By Susan Eleuterio
As in all cities, food exists on multiple levels in Chicago:
As a symbol of the city, rooted in folk tradition and in the local palate but also used for promotion, tourism and almost a cliché at times. “Chicago style” hot dogs and deep dish pizza fall into this category. A “Chicago” style hot dog is served with yellow mustard, onion, pickles, peppers , sweet pickle relish, tomato and celery salt but on a poppy seed bun and never with ketchup. Culinary historians such as Chicago’s Bruce Kraig trace the hot dog to German and Jewish immigrants who brought recipes and methods for making sausage and religious customs of not using pork resulting in the all beef Chicago dog.
As the nearly unlimited variety of cuisines, ingredients, styles of cooking and eating that come with a multi ethnic/multi racial/multi class population in a large urban center. I’ve made a word cloud of just some of the examples of this level and included a photo of a new trend; the city bar or pub which serves gourmet food.. (Full disclosure, “Stout” is managed partially by one of my sons. )
And finally, and more recently, as a product at farmer’s markets, grown at urban farms and gardens, including city rooftop beehives and on a more personal level, in small garden plots in various neighborhoods and back yards.
Food is also found in near obscene abundance at gourmet restaurants, national chain grocery stores, and for those who can afford it while the variety and quality of food for others is limited and in many cases , almost unaffordable.
Local food banks reported last year that people in the Chicago metro area were being forced to choose between paying rent or mortgage and food and were showing up in greater and greater numbers to get free or reduced food. The Greater Chicago Food Depository “distributed more than 69 million pounds of nonperishable food and fresh produce,” last year in Chicago, with almost half of it donated from local companies, grocery stores and markets.
I’ve included a photo of one of the oldest hot dog vendors still existing near Maxwell Street, a historic area which served as a Sunday morning market for decades until it was eliminated and gentrified by the University of Illinois at Chicago and the City in 2000 (the market was moved to a nearby area but those of us in the know feel it’s never been the same.) complete with historic markers, which describe the old market and celebrate the early development of the Chicago hot dog. The hot dog pictured here is not quite traditional since it has no tomatoes or pickles but it was delicious nonetheless.