Food halls — with many customers using communal seating — aren’t exactly designed to be comfortable for pandemic dining, but Politan Row in West Loop is giving it a try outdoors. The food hall, which neighbors McDonald’s Randolph Street corporate headquarters, has utilized its patio for pop-ups, trying out new ideas. One of those debuted this week when the team being Wazwan Supper Club unveiled a halal ramen pop-up called Oyaji.
Wazwan is a modern Indian restaurant that had a stall inside Politan before the pandemic. The food hall’s lineup is influx. The owners of Thattu, an acclaimed restaurant that focuses on the cuisine of the Indian coastal state of Kerala, has already announced its departure. The owners of another stall — Bumbu Roux — which is now Chicago’s only Indonesian restaurant after Rickshaw Republic closed earlier this month in Lincoln Park, has continued with a ghost kitchen. No one is quite sure of what Politan Row will look like upon a reopening.
That leaves Wazwan owner Zubair Mohajir some leeway to experiment on the food hall’s patio. Mohajir, along with GT Fish & Oyster executive sous chef Chris O’Connor and partner Pia Polizzi (Girl & the Goat), decided to pool their talents. O’Connor worked at Stephanie Izard’s Duck Duck Goat Chinese restaurant and has a fondness for noodle making. He’s travel to Japan to familiarize himself with the cuisine. Polizzi honed her butchering skills while also working for Izard. She’s also an expert noodle maker and will handle those duties at Oyaji.
The butchering skills are key for ramen, which uses a broth traditionally powered by pork bones. As Oyaji is halal, pork bones won’t work. Instead, they’ll use chicken bones in the broth. Chicken-based ramen isn’t new in Chicago. Just down the street on Fulton Market, Ramen Takeya specializes in toripaitan, which is made from chicken bones and gives of a lighter flavor compared to rich tonkotsu made with pork.
View this post on Instagram
We have been working on something really dear to our hearts. Halal Ramen done the RIGHT way with the attention to detail to pay respect to the tradition has never been something anyone wanted to take on. Enter the team @wazwanchicago welcoming @topher_oconnor and @pp___ to work together on something so special we are so thrilled to finally announce. We would like to introduce you to Oyaji Ramen. Traditional Techniques coupled with ALL halal ingredients every step of the way. Stay tuned for upcoming launch and pop up dates in July. We look forward to serving you.
Mohajir, who last year hosted a pop-up that served smoked halal brisket and bacon made of beef, is learning the ramen ropes. The pop-up proved there’s a hunger for non-traditional halal dishes. Lines were out the door. Many times at the I Heart Halal Festival, the annual gathering in Navy Pier, the longest lines are generated by stalls serving halal versions of Americanized fast food.
Oyaji will serve a halal shio ramen with marinated chicken. Mohajir explains that the chicken replaces char siu. They debone the chicken and brine it for nine hours while wrapped in skin. Then they sous vide the meat for two hours before deep frying.
There’s also a vegetarian shoyu option with mushroom broth. Wazwan is also doing a Japanese karaage version of its signature tandoori honey fried chicken. Rounding out the menu is an okonomiyaki that swaps pork bacon out with the aforementioned beef bacon.
The pop-up is just one way Mohajir is experimenting during the pandemic as Wazwan has continued with a ghost kitchen with the food hall closed to on-premise dining. Mohajir is trying to position Wazwan to be an umbrella company for several different concepts, with halal ramen being one of them.
Check out the menu below. The pop-up will go through Sunday.
Oyaji pop-up, going through Sunday outside Politan Row, 111 N. Aberdeen Street, open 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Friday; noon to 9 p.m. on Saturday; and noon to 7 p.m. on Sunday.