Sampling the Holidays
Signs of the season in East Ann Arbor
by M.B. Lewis
If you believe every day is a holiday somewhere in the world, you can begin to prove your case along both sides of three blocks of Packard just past Platt. The area in what old-time Ann Arborites call East Ann Arbor is now our most concentrated ethnically diverse commercial hub. In a drive-by, your eyes could land on big marquees for Achilles Greek-style diner, Makkara "sushi to go," or Bombay Grocers (and purveyors of videos, statuettes, bangles, and other jewels of India).
If you're passing at night in December--or even just late afternoon on these shortest days of the year--your eyes might be drawn to some flashing light displays. The famous Italian chain (Little Caesars, ha-ha-ha) will likely make a big bright splash, as will Banfield's Bar & Grill and the front window of Golam Produce Market.
Christmas? Mostly, except the folks inside Golam say they keep the twinkly lights strung all year. They don't plan for fuss or rush in December, at least not any more than they experience at the end of every week when familiar customers come in for choice halal roasts (from animals slaughtered in accordance with Islamic law). A good weekend meal with the family is the best definition of "holiday," a small cluster of folks around the merchandise-crowded checkout counter seemed to agree.
Galleria Asian Market a few doors down has plans to put out a few Christmas decorations and gift displays amid its mostly Korean and Japanese groceries and household wares, but not a big production. As of mid-November, prime display shelves front and center in the massive store were lined with giant bow-wrapped boxes of a confection of some sort. Look closer and see, ah yes, they're the long thin candied-topped cookie sticks known in Japan by the tradename Pocky and in South Korea as Pepero. Apparently, in the last couple of decades the sticks have earned their own eponymous holiday in South Korea. Pepero Day is celebrated on November 11
because "11/11" looks like sticks--and because who doesn't need another Valentine's Day sort of celebration to warm up on a few months early?
Straight across the street, Euro Market had already hung a few artificial green garlands inside by early November. Bright babushka-painted nesting dolls, starting at $10, beckoned from stacked shelves, calling for an immediate plunge into Christmas shopping. The lanky cashier shrugged when asked what other special somethings might make the long trip over from Russia to warm the hearts of expats. Wine and candy were all he could come up with as popular sales items of the season. Indeed, the long thin store displayed a big wall of each. Also worth a gander: yummy-looking preserved vegetables, exotic teas, and Russian magazines.
A block further east, Tmaz Taqueria and Bakery proprietor Cesar Hervert bounced with the excitement of celebrating his first Christmas in business with as big a Mexican-style posadafestival as his customers ask for. "I've ordered the pinatas and candies already," he explained. He's also planning to bake up batches of holiday cakes and cookies, starting right after Thanksgiving. When asked to describe those special baked goods in detail, he paused. "They're decorated," he said. He then added, in helpful tone, "for Christmas?" Might require a trip back at the right time to get the full picture.
Meanwhile, over at Hut-K Chaats, the transcendent purveyor of health-conscious Indian street food that has been a hit since Day One on Packard and also at Mark's Carts downtown in the summer, smiling co-owner Sumi Bhojani shook her head slowly when asked if there was anything special planned for Christmas. She indicated that Diwali, the Indian festival of lights, might inspire a bit of activity on November 13--but no promises.
Would Hut-K even be open on Christmas Day? I asked this after putting away a light but filling meal of grains swathed in chutneys and resonating of mint, ginger, and tamarind. A tiny sample-spoon taste of coconut ice cream made me want to settle in and keep tasting the mango, pomegranate, and pineapple flavors.
Sumi shrugged her shoulders. "Christmas will be what day of the week?" she asked. I pulled up a calendar on my phone and pointed to Tuesday. "We are always closed on Monday," she said. "So we will have to see."
Note to self: Check back. Exiting the quiet little shop, I realized that fresh red peppers and cilantro may be just the red and green I will long for come December 25.
[Originally published in December, 2012.]