The Origins Of The Jibarito Sandwich Are Uniquely Chicagoan

jibarito close up
jibarito close up - Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock

Picture this: Tender, thinly cut steak with garlic oil, grilled onions, and white cheese, sandwiched between two fried and pressed green plantains — a juicy, flavorful sandwich that's recognizable solely by the aroma that seeps from restaurants and into the streets of Chicago's Humboldt Park neighborhood, otherwise known as the jibarito. You've likely heard of Chicago hot dogs, Italian beef, and deep-dish pizza, the three things any trip to the windy city isn't complete without. Well, the jibarito is next on that list, and just like the other three examples, it's a creation completely indebted to the city's rich immigration history and cultural diversity, but more specifically its Puerto Rican community.

Chicago is home to the second-largest Puerto Rican population in the U.S., and while you might be able to get your hands on a jibarito in New York City — the city that is home to the first-largest population — Chi town did it first. The story is that Juan C. "Pete" Figueroa, owner of the Humboldt Park restaurant Borinquen, read about a plantain sandwich served at Platano Loco, a storage shed turned restaurant in the Puerto Rican town of Aguada, in a Puerto Rican newspaper. Termed the "sandwich de platano," Figueroa took the idea as inspiration, perfected it, and named it before putting it on his menu in 1996.

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The Jibarito, Then And Now

North Ave, Humboldt Park, Chicago
North Ave, Humboldt Park, Chicago - Stevegeer/Getty Images

Inspired by the sandwich served at Platano Loco, the jibarito is served with everything from arroz con gandules (Puerto Rican rice) to yucca fries. Today, it has come to be a symbol of the strong Puerto Rican presence in Chicago. As the only American city with a designated Puerto Rican neighborhood, Chicago's Humboldt Park has become a cultural epicenter and there's no better place to enjoy Puerto Rican food -- apart from the actual island, that is. Interestingly enough, however, the jibarito's popularity on the mainland has influenced something of a reverse immigration.

Although Figueroa's brother patented the jibarito name, you'll still find them on other Chicago restaurant menus and in cities across the country. From New York City's Jibarito Shack to Miami's Mofongos, and the Chicago originals like Papa's Cache Sobraso, to the new age spots like Jibaritos y Más and The Jibarito Spot— where there are Puerto Rican people, there will be jibaritos. Even Platano Loco is capitalizing on the sandwich's fame, expanding its menu to include both plantain pizza and hot dogs.

Starting in Puerto Rico, making its name in the Midwest, and then popping back up in more Puerto Rican restaurants after, the jibarito is embraced both on the island and off, and in more cities than one. That just goes to show the influence the tiny island has had in the States, and it's just one of the Puerto Rican foods you have to try at least once.

Read the original article on Tasting Table.