In the food industry, Chicago was originally famous for meatpacking. The portrait painted by Upton Sinclair in his 1906 classic The Jungle was downright terrifying. Luckily as a country, we have come a long way in the past century in regards to food safety and workers rights and Chicago is now known for some fun food. Here are six quintessential Chicago foods that we absolutely love.
Deep Dish Chicago-Style Pizza. This is not a pizza for the faint of heart, or people who like shallow pans. In deep pans, ample amounts of cheese, tomato sauce with thick chunks, and other yummy toppings can be applied liberally and still be supported by the sturdy crust. Chicago may have not invented pizza, but we reinvented it. And while there are many great pizza places in Chicago, the rest of the country–and the world–has taken notice as deep dish Chicago pizza can be found throughout the United States, and across the globe.
Italian Beef Sandwich. Philadelphia has its cheese steak. We have our Italian beef sandwich. Thinly sliced roast beef on an Italian roll dipped in the au jus of the meat–you just can’t beat it. Top it off with hot and sweet peppers and you have a super filling sandwich. There are many stories of how this sandwich came to be, but one story is that the thinly sliced meat was devised to serve more people in the early 1900s and it was later realized that the thin slices just tasted better. We love this brilliant Chicago delicacy.
Chicago Red Hot. You take a poppy seed bun and steam it. Then you put an all-beef frank on it. Then begins the array of toppings. First, squirt on the yellow mustard. Then add the chopped white onions, relish, tomato wedges, a dill pickle spear, hot peppers, and just a little celery salt. The big thing: no ketchup. (You can tell right away someone is an impostor if they try putting ketchup on your Chicago Red Hot.) The Chicago Red Hots is the name of our amateur roller derby team and of course everyone likes a dog at a baseball game–just like the next item on our list…
Cracker Jack. Without Chicago there would be not Cracker Jack and without Cracker Jack, how would be sing “Take Me Out To The Ballgame?” This snack was first introduced to the public at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. As the aforementioned song was written in 1908, Cracker Jacks became a mainstay in ballparks. In 1912 they begin putting the famous mystery toy in each box. Some experts consider Cracker Jack the first junk food. We won’t argue that point here, but it certainly is an American classic–and not the last junk food item on our list!
The Twinkie. Not everyone likes this spongy, creme-filled packaged dessert, but almost everybody knows what it is. And it boasts a cult-like following that sent prices soaring online when Hostess declared bankrupty in 2012, causing a massive Twinkie shortage until July 2013 when Twinkies were made again. Chicago-native (well, specifically of the Schiller Park suburb) James Dewar probably could have never guessed the phenomenon he sparked when he invented the masterpiece back in 1930.
Pizza Puff. This is basically a miniature, wrapped, deep-fried pizza with a gyro twist. Sold all over Chicago, the pizza puff may be the “small plate” of street vendor foods as they typically cost a couple bucks (though it might take more than one to satisfy). A good snack but definitely not one to make a regular habit of.
BONUS: We said six classic Chicago foods, yes, but we couldn’t end our list without including this Chicago classic which isn’t quite a food but is something you chew on…
Wrigley Gum. Wrigley Gum is iconic and is Chicago. Not only is Wrigley Gum known nationally and internationally on its own right. Everyone knows Wrigley Field and Wrigley gum began in 1892 when chewing gum with packaged with each can of baking powder (and the company eventually pivoted away from their less popular product to produce gum only). Something to chew on, also from Chicago!
You are probably hungry now, what Chicago food will you be eating?