Book launch: Made in Chicago: Stories Behind 30 Great Hometown Bites

This week I had a fun opportunity to attend a book launch for a new book by a couple of long-time Chicago food writers. Monica Eng is a reporter for Axios Chicago and co-host of the podcast Chewing. She’s also worked as a food, culture and investigative reporter at WBEZ Chicago Public Radio and at the Chicago Tribue. She’s been nominated five times for James Beard Awards for writing.

David Hammond is Dining and Drinking Editor for Newcity/Chicago magazine. He is a founding member/moderator of the LTHForum, a site celebrating the mom-and-pop establishments of Chicago and he writes on food and drink topics for Wednesday Journal, Inc. and the Chicago Tribune.

Between the two of them, they’ve got a lot of food knowledge, but even they were surprised at some of the things they learned as they set forward on creating this book, a process that progressed over three years.

Of those 30 food items highlighted in the book are those that almost everyone in Chicagoland would be familiar with - Iconic dishes like deep dish pizza, giardiniera, the Maxwell Street Polish and Chicago mix popcorn. But there are also fascinating stories about popular food creations that have come to be from the ethnic pockets of the city - akuyagawa, flaming saganacki and chicken Vessuvio to name a few. They also cover lesser-known local favorites like the mother-in-law.

The book is packed with history on so much of the food that defines Chicago’s culinary landscape. Be warned, though, once you start reading, you’ll likely find yourself craving such classics as an Italian beef, a rainbow cone or breaded steak sandwich or seeking out shots of Malort and sweet steak sandwiches.

The book launch was held at the original Al’s Beef in Little Italy, a place is believed to be the originator of the Chicago Italian beef as we know it today - and it’s still served the same way as his family has serving it for 85 years. If you’ve not been to this spot, I recommend it. It’s such a slice of pure Chicago. You can grab one of their tasty sandwiches at a number of suburban locations, but as is the case with other food (Aurelio’s comes to mind), it always seems to taste a little bit better at the original location.

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