Food For Thought: Pittsburgh, Guest Post!

On September 17, 2014 by Bethany

Experiencing a service in Burundi

Hey friends! Today we have a guest post on our Food for Thought series, coming from a long-time friend/new full-time co-worker of ours, Jess Janicki. Full of passion about God’s calling upon her heart to serve her home city of Pittsburgh, a great lover of all things fit and healthy and just a general sweet soul, Jess is one of those people who you feel drawn to. 

Her and her husband have worked for PPM seasonally for some years now and have finally started the transition into full-time ministry, with Pittsburgh as their prime location within the USA, but also working within our other domestic locations, like Tucson, Chicago and Miami. Today, she shares her knowledge about the ethnic diversity of the food scene in Pittsburgh. Read on!



Hi, I’m Jess Janicki and I’m so excited to be doing a guest post for Bethany and Eric!  When you think of Pittsburgh, you probably don’t think of food.  But I’m here to tell you that Pittsburgh has some of the best food around, and also some of the most ethnically diverse.  I’m a born and bred Pittsburgher, and have been raised on a mix of Polish, Italian, Chinese, and classic American cuisine.


SONY DSCFirst, I’ll give you a bit of background on my city.  Most people still think of Pittsburgh as the Steel City, that gloomy and dank, smoke filled city that looked like midnight at noon.  I’m here to tell you that that is no longer the case!  We now have a thriving and healthy city, that I promise you can see at noon!  Pittsburgh is also home to many diverse cultures.  We actually have the second largest Polish population in the United States, the fifth largest Italian, the fifth largest Ukrainian, and the largest Croatian.  If you travel through Downtown (or Dahntahn, if you want to sound like a real Pittsburgher) you will see many other nationalities.  We have a large refugee population from Nepal, Burundi, Somalia, Afghanistan, and many other places around the world.  All this to say, Pittsburgh has some pretty awesome ethnic food.

This was our first year for both PPM and Andy and I (in this capacity) to do missions in Pittsburgh, which was pretty emotional for me.  This is my home, and it was so exciting to be able to share the things I love, and the food I love, with the teams coming to serve here.  My church, Cornerstone Church, has refugee’s from Burundi, Africa in it.  And on Sunday nights, we host an African night for the teams (as pictured above).  They got to experience a traditional meal, and later, a night of music and testimonies.  We had a few of the women, from teenagers to mothers, cooking all day long in the kitchen.

Sometimes they sang as they cooked, sometimes they were quiet, but there was a sense of joy in the kitchen at all times.  

Edisa, one of our teenagers from Cornerstone, even taught my husband how to make Sambusa – a tortilla filled with ground beef and celery, then fried until crispy.  I asked her to show me, but she said she would tell Andy to make them for me.  They also prepared a stewed beef with tomatoes, Chapati – a kind of flatbread, rice, beans, and potatoes.  One of the weeks, the translator for Cornerstone Church who is from Kenya, even brought Mandazi and Chai tea.  Mandazi is basically fried dough, that kind of reminds me of a doughnut, but isn’t sweet.  And she makes the best Chai tea.  It’s best when you dip the Mandazi in the Chai.  The team even ate the leftovers for breakfast the next day!

SONY DSCI can’t begin to describe the joy to you as they shared their food with the teams.  It was beautiful, and the teams loved the food.  It’s simple food, but it’s delicious!  Not one of the teams had ever had African food, and I’m sure that Pittsburgh is the last place they would think that they would get the chance to eat it, but it was an experience that I’m sure they will never forget.

We try to give the teams a taste of Pittsburgh while they are here.  We have some unique Pittsburgh dishes that we have had our cooks make for the teams.  Our cooks for these meals were actually my dad, my mother-in-law and my sister-in-law.  One traditional Pittsburgh meal is actually a favorite of mine, and also my family’s Christmas Eve tradition.  I know your thinking it must be this fancy meal if we eat it on Christmas Eve. I’m sorry to disappoint you.  It’s about as simple as you can get.  Ham BBQ’s.  Yup, that’s it.  It’s sweet, and tangy and wonderful!  I’ll put the recipe at the bottom.  Another thing we do in Pittsburgh, is we like to put Fries on stuff.  I mean, fries make everything better right?

You may have heard of Primanti’s.  We take our teams to dinner here.  It’s a sandwich with meat, fries, slaw, tomato and cheese.

Story Time: The reason the sandwich is like this, all in one, is because back when the steel workers and truck drivers had to get lunch, they didn’t have time to sit and have a full meal.  So, the cooks put it all on the sandwich, wrapped it up, and away they went, lunch in hand.

I don’t even like sandwiches, but I love these!   We also served grilled chicken salads with fries on it.  Seriously, next time you make a grilled chicken salad, put fries on it.  Trust me on this.

Pittsburgh has one of the best food scenes in the country, and one chef even said he would rather cook here, than in NYC.  When our teams come, we try to give them the best Pittsburgh food experience that we can, and provide them with the unique opportunity to try cuisines they may never have tried before, whether it’s down at the Strip District, or in my home church.



One of my favorite recipes – for you!

Ham BBQ’s

(It’s not much of a recipe, because I never measure when I make it, I just do it by taste, so feel free to tweak it to fit your taste, and how many people you are serving.)

Serves 12 people

  • 3 lbs of chipped ham (I think this is a Pittsburgh thing, but you can just get ham at the deli that is really thinly sliced)
  • Ketchup (Heinz please!)
  • White Vinegar
  • Brown Sugar
  • Mustard Powder

In a crockpot, add your ham.  Here is where you can get creative.  I usually use anywhere from a half bottle to a full bottle of ketchup.  Mix your ketchup, Vinegar, brown sugar, and just a dash of mustard powder.  I like mine sweet and tangy and kind of soupy, so I probably mix in about equal parts of ketchup, vinegar, and brown sugar.  But do it to your taste, and then let it cook for a few hours on low, or about an hour on high.  Taste it before you serve it, because the fat from the ham will melt into the sauce, and make it even tastier.  Adjust the sauce to your liking, and then serve on buns, or if your like me, eat it as is because it’s just that good.

Want to come and serve with me and get a taste of the blend of ethnic food that Pittsburgh offers? Read more here:

Read past trip journals:

When starting to think through the realities of day to day life on a mission trip, one question you may be thinking is “What will I eat?” In this series, PPM’s Missions Coordinators and Full-time Missionaries want to offer you a little insight into the delicious international cuisine we get to eat on a day to day basis. So come and join us on a trip and don’t be afraid to taste the flavors of the world!

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