The West Side Story is an American staple , a innovative take on Romeo and Juliet with the gorgeous city of New York as the backdrop . A musical which is a feast for the eyes and ears and indeed the the beating heart of any human being . I believe that even the English language is not a necessity for enjoying the movie or the play . But today , we are going to visit the West Side Market , Cleveland’s open air market on W25 street , not too far from the Cleveland Hopkins airport and yet close enough to the vibrant western suburbs of Cleveland.Supposedly the market dates back to 1840 . Astonishing considering that the city of Cleveland came into existence in the late 1700s .
Like most kids , growing up I looked up to my dad , anything that he said was gospel and sacrosanct . Proving my loyalty to him seemed more important to me as compared to my friends . I have wondered about it as time has passed by , I hypothesize that it was because he was a single parent or perhaps that is the prerogative of the elder child . His tastes were faithfully mimicked , his love of Shakespeare and Milton and Dryden has invoked the same in me, his favorite foods seemed to become my favorite food irrespective of what my tastes told me. I had always had a sweet tooth but he loved fiery spicy food and I faithfully followed the dictum that spicy food is for real men and sweets are for wimps . I even adopted his favorite music , music that he had listened to as a teenager , music tastes that I defended against my contemporaries to the point where we would come to blows . When he was diagnosed with diabetes , he was forced to stop taking sugar in his tea . Being deprived of the simple pleasure of sugar in tea was probably the worst punishment that providence could have inflicted on him . Tea in India is served with sugar and milk , sweet and syrupy , a delicious concoction of caffeine and sugar; the killer combination that the Coca Cola company has leveraged for the last 100+ years. So when he stopped taking sugar in his tea , I stopped as well . Part of me was stricken by his plight, the tea that he loved so much , that he could not do without was suddenly something that he seemed to hate and I wanted to experience his pain. Looking back at my experience, it is perhaps a tad bit ironical that I have completely switched to black tea and black coffee for no other reason other than realizing that to truly enjoy the taste of coffee and tea, one has to avoid the trappings of sugar and milky fats . Coming back to my father, everything that he said was gospel to me. Whilst growing up , he would tell me stories of his youth , when I was younger , I used to find it entertaining , now I realize that he was reliving the days of his youth. I also understand now that my mother’s death was harder on him that I realized at the time and I was his only channel at semi adult conversations or the only one who would listen to him reciting Shakespeare sonnets or verses from Milton or Dryden or reliving his childhood in Chennai. My sister has no recollection of any of that , but she likes to remind me that she is a whole 5 years younger than me so she has been deprived of all the wonderful memories bequeathed to me by our parents . He loved to tell me these stories of him shopping as a kid , and how he loved to bargain with the shopkeepers when he was not even 10 . The shopkeepers considered him a mini terror and hated bargaining and wheedling with him ;it is perhaps another one of the great ironies of my life that I absolutely hate bargaining . I don’t even bargain in places like China where I am expected to bargain and leave the shopkeepers disgusted , bemused and presumably richer. One of the stories that he liked to tell was about the size of prawns that he would get in Chennai . He claimed that they were as large as his fists and he also said that these days , according to him those prawns are exported so we never see them in any marketplace in India. I had bought into that hook , line and sinker but as time passed , scales fall from our eyes and realization sets in that perhaps parents are human and have feet of clay. The realization that there are no damned prawns the size of fists and my dad was exaggerating firmly took root. Dont get me wrong, I loved my dad and had the greatest reverence for him and some of the same loyalty was still lurking not too far from the surface but I also imagined that a lot of his stories were just that, stories.
I had moved to California from Ohio two years ago . Ohio was a wonderful place to live , settle down . People like to poke fun at me , especially in the Bay area and in New York where there seems to be general condescension for the rest of the country. But I had a great time and if I have any regrets, it is that I did not soak in everything that Ohio had to offer more enthusiastically. I did not travel to see the museum of Aviation in Dayton , nor did I hang around the riverside in Cincinatti or check out what used to be the glass capital of the world , Toledo nor did I spend any great length of time in what used to be the Rubber capital of the world , Akron. It was only in the last few months that I went to see the Rock and Roll Hall of fame . It is a tad bit sad considering how much I love hard rock and metal . The Rock and Roll hall of fame is designed like the Louvre in Paris , inside it lists the history and etymology of music . One of my cousins who is extremely talented in terms of music , explained to me how the layout and etymology made perfect sense to him , how the gospels did inspire soul and R&B and eventually Rock and Roll and hard rock . It was a fascinating and delightful journey into the world of music .
But I have always had a delightful time at the West Side market on W25 st in Cleveland . I have looked at the West side market as a one stop shop for fruits , vegetables , cheese , spices , meats , pasta , oils and pastries and snacks. Not too far from the Westside market is another Cleveland treasure that one should not miss . The Great Lakes Brewing Company !! it is a microbrewery with very high quality beers and a restaurant that serves delicious American fare. One of the primary advantages of visiting a micro brewery is that you get samplers . A sampler platter of 6-9 beers served in shot glasses . An elegant way to sample all the deliciousness that the brewery has to offer without getting drunk.
While I was living in Wooster , the nearest Indian grocery store was in Cleveland which was 60 miles away. When I would go to get the so called essentials , I would swing by the west side market . Sometimes I did not even buy anything , just indulge in the pleasure of browsing . Growing up in India had me accustomed to open air markets and Singapore and the US had no parallels . The West Side market had an open air vegetable and fruit market and then inside a immense building was a treasure trove of culinary shopping . Mind you, I hate shopping with a passion even today with the exception of shopping for food , the more exotic, the more I delight in it . After shopping for fruits and veggies , I would go inside and talk to the pretty girl who was selling flavored Italian oils and learn how to make it myself , the Lebanese butcher who sold lamb and goat meat , the local farmers who would sell choice cuts of veal and steaks and porkchops. The sausage store that sold kielbasa , Chorizo ,Andouille , Bratwursts , Italian sausages flavored with sweet fennel and just regular sausage flavored with sagebrush . The cheese store was a delight , Gouda with its smoky sweetness , Havarti with the delicious astringent crunchiness of caraway seeds, soft Brie that one could spread like butter on toast, delicious English cheese like Stiltons , goat cheese , mozzarella , Parmigiana – Romano and many many more . There were several bakeries with more pastries than I could name and recognize . One of my regular stops was the Italian pasta shop where I would buy fresh Fettuccine and fresh Ravioli for my stepchildren , they loved my Fettuccine Alfredo and Zuppa Toscana and Chicken Marsala. At the center was a spice store that one could find just about anything that one craved for , no matter what the origin was. The proprietor loved spices , spices were her life and the intimate knowledge of what ties in with which entree was something that she could effortlessly calculate in her head , it reminds me of accountants who could effortlessly calculate interest rates and calculate what your PMI is or what you would pay over the course of 20 years, most people would find it boring but I find the ease with which they proceed to be a delight. This woman was like that , she was the London cab driver of spices . She was white but she could correct me as to what I would need for Indian recipes . One could spend a whole day here and not get bored . Away from all of this hustle and bustle was a vestibule that led to a small section of the building . In here was the fish market , one could find grouper , Mahi Mahi , Freshwater bass , trouts , eels , even Pomfret from India . The first time that I was here , I looked at each fish and grilled the Russian proprietor at length . However I was puzzled about this hunk of meat that vaguely looked like a prawn but it was enormous , probably bigger than my fist . The texture was slimy , reminded me of prawns and shrimp . The color did too . After admiring it for a few minutes , I asked the Russian proprietor again as to what this mystery animal was . He looks at me with a sly grin and says in a thick Russian accent “Prawns” . I wonder where they could be getting these enormous prawns from so I ask him “Where are they from ?” . His sly grin grew broader and he said “Well from India , of course” . To say that I was stunned would be an understatement . As I walked back to my car with my fresh fettuccine and Ravioli and lamb chops . I silently apologized to my dear departed father for doubting him in the first place , an apology that was perhaps 10 years too late to matter .