After a strenuous application process, a catastrophic pick-up and haul across state lines, and an awkward tumble into life as a graduate student, I now find myself miraculously settled here in Denver, my new home. And I am surrounded by food – thank the lord, because I sure am hungry!
As I discovered during my first days in the state of Colorado, Denverites have opinions about food. This is no “a burger is a burger” kind of place. A clear hierarchy exists. How that structure is defined, of course, has infinite possibilities, but nonetheless, “my burger is better than your burger, and I’ll only roll my eyes at you if you try to convince me otherwise.”
Or maybe I should say, “my chili is better than your chili,” for that is the dish that receives the most debate around these parts. I received an introduction to the seriousness (and fun) of this issue one particularly stressful school day when I wandered off campus to a downtown shopping district. Originally searching for a quick cup of soup, I turned a corner and walked into chili street festival madness. While I have since learned that this kind of happening is all too common (the Coloradans yawn), I felt I had discovered food culture gold. The annual firefighters’ chili cook-off was in full swing and I had stumbled upon it, in all its spicy, muscly, urban foodie glory. Each local fire department comes out for this event to raise money for a charity, selling samples of their home-cooked chili for a small price. Official tasters cast their votes for the “superior” chili and then, who knows what happens, maybe all the firemen wrestle in the leftovers?!
Needless to say, I had a great time. And I also learned a very important lesson about chili. In Colorado, chili does not have beans and meat in it. (Shhh, did you really just think that? So losing foodie points!) Chili here is chili peppers (and a few other things) cooked down to something people in other states might call a sauce (again, watch what you say). It is not a sauce, it is a dish, to which other things may or may not be added. You can pick from green chili, red chili, and probably a few other colors, as well. But either way, make sure you have some water on hand. Like I said, this is no Hormel!
To my delight, chilitopia was not the end of my unexpected food happenings. Thanks to a booming food truck craze (no – it’s nowhere near the level of Portland’s, so don’t remind me), campus events often include some pretty fantastic meals on wheels. I waited about 15 minutes in line for a totally-worthwhile gyro, complete with fries in the sandwich! And just today (when I thought it had gotten too cold for outdoor eating), I sampled pumpkin doughnut holes with not just one but two fancy dipping sauces.
There is even a hot dog stand on campus that sells pheasant, reindeer, and even rattlesnake dogs topped with Coke-sauteed onions and cream cheese to long lines of commuter students. It occurs to me that perhaps I truly am starting to become a Coloradan, because the excitement of this fixture of Denver life seems to have worn off already. Yeah, so I only eat wild boar hot dogs. What are you saying, I’m a snob or something?