The cityscape of Cleveland, Ohio adorned with greenery.
Travel & Culture

Significance of Sustenance: Cleveland, OH

The foods that people in Cleveland, Ohio, eat are typically linked to each family’s cultural heritage. And while you can get just about anything you want there, the food culture in the city goes back to the roots of the area’s earliest settlers. These food trends include Polish, Slavic, Irish, and Italian flavors that are linked to cultural celebrations and cooking techniques that have been passed down from one generation to the next, carrying on a delicious tradition.

Irish influences

The type of quick bread that’s known as soda bread comes from the Irish influences in this area. It’s a bit easier to make than yeast-based breads, plus it reduces the time spent in the kitchen on busy days. You could also use this recipe for a pizza crust! Corned beef sandwiches are another local favorite, especially around St. Patrick’s Day. When it comes to corned beef, a popular favorite is corned beef and cabbage stew with big chunks of potatoes served alongside slices of soda bread to dip in the hot broth.

Italian heritage

Every year on Cleveland’s east side, there’s a fun event called the Little Italy festival. It celebrates the Italian heritage of the people who settled there, and vendors serve Italian food. Festival-goers also enjoy dancing, things for sale, and some other types of food that are available. Once you’ve experienced Little Italy, you’ll be inspired to create your own Italian dishes at home. Making pizza with a loved one is such a valuable and memory making experience – from choosing your favorite toppings to creating the perfect sauce to cheese blend.

Polish and Slavic food influences

The Polish influence in the local food culture is sometimes tied to religion, and it results in what some consider one of the world’s most delicious pastries — the Paczki. Paczki are only available around Mardi Gras. Once Lent gets here, they’re gone until around next Mardi Gras, because giving up something for Lent is part of religious tradition. So, in the past, people used up lard and sugar at Mardi Gras by making Paczki to keep it from being wasted after Lent.

Now there’s no way to talk about Polish food unless pierogies are part of the list. Pierogies are similar to ravioli and Chinese potstickers in how they’re made, but they’re stuffed with mashed potatoes and seasonings instead of ricotta or meat. They are fluffy on the inside yet crispy on the outside. Some like perogies boiled or sauteed in butter – you can also add onions and mushrooms to the pan if you’re looking for a little extra flavor. Now, if you’re feeling adventurous, try deep frying a pierogi. Traditional, no, but a great twist on a classic dish.

Moving into other types of Slavic food that have a deep connection to the Cleveland area, two favorites are casseroles made of kielbasa with sauerkraut and stuffed cabbage. These are classic Slavic comfort food dishes that have incredible flavor.

Sports inspired

Another of my treasured food trends that comes out of Cleveland is inspired by the food served at what is now known as Progressive Field (formerly known to locals as Jacob’s Field). It’s practically a rite of passage in Cleveland to attend a game at “The Jake” to watch the baseball team play while munching on an oversized hot dog that’s slathered in sauerkraut, ballpark mustard, and onion chunks. Whether you live nearby or are just in town for a visit, catching a game is a must do! And if you can’t make it to Cleveland for a game, you can recreate these ballpark dogs at home while watching the game on TV!

The role of preservation in Cleveland food culture

Winters in Cleveland can be tough, with intense cold and deep lake-effect snow making it hard to get out. It was especially hard in the city’s early days before advances were made in transportation. Going to the store during winter storms wasn’t an option in the city’s early history. The challenges of being homebound when it snowed inspired early settlers to use food preservation processes like fermenting and pickling to ensure that food would be safe to eat even after months in storage. While it’s easier for Clevelanders to get to the corner market now, a fondness for these preserved foods, and beverages, persists because they’re delicious.