The Tale of Two City Chickens



McCanns bulk food advertisement from a 1932 edition of the Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph.

-CAROL OF MOON-


By Carol Dzadony-Mancini


For as much as Yinzers hate Clevelanders down to the bone, we all come from similar backgrounds. And eat similar food.


Pittsburgh and Cleveland are separated by only 135 miles, but ask any Yinzer or Clevelander and we are worlds apart.


But are we really?


We both are considered "Rust Belt" cities. That's to say industry decline of the 1980s forced these once-bustling cities to reinvent themselves. The urban decay due to lost jobs took these cities to the brink of socioeconomic disrepair. But leave it to the tough-nosed citizens to dig out from the rubble and start anew.


The pair of cities now flourish with new identities, very similar identities.


Health care and information technology companies have taken root and revived these two water-focused cities (Pittsburgh with its three rivers, Cleveland with Lake Erie).


Both towns love their sports teams and hate the other’s. The Steelers and Browns rivalry dates back to the height of the cities' industrial peak in the 1950s. With 138 meetings tallied so far, their rivalry is the oldest and most storied in the AFC Conference of the NFL.

Returning to edibles, each city has its interpretation of the perfect sandwich: Primanti Brothers versus Virgil Whitmore's Polish Boy – both invented during the Great Depression and both include french fries and coleslaw on the sandwich. And each loves their pierogies and corned beef sandwiches. Yes, more immigrant food.


Another Great Depression food similarity that claims origins from both cities: City Chicken.

If you browse online for city chicken, you will find that it originated in both cities, courtesy of the Polish immigrants who lived there. How can this be?


City Chicken is a traditional dish of Polish American heritage and has a very interesting origin story. During The Great Depression, chicken was scarce and more expensive than pork or beef. Since slaughterhouses were still within city limits, scraps of pork and beef were more readily available than chicken because poultry farms could only be found in rural areas.


Fried chicken, the real thing, was reserved for special occasions due to its cost, but "city" chicken could be eaten as a more budget-conscious meal. How? Scraps or ground meat could be combined on a 4 to 5-inch skewer to resemble a chicken leg, dredged in egg and breadcrumbs, then fried to golden brown, at first glance you may not know the difference.


Even today, Pittsburgh and Cleveland grocery stores carry packages of cubed pork along with the requisite skewers for making "City Chicken". It's still more economical than chicken breast, and in my opinion, much tastier.


So, you see, as much as Yinzers hate Clevelanders and vice versa – when it comes down to it, we really are the same people living in similar reinvented cities, with nothing but love for our families, friends, traditions and our beloved football team. Go Stillers! (That’s how we say it here.)


Carol Dzadony-Mancini is a former resident of Stowe Township and currently resides in Moon Township with her family. Her hobbies include riding horses, skiing, crocheting, hiking with her dogs, and of course cooking for the people she loves.



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