Vacation Report 6: Chicago Food versus California Cuisine
So I’m pretty sure I have mentioned this before, but prior to our vacation to my sweet, home Chicago, I essentially starved myself for the months preceding so that I could eat whatever I wanted without worrying about returning to California in a hefty bag (for lack of any fitting clothing). While here, though, I realized that I actually eat better and weigh less when eating in the Midwest for a few reasons, though: (1) I don’t eat many sweets; and (2) I don’t indulge in emotional eating to make myself feel better about how unhappy I am in California.
While on this trip, I’ve made it a point to ask more about what makes food in the Midwest so much better. And unlike in California – where asking a question of your waiter or cook is a recipe for looks of annoyance and a pithy response like “it’s in the sauce,” many of the people I’ve asked have indulged me in my inquiry.
Chicago Food: Delis
In Chicagoland area, you have a lot more locally owned restaurants or local franchises that you won’t find in other areas. Sure, there are a lot of your run-of-the-mill Subways and Taco Bells, but right next door you almost always have a local and just-as-cheap alternative.
One thing that is amazing about the Chicagoland area is the deli meat. In California, I often notice that the deli meat is sliced thick and often “smothered” in something to make it a thick, meaty experience. In Chicago, though, it’s usually sliced very thin, which bodes for a lighter and more satisfying experience. Jason’s Deli is by far my favorite local spot for a sandwich or wrap.
Chicago Food: Flavorful
Another thing I have realized about Chicago food, is it is often about the flavor. I would argue that a lot of the food we eat in California is flavorful, but often the emphasis is not placed on the synthesis of flavors or enhancing the natural flavor of the food, itself. In particular, meat is not usually enhanced quite in the way that it is done in the Midwest, and I am sure this is in large part due to the fact that so much of the meat you eat in the Midwest is local.
The pizza is more flavorful as well, which is what makes it so popular. In California we use dry milk and bitter sauce. In the Midwest, though, emphasis is placed on the flavor of the crust and the sauce to eliminate those dry and bitter elements.
Now I rarely eat red meat, but when I am visiting home I do indulge in a little. Particularly noteworthy was the meatball sandwich I had a few days after arriving – it was (by far) one of the greatest sandwiches I have ever eaten.
Chicago Food: Fluffy
As I mentioned above about the deli meat, Chicago food is often sliced thin and fluffy-like. It goes beyond just the deli meat, though. The pizza almost never has gobs of cheese on it, which I find is a big problem with food in California – too much cheese. And while I would never recommend actually eating the food at White Castle, the shakes are another great example of the fluffiness of the cuisine in the Midwest. Whereas at In N’ Out on the west coast we have very thick, heavy shakes, the milkshakes at White Castle are so fluffy you can taste the bits of whipped air.
Chicago Food: More Interactive
Something else we don’t realize on the west coast is that our food is not terribly interactive. Oftentimes, you have little input in what goes in your food. You can request something to be “minus this” or “add that,” but then you get a lot of attitude and it is usually done wrong anyway.
In Chicago, though, your food is more interactive. You get to know who is cooking it – whether it be a restaurant owner, a waiter, or a friend or family member. You have more input and more options as well. Just the other day, we went to an Asian fusion place in the city and were able to head to their stir fry bar to select every piece of our meal. There are not many places in California that such an option exists, except (of course) your own home.