August 20, 2018

Mix and Match

The funny thing about growing up in Chicago is that there are just so many aspects of its culture that we take for granted, not knowing that it’s “a Chicago thing.” Sometimes, they spread to other places around the country and world, but there’s no place quite like home, is there? Here are three foods with origins in the Windy City that you might be familiar with, or maybe not. That is the point, I guess!

  • It’s probably not hard to guess that Chicago mix popcorn comes from the city by the lake, but growing up, it was just a kind of popcorn! Who would have thought that the idea of mixing cheese corn and caramel corn would have seemed so revolutionary to so many people? Garrett’s popcorn is a Chicago specialty that many of our guests go out of their way to visit, and though they’ve been around for more than half a century, they didn’t start making the famous “Chicago mix” until the 1970s and 80s, because it was such a popular concoction among the local regulars.
  • I was never a huge fan of the pizza puff growing up, but I was pretty shocked when I realized the people I met from outside the midwest had never even heard of it! As this Chicago Tribune article from last year discovers, the pizza puff is a strange thing. It’s somewhere in between a calzone, a chimichanga, and a giant pizza roll. Nobody really knows where it came from, but it’s a ubiquitous item on Chicago fast food menus that just about anybody from around here recognizes.
  • Being the hellenophiles that we are, this last one is particularly close to my heart: whenever you go to a Greek restaurant, someone has to get an appetizer of flaming cheese, right? Well, saganaki is certainly Greek, but it’s actually Chicago-Greek! The tradition of flambéing a slice of cheese with lemon juice at the table with the shout of “Opa!” originated at The Parthenon, which was one of the most famous restaurants in Chicago’s Greektown. Sadly, it no longer exists, but nowadays you can get your pyro fix at The Greek Islands or Pegasus. I could probably dedicate a whole post to the Chicago Greek tradition, but I don’t think anything else could match the cultural impact of the simple flaming cheese.

(photo/Chicago Tribune)