No matter your preferred pizzeria for Chicago-style pie, you expect one thing from a slice: It should hold its shape.
But in Japan, where a dough-based dish known as "Chicago pizza" is trending, a pizza structure that collapses is key. That's because this so-called 'za is more akin to fondue, with a deep-dish-like crust containing a pool of melted cheese that's meant to ooze free upon incision.
A number of restaurants in Tokyo hawk this goopy item, which I've been able to track through the oft-deployed hashtag #シカゴピザ — literally "Chicago pizza" in Japanese, or "Shikago piza." Many places serve it with sides of raw veggies or sausages that you're supposed to dip into the cheese lava, as the Swiss have long enjoyed. Others, like the Shinjuku spot Meat & Cheese Ark, present their Chicago pizza to enjoy like khachapuri: Diners rip off pieces of crust, which is sometimes tinted with food coloring, to dip in the spreading molten center.
Die-hard fans of Uno, Lou Malnati's, Pizano's, et al. might think that this sullies our city's culinary heritage. If you're in this camp, you might be relieved to know that there is one Tokyo business dedicated to bringing traditional deep-dish to the city. Since 2013, DevilCraft, a brewpub run by three Americans, has been slinging thick, sturdy pies; the Japanese magazine Metropolis described it in 2017 as "the go-to place for Chicago-style deep dish pizza in Tokyo."
While it's unclear who first conceived of the fondue-like Chicago Pizza, I suspect that DevilCraft's signature dish, which is today available at its three locations, inspired the more photogenic version (DevilCraft did not respond to requests for comment). Chicago Pizza has been around since at least 2016 but has really blown up in the last six months or so, largely due to its Instagram-ready appearance.
"I think anyone from Chicago could see in a photo the difference between the real thing and the one made for being photographed, not necessarily for eating for its flavor," says Yukari Sakamoto, author of the gastronomic guidebook Food Sake Tokyo. "Chicago pizza is just one of many Insta-bae food trends."
The term "Insta-bae" essentially means "Instagram-worthy" and was one of Japan's top buzzwords in 2017. It refers to highly photogenic objects and has been used to describe food items from rainbow-hued grilled cheese sandwiches to Totoro-shaped cream puffs, Sakamoto says.
Chicago Pizza is similarly gimmicky. Meat & Cheese Ark, which opened in fall 2017, tinges its crusts pink. The izakaya Dining Bar UNTITLED in Shibuya hopped on the charcoal food trend pretty early on in mid-2016, preparing its dough with charcoal to create a gothic pie. God Tender, a steakhouse in Aichi Prefecture that introduced Chicago Pizza to its menu last October, uses au naturel dough but shapes it into a smooth vessel, so the result resembles the lovechild of a bread bowl and Japanese cheese tart.
Is Chicago Pizza here to stay? Only time will tell, but more and more spots in Japan are embracing it, like pie shop Adam's Awesome Pie, Italian restaurant Neworder Table, and Hona Cafe in Fukuoka Prefecture, which all added the molten cheese pie to their menus within the last year. Oh yes, and there's this, at one izakaya: Chicago Pizza, with dough delicately draped in sliced meat.
Just something to keep in the mind the next time you find yourself in Japan.