Mother-in-Law and Pizza Puff, two foods invented in Chicago

There are lots of foods in this city that may be news to you. The Jim Shoe, Sweet Steak, and the Mother-in-Law. Sound familiar? Probably not. But they’re all listed – and their stories recounted – in a book that launches on March 21. This book is entitled “Made in Chicago: Stories Behind 30 Great Hometown Bites,” and it’s by Monica Eng and David Hammond, published by the University of Illinois Press.


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Here are some truths about our city that become self-evident when reading “Made in Chicago.”


Chicago is a hugely creative food town. We’re not talking about James Beard award-winning chefs and Michelin starred restaurants, though those people and places are usually full of creativity. Rather, this book recounts the creativity of small mom n’ pop places, sometimes hanging on by their fingernails yet still finding ways to make food you won’t’ find anywhere else. This is hyper-local chow for the immediate population, food beloved by locals. Take the Jim shoe, a food probably created on the spur of the moment to satisfy a stoned customer who said he just wanted “a lot of meat.” The owner of the restaurant asked if he’d eat a lot of meat stuffed into a gym shoe. The guy confirmed he’d be fine eating a lot of meat in a gym shoe, and that’s what a Jim Shoe is: corned beef, gyros, and sliced beef on a bun, slathered with tzatziki sauce. This is culinary creativity for under ten bucks. The Jim Shoe is available throughout the south side.

 Home of the Hoagie

Chicago is a divided city. The divisions in our city are obvious when you look at the foods of the north side and the south side of Chicago. On the north side are the internationally known restaurants, like Alinea, Ever, Girl and the Goat and many others. On the south side are foods enjoyed and beloved only on the south side. Take the Sweet Steak Sandwich, for instance, a sub of chopped beef, pickles, hot peppers, cheese, tomatoes, and mild sauce. One Saturday at Home of the Hoagie in Morgan Park, there was a ninety-minute wait for a Sweet Steak Sandwich, a massive fistful of food virtually unknown on the north side. This book encourages readers to journey to new parts of the city and enjoy food they’ve never had before and maybe, in just a very small way, bring our divided city a teensy bit closer together.


Chicago cooks have invented some entertaining food. The Mother-in-Law is a sandwich composed of a Chicago corn roll tamale in a poppy seed hot dog bun, covered in chili, and dressed kind of like a Chicago hot dog, with chopped onions and sport peppers. Anthony Bourdain pronounced this sandwich “Perhaps the greatest, most uniquely Chicago food invention,” judging it to be “the evil stepbrother of the hot dog.” This is a very weird sandwich; its very existence is guaranteed to raise a smile. The joke is, of course, that it, too, will give you heartburn…but it’s also fun.


You’ll learn about these and other fascinating Chicago original foods in “Made in Chicago: Stories Behind 30 Great Hometown Bites,” available at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, or directly through University of Illinois Publishing.