Thoughts by Richard Bleil
Oh, sure, when pigs fly. I’ll tell you this much, if I see flying pigs, I’m not going to look up! There are so many expressions that we use without knowing their origins, and often, without understanding their true meaning.
Flying pigs come from Cincinnati, Ohio, the chili capital of the world. What, you didn’t really think it was Texas, did you? There was a time when more chili flowed out of Cincinnati than all of Texas combined (I cannot say if this is still true), but Cincinnati chili is not anything like Texas chili. It’s more of a sauce (with beans served on the side), usually over a hotdog (a “coney”) or noodles (a “two-way”, “three-way”, my favorite “four-way” or “five-way”).
First, flying pigs. Some years ago, there was a major hog butchering plant in Cincinnati, and their logo? Yes, a flying pig. Not long ago, as part of a beautification project, Cincinnati built a park, and as a partial tribute to its history, at the entrance of the park are two pillars with flying pigs atop them. I’m guessing the winged pigs were to denote that they shipped their meats, but I’m not certain about that. Either way, it’s a fun bit of information. And if you’re from Cincinnati, a “pillar” is a high column made of stone, not something soft that you rest your head on at night. And, yes, I can say this because I am actually from Cincinnati, and I know that they have a sense of humor. Heck, they put up with Marge Schott, didn’t they? (Actually, her dogs were pretty cool!)
It’s kind of like buffalo wings. I’ve seen a lot of buffalo in my day (I have half of one in my deep freezer right now, well, maybe two-thirds now) but never have I seen a buffalo with wings. I have been fortunate enough, however, to have had wings in Buffalo, New York. They are fabulous. There’s a funny history there, too. See, wings were the part of the chicken that nobody wanted. They were mostly skin with little actual meat, a lot of work with little gain. Somebody realized, however, that with the surface area to meat ratio, they were the perfect delivery mechanism for delicious sauce. Let’s be real, here. We don’t eat buffalo wings for the meat, we eat them for the sauce. So, they made a spicy sauce and dipped the unwanted wings in it. This became so popular that today the price of this once undesirable part is through the roof. Honestly, I don’t understand why vegans and vegetarians don’t push a fried tofu alternative to wings since, with the sauce, you don’t really taste the wings anyway. Just fry up the tofu first for texture. And if you fry it in beef tallow, that would be an amazing vegan treat.
It seems like just about every region in the country has some culinary delight that you just don’t find elsewhere. In Boston, I found a little restaurant that actually served authentic Cincinnati chili, but of course the famous Boston food is from the ocean. It feels like just about every restaurant had their own version of clam chowder (or “chowdah” if you’re actually from Bahstahn) and I’ve yet to find a version of clam chowder that I didn’t love in the city. The funny thing is that seafood (and fresh seafood at that) is so common there that even a very famous fast-food joint that I shall not name would periodically have a local special, the “McLobster Sandwich”. It was pretty good, for what it was, and I’ve never seen it anywhere else. If you have, I’m betting it’s a coastal town. In my hometown of Cincinnati, they had the “McBrat”, but nobody could ever tell me how old the brat was before being ground up for fast food.
I’ve been in a lot of places and had a lot of wonderful local cuisine. I’ve had Chicago Pizza in Chicago, made with a butter crust that was out of this world. I’ve had Red Angus steak in South Dakota that you could cut with a fork. I’ve had the sweet white corn in Ohio that you can never find outside of the state because, frankly, it’s so good that it gets eaten up right there. In New York City’s Little China I had duck that was cubed, bones and all, before cooking in a little out-of-the-way joint that the locals loved but tourists never found. You had to be careful to avoid swallowing the bones, but other than that it was incredible. Sorry, Toni.
A friend of mine is traveling today. I’m sure she already knows this, but I would recommend finding the local favorites while out and about and avoid the mega coast-to-coast restaurant chains. It’s funny how an event like eating, so necessary for our very survival, has become a function for socializing and fun. Everybody loves to eat, and every region has their specialties. I enjoy seeking them out.