Tuesday, November 16, 2010

What is Cincinnati Chili?

When someone visits Cincinnati one of the first questions they will ask is, what exactly is "Cincinnati Style" chili? This isn't always an easy question to answer since the true recipes are kept pretty secret, but I will attempt to explain the uniqueness of our beloved hometown food.

First thing one should know is, it isn't really chili, at least not in the technical sense as most know it. There are no chili peppers in our version of chili. So if one is expecting a Tex-Mex style chili on their hot dog or spaghetti they are going to be disappointed. I like to say its a chili-like sauce for hot dogs and spaghetti. You aren't gonna kick back and enjoy a bowl of Cincy chili on a cold winters day. It's a different kind of "chili" and that is ok. Although I've never tried it, I don't think I would enjoy Tex-Mex Chili over spaghetti, so Cincy chili works they way its intended to.

Aside from the lack of chili powder, a big difference between Cincinnati chili and traditional chili is Cincinnati chili is more sweet in taste.  This is due to ingredients such as cinnamon and chocolate being incorporated. I personally have never bitten into a cheese coney and though, wow this is chocolatey and meaty! But the sweetness is noticeable.

A common label I've seen applied to Cincinnati chili is that its Greek. That is true to an extent. Cincinnati style chili was first concocted by two Greek immigrates, Tom and John Kiradjieff. Like many chefs they were experimenting with different foods to drum up business at their hot dog stand, and ended up modifying a traditional stew like food from their homeland of Greece and served it over hot dogs and spaghetti.  They then turned the hot dog stand into the first Cincinnati chili parlor, Empress Chili. So yes, Cincinnati style chili does have some Greek backgrounds, however don't expect to go to Greece with hopes of finding cheese coneys and 3/4/5-ways. It truly is a Cincinnati food.

As someone who was born and raised in Cincinnati, all of this sounds completely normal and delicious to me. However out-of-towners think oppositely and can need some convincing to give our brand of chili a try. Alison is one of those transplants and will later describe her initials thoughts of Cincinnati chili and how she became a fellow cheese coney enthusiast.

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