"Reclaiming Homemade in a Small Space"

Friday, November 18, 2011

Pittsburgh Cuisine

I have always been fascinated with what "the local people eat" and knowing what the everyday food is for people in different regions.  When Matt and I visit new areas, finding out the local eatery hot spots is important to us.  Not the big flashy restaurants, but the hole-in-the-wall spots that have the best flavor.  I have been blessed to know people from all over the country and a few from around the world and I have tried to glean their culinary know-how.  I am reminded of the famous quote by Anthelme Brillat-Savarian "Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are."  What we eat is like our taste in music or movies or art....it is a part of who and what we are.  It goes beyond what just tastes good, it helps define our personality and our identity.

So with that heady thought...we had some real Pittsburgh food last night:  Islay's chipped/chopped ham and pierogies.  When we moved our family here, I wanted to immerse myself in the food culture because of what I stated above, you get to know a place by its food.  Pittsburgh cuisine is heavily influenced by the different European cultures that have settled here.  Take pierogies....there is a Polish deli down on The Strip ( S&D Polish Deli ) that serves up some fab pierogies.  Did you know that Pittsburgh eats more pierogies than any other region in the country BY FAR??  I've seen some stats that say 11 times more!

Islay's chipped/chopped ham is another Pittsburgh institution.  My first exposure to chipped/chopped ham was over 13 years ago when our friends Dave and Luann Habuda (native Pennsylvanians) served it at a church function in Arkansas.  Matt (who grew up in Pittsburgh) immediately said, "I remember chipped/chopped ham!"  It is kinda like a sloppy joe made with Islay's luncheon meat ham instead of hamburger.  Islay's chipped ham was on sale at Foodland and so was the sauce....so I bought some and gave it a whirl last night.
Here are the main components:  The sauce and the ham.  It is 16 oz. of jarred sauce with 1-1/3 lbs. of chipped ham.  I then ran my knife through the ham, put it and the sauce in saucepan to heat it through.

Being from The South, I am a little wary of anything that the north says is barbecue.  ;) The Islay's Barbecue Sauce was very tomato-y, like a sweeter, thinner version of tomato soup.  There was little spice to it and with the very salty ham, it was nice.....and QUICK!  It was served on a white bun and a side of pierogies.
For the pierogies, I just followed the package instructions....yes, they were store bought.  (It was Thursday night, what can I say, I can't make everything homemade all the time.) I also served asparagus last night, but I don't know what's so very Pittsburgh-y about that.

The children enjoyed them though it was a messy meal.  It wasn't exactly high cuisine but it was definitely a meal I will do again, especially when I'm in a pinch for a quick dinner.
Now Luann told me to ditch the sauce and try this instead (and I think I will next time!):
‎1/2 cup Ketchup
3 Tbsp. brown sugar
3 Tbsp vinegar
1/2 tsp horseradish
1/2 tsp mustard
1 lb of chipped chopped ham. 
Mix the sauce together until it thickens and then add the ham. Serve on nice fresh hard rolls.


  1. You know, Amanda, you don't have to use the Islay's ham...you can use just standard lunch meat ham.