Where Chili Comes From

Chili con carne—the official state dish of Texas—was invented in San Antonio, “the northernmost city in Mexico.”

Chili con carne, chili for short, was named the official state dish of Texas in 1977—but the first mention of something that sounds very similar dates from 1828, when a traveler to San Antonio reported that poor people there ate "a kind of hash with nearly as many pieces of pepper as there are pieces of meat … all stewed together."

By the 1880s, in any case, chili was strongly identified with San Antonio. The city's so-called Chili Queens sold the stuff nightly from open-air stalls around town; there was even a San Antonio Chili Stand at the 1893 Chicago world's fair. Chili powder, essential to the dish as we know it today, appeared around 1900, possibly invented by William Gebhardt, a German immigrant in New Braunfels, near San Antonio, who may (suggests Texas food authority Robb Walsh) have based it on Hungarian paprika. Strangely, there are no chili parlors in San Antonio today; chili appears on local menus mostly as a side dish or sauce.

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