How did we get to the piping hot bowl of chili that has turned into one of the most iconic dishes in the United States of America?? We’re going to take a little deeper look and follow 3 possible theories. The most disturbing theory is an early account written by well know Spanish Conquistador, Bernal Diaz de Castillo, in the mid-1500’s. He wrote of Aztec Cannibals stewing conquistadors with peppers, tomatoes and spices. True? There’s no way to know for sure, but given the “spicy” relationship between first people and conquistadors…I’d bet the whole pot on “true,” - if I were a betting man. Moving from disturbing to paranormal, the second story comes from Sister Mary of Agreda (Agreda is a town in Spain) Sister Mary was quite a human by any standards and has been on the path to Sainthood for a few centuries. She traveled in an otherworldly sense to meet the Jumano Indians of the American Southwest, her visit claimed to have been confirmed by the Jumano people as well. Anyway, she wrote of a dish that they described which sounds much like modern day Chili. Her story is an interesting read in and of itself, and again, there’s no way to know whether or not this is fact. Black Elk also claimed to have made similar experiences in the book “Black Elk Speaks” by John G. Neihardt. Matters of faith are, and will remain, matters of faith. That said, Sister Mary’s Chili recipe story is pretty dang cool as well. The last and what could be the most plausible origin theory is that “Chili” similar to the chili we know today came to the San Antonio area in the 1730s with a group of immigrants from the Canary Islands. The Canary Islands are an archipelago, or small cluster, of islands off of the northwest coast of Africa AND a territory of Spain. Cumin is very common in the Canary Islands and is one of, if not the, signature spice in Chili.
The common themes in the chili story seem to be Renaissance era Spanish westward expansion blended with foods available in Mesoamerica.
If the Canary Island immigrants to San Antonio is in fact, a fact…they made quite an impact on American food as Chili is still one of the most loved dishes in the country and it is distinctly American. It is as American as BBQ and burgers in the summer. Chili has developed some regional twists in certain places, Cincinnati Chili is one of the more well known and it features spices like cinnamon and nutmeg. The midwest in general likes to enjoy Cinnamon Rolls with Chili - being Nebraskans, we are guilty as charged, we even sell some awesome cinnamon rolls on our website. In the North East, chili can be found on hot dog and seems to have originated on Coney Island in New York City. The Coney Dog is famous worldwide. Is it the chili? Is it the dog? We’ll never know, but the combination is off the hook.