Taste Guide

Chicago

Discover the town, one bite at a time

By Sean Stillmaker • The Gourmand

 

There are a handful of cities across America that are named after foods, but only Chicago has both a name and an economic foundation built on agriculture. The place was first called “Shikaakwa”, meaning “smelly onion”, named so in Miami-Illinois, a Native American language, after plants that grew along the Chicago River. The city quickly developed from its foundations, and in the 1830s it became the centre of agriculture for the entire US, as a result of hosting the main railway connector between the East and West Coasts.

 

While the city may be synonymous with deep-dish pizza and the hot dog, Chicago’s chef- and community-driven culinary activities continue to assimilate, modernise and perfect dishes from every corner of the world. Take a stroll through any neighborhood in this city of 2.7 million people and you’ll discover tastes as varied as Korean barbeque and Polish sweets mixed in with local flavours. Just like the vegetable that gave the city its name, Chicago’s food culture is a thing of layers: the more you peel them back, the richer the flavours you’ll discover.

Chicago owes its entire foundation to meatpacking and processing, and beef has helped shape some of Chicago’s most iconic dishes. Famed Baltimore newspaperman HL Mencken coined Chicago’s nickname, the “abattoir by the lake”, just after the turn of the century.

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The word “restaurant” is derived from the French verb “restaurer”, which means, “to restore”. And, indeed, rather than a fleeting fad, sustainability within the food industry has been a growing movement and Chicago’s food industry has continued to...

Immortalised by countless Hollywood set pieces, a central pillar of Chicago’s identity is the speakeasy. Tucked away in alleys, basements and backrooms, these underground establishments were the place to go for illicit booze and general debauchery during the Prohibition years (1920-33)....

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