Growing up there was a family dish my mom made during the Fall and Winter months – something we just called beef noodles. It was cubed beef stew cooked tender in a pressure cooker served atop squiggly egg noodles. The egg noodles package always had a smiling cartooney Amish guy on them with a broad brimmed hat and moustache-less beard, as they were a product of the Pennsylvania Dutch. The commercial egg noodle, in my opinion, is the worst Americanization of the spaetzle noodle.
Beef noodles was a no frills but hearty and comforting meal for a cold winter night. The stew had sort of a tangy flavor, bordering on sauerbraten. And the beef, having been pressure cooked super-tender, turned into more of a pulled beef stew. Although we didn’t top it with any sort of cheese (ours was just beef-mac) you certainly could, and then you could call it a German Threeway or a Sauerbraten Threeway.
It’s an interesting partial answer to the question – how did a mostly Germanic city embrace the flavor of a Balkan stew (Cincinnati Chili) and elevate the Threeway as an official dish of the city?
What I didn’t know is that what we called beef noodles is based on the north German or Dutch dish hachee, which has its origins in the French hacher, meaning to chop. Hachee is also a beef stew that has been around since the middle ages, and designed, much like goetta, as a peasant dish to use up old or off cuts of meat. That’s why it has sort of the vinegary sauerbraten flavor, designed to tenderize tough meat. Less expensive vegetables like onions were used in generous amounts. And, it was typically served over mashed potatoes, not American egg noodles.
The Dutch version is still very popular today and can even be found ready made in grocery stores. It’s considered a southern Dutch comfort food and is from the poorer Catholic provinces of Brabant, Limburg and even Gelderland. This version, like their goetta cousin Balkenbrij, features a variety of Dutch spice combinations like cloves, juniper berries, black peppercorns and bay leaves. The Dutch also like to serve it over mashed potatoes with a side of sweet braised red cabbage with apples.
So, the answer to the question of Germanic Cincinnatians embracing the Greek threeway was that they could relate through their comfort food dish, hachee, that many Northern Germanic immigrants from Westphalia, Saxony, and Hanover, brought over with them. And the threeway, with its fine ground meat was easier to eat than hachee, and with a mound of shredded cheddar cheese, who could resist? And the rest, is Cincinnati Chili history.