Bowl of Dread

Food evokes strong responses. The taste, the smell, the mouthfeel—our reactions to a dish are visceral and profound. Paul Burka, for instance, does not like chili.
Photograph by Wyatt McSpadden

Chili. A classic Texas dish, some would say—but not I. 

I loathe it. What is it about a bowl of red that appeals to the palate, anyway? Surely not beef suet, an essential ingredient in old-time recipes. Chili is the most overrated, overhyped variation on beef stew ever concocted by man. Such is my disdain, in fact, that 35 years ago I wrote a Texas Monthly cover story denouncing it as “third-rate swill” and sat for a photo with a bowl of the stuff emptied over my head. My protest was prompted by a misguided decision of the Sixty-fifth Texas Legislature, which, in a moment of collective insanity, had voted to declare chili the official state dish. This was a travesty, akin to naming catfish the official state seafood. Had the barbecue lobby been caught napping? Had the voting machines in the House of Representatives malfunctioned, as they are wont to do? Had the highway to Lockhart been shut down?

None of the above. It so happens that Texas had found itself at a moment in history when chili fanatics

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