Chili and cinnamon rolls: A match made in food heaven

19 Feb

Chili & Cinnamon Roll

When I think of Iowa food, the first items that come to mind are bacon and sweet corn. I would also pay homage to loose-meat sandwiches, pork chops and an assortment of garden vegetables.

Whenever I have ventured off to another area of the country, I always try regional food from Chicago hot dogs to the seafood in Boston. There are always questionable fare options which make visitors wonder – who signed off on that?

When I’m visiting with people from out-of-state, when it comes to food, they don’t ask me how good Iowa sweet corn is or how juicy a piece of bacon can be.

At least a dozen times I have been asked if the state’s residents really eat cinnamon rolls with their chili. The first couple of times, it caught me off-guard. One, why would they ask that question, and two, who doesn’t eat that combination?

I hadn’t thought that the chili/cinnamon roll combo was considered regional cuisine and had mistaken it for a common delight shared across the nation.

“What does it taste like?” and “Have you always eaten it that way?”

First off, I’m not sure how you eat chili another way. Sure there is always cornbread or crackers, but those are not as satisfying as a frosting-covered sweet roll that probably qualifies as half your daily calorie allotment.

Almost every other week at public school, I could expect a bowl full of red bean chili and a giant cinnamon pastry on the other side of the plastic tray as one of the meals. Probably not the healthiest – but definitely one of the lunches I looked forward to most as a child. When the lunch lady would scoop the roll off the tray, you hoped that it was the biggest, chewiest, and with the most frosting.

So imagine my surprise to find that the idea is contained to the Iowa/eastern Nebraska area of the U.S., according to the blogosphere.

People are really missing out.

It’s hard for me to even ponder why the pairing tastes so good. Maybe it’s because both the entree and dessert give off that made-from-scratch aroma. Two smells that say ‘I’m home’ and give comfort when its needed. I’m not usually into eating my feelings, but in this case I am.

The people I talked to found the combination a disgusting mix, and shuddered when I suggested that chili makes a great dipping sauce for the roll.

There are many Iowa foods that I do find unappealing and rather disgusting though.

It seems that any good potluck can be ruined with one too many casseroles with that cream of chicken flavor and a sprinkling of crunched-up potato chips. Without fail, every one of those casserole tastes the same.

And the joy women seem to get by putting vegetables and fruits in gelatin. I don’t know many kids that enjoy a good carrot Jello or its ugly cousin the gelatin/whipped cream concoction, but they continue to make it.

With all these soggy foods, I wonder if we Midwesterners are yearning for the times when we used to eat out of baby food jars, or whether we are too lazy to use our jaw bones and would rather swallow food whole.

Relatives in Dubuque have told me about the city’s staple turkey and dressing sandwiches. Now that’s one food item that I have a hard time swallowing.

But when it come’s to Iowa’s beloved cinnamon roll/chili combination – when people ask the question “why,” I now just reply “why not?”

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14 Responses to “Chili and cinnamon rolls: A match made in food heaven”

  1. Donna February 19, 2013 at 10:57 pm #

    It’s news to me that cinnamon rolls and chili are restricted to the Midwest. I grew up in Eastern Washington and we had that combo all the time. I loved it!

    • Carrie Olson February 19, 2013 at 11:12 pm #

      Okay, you are the first person that I have heard of from outside the Midwest region that has enjoyed this combo. Thanks for commenting!

      • Donna February 19, 2013 at 11:13 pm #

        Seriously, every school I was in, K through 12, served this at least once a month.

  2. runesandrhinestones February 20, 2013 at 12:40 pm #

    Heh, food combinations are always that bit beyond me. I hated pretty much all food when I was a child, and grew up with funny food habits like never eating sweet with savoury. This does appeal in a strange way though!

  3. Anne February 21, 2013 at 12:54 am #

    This is really popular in Kansas! In fact, I found your blog just by searching the combo, curious as to how regional the chili/cinnamon roll thing was. SO GOOD!!

  4. Ashe Ragnell May 22, 2013 at 10:03 pm #

    Yes, indeed it is popular in Kansas! Yum! As is dipping pizza crust in bleu cheese dressing. The BEST. Oh, try chicken and noodles over mashed potatoes! Yep, the Midwest knows how to eat.

  5. Anh Tran June 22, 2013 at 4:21 am #

    I am from Seattle and my mother-in-law introduced to me to this combination. I asked where she came across it and she said when she had it in public school, hence my curiosity to do a search on how common this meal is, which led me to this blog. It is indeed a delicious meal, which I just had, and it’s interesting to read who knows about it and who doesn’t. Thanks for posting!

  6. Benjamin Josef Clark November 6, 2013 at 3:05 am #

    i was born and raised in the nightmare known as fort dodge and escaped only as far away as milwaukee, wisconsin. it is still the midwest, yes, but the combination of chili and cinnamon rolls is an odd and foreign concept to the brew city and cheese state locals. it is their loss.

    • Carrie Olson November 6, 2013 at 3:49 pm #

      And I bet they don’t have a Taco Tico ….

    • Josh Lowery January 7, 2014 at 2:52 pm #

      I too was born and raised in Fort Dodge and was fortunate enough to escape. I live in NYC now and I cannot believe the look on people’s faces when I mention that I could go for a cinnamon roll to go with my bowl of chili. Its like it never occurred to them that such a sweet and spicy mixture could ever exist. Now I have to make it myself.

      • Carrie Olson February 8, 2014 at 4:34 pm #

        Wow, similar stories! I live across the water in Jersey City, and we recently had a few people over for supper and served the combo. They were pretty surprised that it worked so well together!

  7. Cathy November 13, 2013 at 9:22 pm #

    Taco Tico rules as does Chili and Cinnamon rolls!! I live in Chicago and no one around here knows what they have been missing all these years!

  8. Colleen Lawler February 2, 2014 at 1:31 pm #

    I am from the Dubuque area and Turkey & Dressing sandwiches are the BOMB! Almost every get-together has them! As for chili, we dip peanut butter sandwiches in ours..not sure about other people.

    • Carrie Olson February 8, 2014 at 4:33 pm #

      I believe it! I’ve made them before, and I’m smitten. Also, at my parent’s home, that was our go-to with chili, too. But what doesn’t go with peanut butter? I have been known to eat a peanut butter and cheese on white bread sandwich a time or two :)

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