I wondered at the folly of a country so bountiful that it had become so greedy and piled everything on its plate. Until I ate breakfast the next dayby Wendell Steavenson / August 15, 2017 / Leave a comment
I landed in Cincinnati in a thunderstorm. My Airbnb room turned out to be in an apartment in a dodgy neighbourhood. I was late to my dinner with friends. One of the guests, Carol, who had known me for about 45 minutes before hearing about my predicament, said: “Well, of course, you can stay with us. We are empty nesters, our kids are gone and there is plenty of room.”
And so I woke up in green lawn suburbia, well slept, to the smell of percolating coffee. I found Carol and her husband, Steve, in the kitchen. Steve offered me a steaming mug. I thanked them both profusely. “It really is the famous Midwestern hospitality!”
Steve had a printing business and in his spare time ministered in a federal prison. Carol volunteered with her church group and helped Bhutanese and Syrian refugees to resettle in Cincinnati. We talked about Trump and his anti-immigration rhetoric, we talked about the city and what to see. I said I was interested in food.
“Well you have to try our Cincinnati chilli!” said Steve. “It was invented by the Greeks who settled here. Basically it’s like a mock turtle soup flavoured with cinnamon and chocolate and a little bit of chilli, poured over spaghetti, with either kidney beans or raw onions or both and grated cheddar cheese on top.”
Carol took me to a diner dedicated to this specialty. On realising they had a foreigner for lunch, Laylayna, our waitress, went all out. “What you wanna do,” Laylayna said, placing a bowl of tiny pillow oyster crackers in front of me, “is to make a little hole in one with the tine of your fork. Then folks like to put a couple drops hot sauce inside.” Hey presto: insta-canapé.
“What kind of eater are you?” Laylayna asked. I said a little one. She wrote down “small” on her pad. Now, did I want the three-way, just plain sauce and spaghetti or cheese, or a four-way with either kidney beans, or raw onions or a five-way with everything. I said, “five-way, please.” Carol, a petite, blonde marathon runner, asked for a modest three-way.
My Cincinnati chilli was weirdly kinda good. I thanked the culinary largesse of a country that fed you such salty, filling, satisfying food, so fast, conveniently and cheaply. Was…