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The Foods of Chicago's Christkindlmarket

Jack X. Li
Roasted nuts and other festive foods have been drawing visitors to the Christkindlmarket in Daley Plaza for 27 years
Roasted nuts and other festive foods have been drawing visitors to the Christkindlmarket in Daley Plaza for 27 years. Photo: Jack X. Li/WTTW

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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.

Man selling roasted nutsALTTEXT

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.

Christkindlmarket lightsChristkindlmarket with Chicago Picasso in the background

Asked what brought them to Christkindlmarket, two visitors reply, “The mulled wine, and fried donuts!”

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.

Woman drinking GlühweinA stall selling seasonal Christmas mugsALTTEXT

Potato pancakes are another popular treat. They come in both a softer, more mashed form…

Christkindlmarket goers buying potato pancakes from a vendorPotato pancakes

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.”

Cooking shredded potato pancakes Vendor preparing shredded potato pancakes

“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."

Student eating a pretzelChristkindlmarket goers standing in front of a pretzel stand

Glass-blown ornaments, wooden carvings, blankets, and more holiday goods are also for sale.

Christkindlmarket goers purusing ornamentsChristkindlmarket ornaments

“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.”

Christkindlmarket cheese vendor stall

In the past five years or so, Baked Cheese Haus has also started offering raclette sandwiches.

Christkindlmarket vendor making a raclette sandwich.

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.”

Christkindlmarket goer purchasing goods.Christkindlmarket goers sitting at a table eating.


Christkindlmarket crowd with a lit-up tree behind them.