Everybody always talks about food in Chicago, and why shouldn't they? Chicago is known for some pretty awesome food, perhaps most famously for their pizza, and hot dogs.
Chicago pizza is deep dish and there are three main pizzerias that are synonymous with great Chicago-style pizza: Lou Malnati's, Giordanos, and Gino's East. We mean it when we say "deep dish" - the crust is sometimes up to three inches tall at the edge. While most pizzerias also have a thin-crust version for those who don't like to eat their pizza with a fork and knife, when you ask for a Chicago-style pizza, you'll get deep dish.
Legend has it that the Chicago-style pizza was invented at Chicago's Pizzeria Uno in 1943. Who at Uno actually developed the pizza still remains a mystery as there are contradictory stories out there. Rudy Malnati worked at Pizzeria Uno and it is speculated that he invented the deep dish pizza. His son, Lou, went on to open Lou Malnati's which is recognized throughout the city as one of the best pizza joints.
Chicago Dogs are extremely popular as well, and you can pick one up at any number of street vendors. There are a couple restaurants that serve them and serve them well: Gene & Jude's and Portillo's.
A Chicago dog is an all-beef frankfurter served on a poppy seed bun and topped with any combination of the following: a dill pickle, tomatoes, mustard, chopped onions, hot peppers, celery salt, and sweet relish. No matter what you do to it, remember: ketchup has no business going anywhere near a Chicago dog.
But pizza and dogs aren't all that Chicago has to offer. The food scene is replete with any sort of food your heart desires, as you're about to find out.
Meet Chicago local Anupy Singla, an award-winning journalist turned foodie turned author. Her first cookbook "The Indian Slow Cooker" has been the number one best selling Indian Cookbook on Amazon since its release in September 2010. For five years Anupy has been writing about the food scene in Chicago. "Prior to that," she says, "I was a hard news reporter that was obsessed with food - every neighborhood we covered in the live truck was an opportunity to eat."
Anupy comes from a Punjabi family that's passionate about food, and received her first cooking lesson at the age of 10 from her grandfather. "He was so passionate about food - good, spicy, authentic, Indian food, that I was immediately hooked. My mother is also a fantastic cook. She was one of the first in the U.S. to cook Indian food in a slow cooker. I grew up learning how to cook from her as well, and all of her handwritten notes and recipes."
Throughout the past five to ten years Chicago's food scene has evolved, and as Anupy tells us, is now becoming healthier. "The tradition has been solidly about things meat for obvious reasons, but in the past 5-10 years we are seeing a trend towards more vegetarian, healthy, and vegan cooking as well as local produce, and ingredients. There is a ton of awareness now, very chef driven, about where people purchase their produce and meats. There is also a real surge of good mid-tier international fare. I would argue that when I came to Chicago the mid-tier restaurant market was so-so (I know I will get a ton of flack for this), but it's true. The Indian restaurants were so-so, there is very little very good Chinese, etc. But that is now changing, with more and more ethnic fare entering the market."
You don't have to settle for just the same old food anymore. Anupy tells us Italian, Indian, Chinese, Greek, Thai and Vietnamese cuisines are now prominent in Chicago. "West Rogers Park has 'Little India,' Pilsen has amazing Mexican, and, of course, Chinatown has the best Chinese."
The food scene is no longer just about meat, pizza, and dogs. Even nestled among the different ethnic cuisines, a taste for healthy food is becoming more common. "My classes on healthy Indian cooking and spices sell out almost immediately," says Anupy. "One of the newest vegan chains just opened in Chicago and is doing incredibly well, and the largest by square footage Whole Foods in the country is right here in Chicago [in Lincoln Park]."
If going out to eat isn't your thing, whether because you enjoy cooking, or are on a budget, you can still make great healthy food at home. Keep your eyes peeled for Anupy's second book "Vegan Indian Cooking: 140 Simple and Healthy Vegan Recipes" which is due to come out July 2012.