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

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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.

10 Tools for Making Ice Cream

10 Tools for Making Ice Cream by Jeni Britton Bauer

Jeni's Splendid Blank Canvas

Jeni's Splendid Blank Canvas by Jeni Britton Bauer


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.

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.

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

Cincinnati Chili

Cincinnati Chili

Food52 Food52
Serves 6
  • 1 pound (455 g) ground (minced) beef
  • 4 cups beef stock or water
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 15-oz can tomato puree (passata)
  • Cooked spaghetti, for serving
  • Crushed oyster crackers, for topping
  • Optional garnishes: grated cheddar, cheese, chopped white onions, cooked kidney beans
Go to Recipe

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

Automagic Spring Menu Maker!
Automagic Spring Menu Maker!

Tags: Chili, Sauce, Pasta, Travel