Chicken sandwich craze goes Chinese at Chicago ghost kitchen

CHICAGO -- When it comes to the Sweet & Sour Chicken Sandwich at 3 Little Pigs Chi, representation matters.

"This sandwich is more than just a sandwich to me. It kind of symbolizes who I am," said Henry Cai, the chef and owner of 3 Little Pigs Chi.

3 Little Pigs Chi operates as a ghost kitchen in Chicago's Humboldt Park neighborhood.

"3 Little Pigs is a Chinese-American cuisine focused on ribs, barbecued pork, chicken sandwiches, [and] fried rice," Cai said.

Cai, 34, grew up in Chinatown. Steeped in Chinese culture and cuisine, he didn't try truly American dishes until he entered high school.

"My first taste of mayonnaise was during school lunch," Cai said. "I started dipping it in pizza and I was like, 'Dude, what is this sauce?!"

Mayonnaise is now Cai's favorite condiment, and he created a walnut shrimp-inspired version of it for his Salt & Pepper Chicken Sandwich, which also includes jalapenos and fried garlic.

"I'm just a guy who wants to cook food for people and hopefully they enjoy it," he said.

Cai says he originally wanted to start a brick-and-mortar restaurant, but the COVID-19 crisis forced him to think outside the box.

"I started posting [pictures] on Instagram and people just started messaging me," Cai said. "I would just do orders for my friends and then they would tell their friends."

Now 3 Little Pigs regularly appears on listicles for blogs and other food websites. Cai says that despite some pushback that his Chinese food is untraditional in form, he's humbled by the feedback and exposure.

"I'm not a Michelin [starred] chef," Cai said. "I just want to cook good food."

To order 3 Little Pigs chicken sandwiches or other offerings, visit https://www.3lpchi.com/.