In Cincinnati, Chili Is Sauce (& So Much More)

March  5, 2018

The following excerpt and recipe come from America: The Cookbook by Gabrielle Langholtz (Phaidon), a massive tome with hyper-regional recipes from across the country, as well as personal essays by cooks and food writers from those regions. Here, James Beard Award winner Jeni Britton Bauer (of the Columbus-based Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream) talks about the open markets that are key to Ohio cooking culture, which is inspired in large part by the state's many immigrants. We felt this recipe for Cincinnati chili, an American classic riffed on by Macedonian immigrants, embodies the state's unique palate.

I spent eight years making and selling my ice creams daily at the North Market, a bustling 180-year-old public market just north of downtown Columbus, Ohio. The forty-plus merchants—a cast of characters as unique as the exotic spices, chocolates, and cheeses they sold—provided countless inspiration for new flavors. I used every ingredient I found in the market, from wines and baked goods to meats and cracklings. It’s here that I learned everything I know about the seasonality of ingredients from the farmers who came to share their bounty each weekend, as they have for nearly two centuries, handing over berries, basil, or bunches of flowers. I learned that growth is good—that when you can buy one flat of strawberries from a farmer, that’s “nice,” but when you grow to the point where you can buy an entire eld, that’s “game-changing.” I learned how to build and nurture a community of growers and makers. In truth, I learned how to do everything I do today from the people at the North Market.

Even today, during off hours, I walk within the walls of this wonderful old building, studying the offerings of every merchant. And I make discoveries, rediscoveries, and never go an hour without inspiration. The market is my church, you could say.

Shop the Story

Ohio’s food culture is practically defined by our public markets. At the center of each of our major cities—Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati—is a very old public market. The iconic West Side Market in Cleveland is where Eastern European foods tell stories of the city’s immigrant history, while the Findlay Market points to Cincinnati’s Southern influences. And the North Market reflects the diversity of our city with its Palestinian, Indian, and Italian prepared foods, and so much more. Each market not only mirrors the varied food history of its city, but the fact that Ohio is at the crossroads of at least three distinct food and cultural regions in America: the Midwest, the North and Northeast, and the South.

Ohio is at the crossroads of at least three distinct American food regions.

These historic markets are perhaps the greatest reflection of the breadth of Ohio food culture, and one that so many people grew up with. The tastes and aromas active in each market are ingrained in our scent memories, and the vibrancy and community at the markets inform our way of life and our deepest food cravings. If you want to know something about Ohio, especially what we eat, start at our public markets.

Cincinnati Chili

"Called a chili, this is more of a soupy ground (minced) beef sauce seasoned with sweet and savory spices. Now a regional standby, the Cincinnati, Ohio dish was created in 1922 by Macedonian immigrant brothers and showcases a blend of spices that may include cinnamon, allspice, Worcestershire sauce, and sometimes chocolate. Many crown it with chopped onions, shredded cheese, kidney beans, and crushed oyster crackers. Serve it over spaghetti." —Gabrielle Langholtz, author of America: The Cookbook

Are you from Ohio? Tell us about your favorite markets and foods in the comments!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Yocelin Perea
    Yocelin Perea
  • Kayleigh
  • AntoniaJames
Jeni Britton Bauer has honed her ice cream-making skills for nearly two decades and is the author of the New York Times best selling Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home.


Yocelin P. March 12, 2018
Have you heard of this new pan called the Quicky Pan? Cooks anything you want under 8 minutes. Its amazing because it leaves the food crispy and feels like it just came out the Oven. You have to check it out!
Kayleigh March 5, 2018
We do love our chili. I always had a love-hate relationship with it--I loved it when I was homesick (and even had my parents ship me cans of it when I was studying abroad) but I never wanted to go get it when I was back in my Cincinnati-adjacent little farm town. Even though I don't eat it anymore (well, not with the original beef at least), the mention of it still brings me back and makes me want to hop the next flight back. And I will always defend my right to call it chili, no matter how many times Texans insist it isn't! :D
AntoniaJames March 5, 2018
Reds fans are some of the nicest in the National League, and you can get some excellent food at their ballpark, e.g., some of the best brats in the Central Division of either league, and that's saying a lot. ;o) P.S. Thanks for the chili recipe. Love Cincinnati style chili!
Kayleigh March 5, 2018
Aww! I love it when people go to Cinci and enjoy it. Some of my best memories are of going to Reds games with my dad. I still try to do it whenever I can. The food (and beer!) has gotten better since I was in middle school :P
AntoniaJames March 5, 2018
Kayleigh, one of the most enjoyable baseball games I've ever attended was Reds v Cards, in Cinci. Lots of Cards fans there who'd come in from Indiana - they were Cards fans, not Reds fans, because they could get the Cardinals' radio broadcasts (KMOX's 50,000 watt clear channel signal) while working their fields in their tractors. Just about the nicest people, all the fans there, at any game I've ever been to (as nice as the Bay Area fans), and I've been to a lot of ballparks over the years. I'd fly to Cinci again just to go to a ball game there. ;o)