Look here. What I really need the rest of the world to understand is that the word “chili” in “Cincinnati chili” is misleading. Don’t get hung up on the word “chili.” It’s a misnomer, but we’re stuck with it, so let’s explore this situation a bit.
Most chilis are variations of chili con carne, a type of spicy, meaty stew originating around northern Mexico and southern Texas.
Chili con carne has a rich history that I won’t go into here, but don’t get me wrong—it’s one of my favorite foods!
There are local & regional styles across the US, some more similar to others and some are pretty different. I happen to enjoy almost all the variants I’ve tried.
Then there’s Cincinnati chili, which is vastly different from most, if not all, chili con carne variants. This is because it has an entirely different origin.
Cincinnati chili is a meat sauce with Mediterranean roots, brought to Cincinnati by Macedonian, Greek, and Jordanian immigrants.
These immigrants brought the flavors of their comfort foods and presented them to Cincinnati as a new ethnic dish, and Cincinnati embraced it and adopted it into the city culture, fully welcoming these families, their histories and cultures.
Over time, Cincinnati chili transformed into something unique, a dish unlike any other, even with its own terminology (the “way” system).
Today we have chili parlors in almost every neighborhood, many of which have been an integral part of the community for decades... all because some immigrants chose to share a piece of their culture with their new neighbors and communities. That is so powerful.
To say you don’t like Cincinnati chili because it’s “not real chili” or “it’s wrong to serve chili over spaghetti” is to shove aside all that history because you’re hung up on one word: chili.
Chili con carne and Cincinnati chili share a few similarities, but we can all agree that they are very different. Unfortunately, they share a common name, and that forces an unfair comparison.
Would you compare chili con carne and chicken noodle soup? What about beef stew? Would you compare cincinnati chili and tomato soup? That’s the equivalent of comparing chili con carne and Cincinnati chili. Similar, but too different for a reasonable comparison.
If you don’t like it, that’s fine! Not everyone likes *every* food. I have my own likes and dislikes. You don’t have to like the taste of Cincinnati chili, just don’t let a little misnomer be the issue.