Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Semantics of Cuisine: The Case of Chili

Semantics, the study of meaning and understanding of words, is worth studying for a variety of ways. Among other things, it helps promote communication. 

Most of us would have some dissatisfaction with the Humpty-Dumpty Theory of Words, as illustrated by this quotation:


"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean- neither more nor less."

"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master-that's all."

Alice was too much puzzled to say anything; so after a minute Humpty Dumpty began again.

"They've a temper some of them- particularly verbs: they're the proudest- adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs- however, I can manage the whole lot of them! Impenetrability! That's what I say!"

You can definitely not look to me as a semantics adept. See Bilbo for that role. However, I recently encountered a real-life semantics issue when I went to lunch in an unfamiliar restaurant and ordered chili. Perusing the menu, I encountered unfamiliar terms such as "three way" and "five way."

Having committed, I tried this new way of serving chili. I'm not a foodie absolutist; growing up in New Orleans allows one to encounter several different ways of doing things. And, I might chauvinistically add, you might encounter good food even in unexpected places, like school or hospital cafeterias.

Okay, it was a runny meat sauce, served on spaghetti! It apparently had a strong ketchup and Worcester sauce-like flavor, and possibly with cumin and even chocolate notes. Whatever be the sins of this meat sauce, it seemed to be entirely venial when it came to chili powder. Much less actual chiles!*

In short, I had encountered Cincinnati chili! This fare is apparently popular there in the Midwest in cafés on beaneries.

I did not find my experience to be edifying; though I strongly believe in everyone following their own preferences. I suggest, however, that this concoction be referred to as "Cincinnati chili" or even "Cincinnati meat sauce." The term "chili" should be reserved for the chili recipes from New Mexico or Texas.

Except for choices of condiments on hot dogs. I side with Dirty Harry on this issue:


*I like the New Mexican practice of referring to the peppers themselves as "chiles" while the Tex-Mex food is called"chili."


13 comments:

Cloudia said...

You got my vote, Angel!

Grand Crapaud said...

It sounds like plain old meat sauce on spaghetti!

Mike said...

If it's chili meat sauce on spaghetti it's called chili mac around here.

John Hill said...

Not a fan of the Cincinnati chili.
To be fair, I haven't actually tried it. Seeing it and smelling it was enough information to keep me from trying it.

allenwoodhaven said...

Hadn't heard of Cincinnati chili. I'll pass. Thanks for the warning!

Atomic Dog said...

Midwestern cuisine tends toward the bland.

Bilbo said...

Thanks for the shout, Angel! You da lady!! Agnes and I lean toward "Texas Four-Way" chili - served over spaghetti with onions and shredded cheese. After that, though, our preferences differ: I prefer chili without beans, Agnes likes beans; I prefer chili to be spicy, Agnes likes it mild. And Mike's reference to Chili Mac brought back memories of military exercises in which our hot food deliveries often consisted of ... chili mac.

Leroy said...

Either kind of chili is a superior condiment to ketchup on hot dogs!

eViL pOp TaRt said...

Thanks for your thoughts on this, my friends!

Chili does have its strong opinions. Enjoy chili as you like it to be.

Chuck Bear said...

My sympathies are with Dirty Harry!

Elvis Wearing a Bra on His Head said...

Cincinnati chili is widely consumed in Ohio and Kentucky. The Texas chili uses too much chili powder and peppers.

Duckbutt said...

The thought of chili on spaghetti bums me out.

Banana Oil said...

Chain restaurants like Stake and Shake feature chili on spaghetti.