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Every holiday season for the past 27 years, the enticing smell of roasted nuts and beckoning warmth of a mug of Glühwein have drawn Chicagoans, suburb-dwellers, and tourists alike to the garland-bedecked wooden shacks of Christkindlmarket downtown.
While there are plenty of holiday goods for sale, one of the big draws are the snacks on offer. Given that the Christkindlmarket is a Germanic tradition, much of the fare is German: potato pancakes, schnitzel, bratwurst and weisswurst, beer on draft. (You can also find pierogi, French pastries, and the Indian restaurant Chiya Chai, among other things, at the Daley Plaza market.) The Chicago photographer Jack X. Li recently visited the Christkindlmarket at Daley Plaza to document the festive foods—and people’s delight in them. .
One staple of Christkindlmarket—and a major source of its irresistible aroma—is nuts roasted with sugar and flavorings such as cinnamon, vanilla, or rum.
Several stands serve bratwurst, other sausages, and leberkase along with sauerkraut.
The one that Rudy works at has been at Christkindlmarket in Chicago since it started in 1996. His favorite dish is the Gyulai, a spicy smoked Hungarian sausage.
Christkindlmarket was first held in Chicago on Pioneer Court outside Tribune Tower. It moved to Daley Plaza, with its iconic Picasso sculpture, in 1997, and has taken place there ever since.
Asked what brought them to Christkindlmarket, two visitors reply, “The mulled wine, and fried donuts!”
They, like many other visitors, collect the mugs that the Glühwein and hot cocoa are served in. Each year, there is a new design for the mugs. This year’s design features a snowy market scene that includes iconic Chicago skyscrapers and landmarks from the other two locations of this year’s Christkindlmarket: Wrigleyville’s Hotel Zachary and Aurora’s Paramount Theatre.
Potato pancakes are another popular treat. They come in both a softer, more mashed form…
And a shredded version. “Honestly, the potato pancakes are just king here,” says Dennis, the cashier at one stand. “They provide the salty and savory, sweetness that you want and need.”
“It’s finals week,” say University of Chicago students Anya, Delisha, and Kendall as they enjoy stuffed pretzels. “It’s a stressful time. We just kind of wanted to get away from school. We have a lot of work right now, but I feel like one of the best releases is just…Christmas in Chicago."
Glass-blown ornaments, wooden carvings, blankets, and more holiday goods are also for sale.
“My favorite stand is the cuckoo clocks,” says Saulie, who has been selling baked cheese at Christkindlmarket for around ten years. “I just think they’re all spectacular, super detailed, and well-made.”
In the past five years or so, Baked Cheese Haus has also started offering raclette sandwiches.
Dennis, of the Schnitzel Potato Pancake house, says that “the sense of community that each and every booth puts out” is what makes Christkindlmarket special. “We get customers that I’ve been seeing for the past 9, 10 years. And there are people who have been seeing customers for 15 years.”