January 3, 2010

peanut butter chili

californians can be really judgmental. sometimes we stereotype the cultural practices in other parts of the country, and often, we're unfairly hyperbolic with our caricatures. nowhere is this more true than on the topic of food. california urban legends tell of the crazy and mysterious cuisines of the middle of the country where high-fructose corn syrup and lard reign supreme. sometimes i think we're really blowing it out of proportion -- unjustly allowing the red states to be the butt of our culinary jokes.

but this weekend, i realized we might be right.

a native of the indiana-kentucky border (kentuckiana, he's called it) shared some information with me that i simply cannot keep to myself. we were talking about chili, and, in an effort to learn more about regional variations, i asked if indianans use beans (sacrilege in texas, i'm told). yes, they use meat and beans, he said, but they also use noodles. "like, egg noodles?" i ask. "no, like spaghetti noodles," he explains.

this alone is shocking to me, but i can see how that could be delicious, and i guess it's not that weird...very reminiscent of a bolognese, i suppose. bolognese with beans. then he asks me, "what would you say is the most common thing to eat with chili?" he seems puzzled by my initial answers: cheese, cornbread, and fritos.

"in indiana, we eat our chili with peanut butter sandwiches," he says proudly.

upon further investigation, i learn that that's not the whole story. apparently, the peanut butter filling is a whipped combination of peanut butter and pancake syrup, into which you dip your bread before eating it with a bowl of chili. i was also warned against the assumption that they're using trader joe's peanut butter or all-natural maple syrup.

"we're talking peter pan peanut butter, aunt jemima syrup, and wonderbread," he explains. "which you eat with your chili."

"your noodle chili," i correct him.

i have not been so shocked to hear about an american cultural practice since my scandalizing encounter with homecoming mums last year.

UPDATE: origins of the noodle chili: cincinnati

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