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The Family House - Myanmar & Malaysian Cuisine in Chicago

 

The Family House - 2305 W Devon Ave, Chicago

The Family House
2305 W. Devon Avenue
(773) 856-0192

In researching Rohingya refugee resettlement in Rogers Park, I stumbled across a fun fact. One enterprising family of Rohingya refugees has pursued their version of the American Dream by opening a restaurant on Devon Avenue. This restaurant – aptly named The Family House – enjoys the distinction of being the first and, so far, only restaurant in Chicago to feature Burmese cuisine.

So, I decided to check it out with a few of my RPBG friends, including Tom and Peg Heineman, Mike Glasser and Sher Rosenberg. Wouldn’t you know it, Mike knew all about the restaurant and the family that opened it. In fact, for a year, Mike was a volunteer soccer coach to a team of Rohingya refugee kids that included a young man named Abu Said, who is the son of the couple who opened the restaurant. (Mike took a particularly strong liking to him when he learned that they share a birthday!) He was also our waiter for the evening, which is, very much, a family affair. 

(Steve: Abu Said is not the guy who witnessed the tragic slaying of his mother.)

The Family House actually combines Burmese and Malaysian cuisines. Both are prominently featured on the menu. The advantage of going with a bigger group is that you get to try lots of things. Some of the dishes we ordered included Mohinga and Ohn No Khao Suve – both Burmese specialties – and Nasi Ayan, the national dish of Malaysia. We tried three different soups, including the delicate and delicious Ox Tail. We ordered beef and chicken satay, and went out on a limb and tried the Tea Leaf Salad.

We found a few of these dishes to be a bit more challenging for western tastes. Others have become familiar to Midwesterners, or at least the more adventuresome among us who love the endless variety of ethnic cuisines that Chicago has to offer. The food at The Family House is similar to the more familiar cuisines of Thailand or China, but different enough to have its own unique appeal. The popular favorites for our group were the beef and chicken satays and the Ox Tail soup. The other dishes ranged from mostly winners to split decisions. 

Abu Said and Mike

During the course of the evening, Mike told us a lot about our waiter and the other young Rohingya boys (aged 14 – 18) he worked with on the soccer team. It turns out, Abu Said is a student at Sullivan High School and is doing very well there. Mike said that, in his experience, not all of the young men on the soccer team are doing as well. The Rohingya are a rural people and do not have the tradition of educational attainment nor the existence of a professional class that some other immigrant groups bring with them to the United States. Combined with all of the other challenges that starting lives in a new country entail – including learning English, navigating a big city, and adapting to new traditions – many young Rohingya have a difficult time fully embracing school as a key tool in building better lives and more successful futures.

Mike became aware of these struggles during his time as soccer coach and actually arranged for several of the teammates to be transferred to Sullivan, which has had such great success with immigrant and refugee students. The results have been mixed. While Abu Said is flourishing, some of his teammates are still struggling, with higher rates of absenteeism and other problems.

It's nice when we can end a story with a “happily ever after.” That doesn’t always work. What we can say is, The Family House is one family’s effort to create new lives and a new future in a strange, new land. The refugee experience in America is filled with challenges and difficulties. But there is no doubt the Rohingya in Chicago know that, however difficult their new lives may be, they are now far better off than they would have been in Burma, a country that made their lives unbearable, or in a refugee camp in Bangladesh.

Whatever the negatives, the Rohingya of Chicago are the lucky ones to have made it out. Integrating into their new country is a work in progress. Go have dinner at The Family House and see for yourself. You will enjoy the experience. If you’re lucky, you may get to meet Abu Said in person. And while you’re there, be sure to wish him well at Sullivan and congratulate him on his hard work and success.

And, if its December 16th, wish him a happy birthday!

 



 

 

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  • PO BOX 608492, Chicago, IL 60660
  • (773) 728-9900

 

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