The Cuisine of Illinois
The Cuisine of Illinois
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Flavors of the USA

A Culinary Journey through Illinois

Illinois is found in the midwestern heartland of the US, a melting pot of cultures crisscrossed by navigable waterways and dotted with hilly countryside, immense forests and beaches.

The most popular destination is Chicago, but Illinois also lays claim to the Cahokia Mounds, the largest American Indian cemetery in the US, delightful little towns bordering the Mississippi, the restored mining town of Galena, Shawnee National Forest, and Springfield, the state capital and adopted home of the 16th president, Abraham Lincoln.

If you go through Springfield, don't miss trying a "horseshoe," an open-face sandwich consisting of toasted bread, a burger patty, a mountain of French fries and melted cheese. You likely won't find it anywhere except within a 70 km radius of the city.

For many people, Chicago still evokes images of prohibition, the violent days of organized crime and mythic figures like Frank Nitti, Bugs Moran and Al Capone. Chicago gangsters took advantage of their proximity to Canada to smuggle in shipments of contraband liquor. Downtown Chicago, the original business district surrounded by the "El," actually extends to the area between the north and south arms of the Chicago River, Congress Parkway to the south, and the shore of Lake Michigan to the east. It centres around Michigan Avenue in the north, where the most elegant section is known as the "Magnificent Mile," retail State Street, and LaSalle Street, home to the financial district. When it comes to food, the city offers a wide array of specialties, the most famous of which is certainly Chicago-style deep-dish pizza (see recipe), although Chicago-style thin-crust has also become popular. The original deep-dish pizza was invented in 1943 at Pizzeria Uno, which still exists, along with its twin, Pizzeria Due. You'll also find authentic deep-dish pizza at Giordano's and Original Gino's East.

The Chicago-style hotdog is an integral part of sports events, whether you're a Black Hawks hockey fan or Bulls basketball fan: it's a pure beef Vienna sausage with all the toppings: neon green relish, yellow mustard, pickled peppers, tomatoes, a dill pickle wedge and celery salt. However, that American essential, ketchup is generally frowned upon. 

Chicago was built by the working class, so it's no surprise that its specialties centre around multiethnic fast food. Everywhere you'll find the Italian beef sandwich: thinly sliced beef au jus served on a round Italian roll with sweet peppers or hot pickled vegetables, and the Maxwell Street Polish sandwich: kielbasa with grilled onions, sweet mustard and peppers. Puerto Ricans have contributed their jibarito, a sandwich in which grilled plantain takes the place of bread, and Greeks have won Chicago over with their saganaki, a fried cheese snack. But these are, for the most part, dishes you won't find in the homelands of their contributors: they're creations inspired by or Americanized in the great melting pot.  

Chicago is not just fast food, however. It boasts a number of internationally-renowned chefs, including Charlie Trotter, Rick Tramonto, Jean Joho, Grant Achatz, and Rick Bayless.

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