Makaroni mi Kima – Greek Spaghetti.
A lot of things have been said about Cincinnati Chili and our Cincinnati style threeways. Some of it has been terrible trash-talk. People like to think that there’s chocolate in our chili, which is completely false. And, they like to say that you will never find the threeway anywhere in Greece. Well, that’s not completely true.
You won’t find the threeway on any Greek restaurant menu, except in Cincinnati. But you will find something on the Greek family table and in some Greek-American restaurants, that Greek-Americans affectionately refer to as ‘Greek Spaghetti’.
Greek Spaghetti, or as it’s actually called in Greece – makaroni mi kima – is actually the grandfather of our threeway. A Greek restaurant in Bakersfield, California, called Athena’s serves it in two forms.
Athena’s serve it as a chunky stew of beef tips over a buccatini-like tubular pasta. They also serve it in a form that looks more like our threeway, with a ground meat sauce, called saltsa kima, over pasta. Both forms use a dusting of cheese, but it’s a typical Greek goat or sheep’s cheese called Mizithra. This cheese is merely dusted over the sauces at Athena’s and in the typical Greek spaghetti. It resembles Italian ricotta, but is typically dried and grated like a parmesan. It is produced primarily on the island of Crete, but is used widely throughout Greece.
Other recipes for Greek spaghetti use other hard cheeses like Greek kefalotyri – another goat or sheep’s cheese – or Italian pecorino.
The commonality of this meat sauce used in Greek spaghetti is the use of cinnamon and other Turkish and eastern spices found in the Baharat spice blend, also used in our Cincinnati chili. It’s this same meat sauce, in various forms, that top the coney island variations in parts of our country, like Detroit.
Joe Kiradjieff, son of the co-founder of Empress Chili, said that originally Cincinnati chili at Empress was served as a two-way – in the traditional macaroni mi kima way. But then a few years later, a customer, probably a Greek immigrant familiar with the dusting of mizithra, asked if Joe’s father, Athenas Kiradjieff, could add some shredded cheddar cheese on top of his two-way. The now anonymous customer saw the invention of the Cincinnati Threeway. That customer s familiar with the macaroni mi kima of his family table, made due with the readily available American cheddar cheese. And, what was a dusting of sheep’s cheese on the macaroni mi kima, soon became a heaping mound of cheddar cheese on our threeway.
Today, it’s all about the cheese with our threeway. Some people like to take a bit off the top before forking into their threeway. Others like to let it melt a bit before forking in. And, when power-chain Skyline tried to change their Land-O-Lakes cheddar cheese to a more economical version, customers revolted and they brought back the original. It was kind of like the New Coke debacle. Skyline learned not to mess with the old tried and true.
Some modifications of the cheddar cheese have stuck. Skyline’s Habanero cheese, originally started as a seasonal limited time offer, is now available year round. I am a big fan of the habanero cheese blend on a threeway. But Gold Star’s sriraccha threeway seems not to have stuck.