeley, and the city in the mid-nineties. And I’m sure everyone says this, but trust us that it was a very different place then. Or was it? Seems like I get older and it’s either that shit changes dramatically, or I’m just getting older. For example, you used to be able to drive around Berkeley. Now? Forget it. I distinctly remember when it suddenly started taking forty minutes to drive from the south side of town to the north side. I am also of the pre-fire generation. I have fond memories of driving Tunnel Road beneath the tree canopy. Now it’s like a Big Box builder threw up on the hillsides. So it goes.

Forgive this incredibly roundabout way of talking about Vik’s, an inconspicuous Indian chaat place, a stone’s throw from Berkeley’s most obnoxious? pretentious? non-Berkeley neighborhood, the Fourth Street area. I could go on about that, but I’ll spare you.

So what is chaat? It’s Indian snack food, fried things, street food, little plates. All of those things. I should also mention that Indian is one of my favorite cuisines and about the easiest for the food-allergic. You’ll be seeing lots of posts here about Indian food.

Anyway, I took my family to Vik’s for lunch on a weekday. This included my parents, who are both around seventy, and my oldest sister and her children–one a teenager and the other a pre-teen. As soon as we walked in, I expected the outing to be a complete flop.

Vik’s is an incredibly chaotic and bustling place. Picture large painting-like menus painted on the walls, people everywhere, dirty tables, chairs akimbo, and loud overhead speakers calling out diners’ names to let them know their food is waiting at the miles long pick-up counter. Your sense of what each dish might be or taste like is completely muddled by all this activity. You can’t focus. You just want whatever smells so damn good.

I figured my relations would wimp out and want to go to McDonald’s. But I forget that they’re actually pretty good sports. They told me to just order a bunch of things–bring them food basically–and I was happy to oblige. I brought mango lassis, chais, and several plates of cholles, samosas, vadas, an enormous (gluten-free) dosa, and a seriously gigantic puri, the size of a hat box. Lots and lots of food, followed by several selections from the insane barfi case. Grand total? $48.

The best part, my family really liked it.

I could probably live off Vik’s if I ever moved back to Berkeley. It’s so cheap, so good, and so fast, it just can’t be beat.

Ah, home.


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