America is the land of the inappropriate combination, maintaining an unparalleled ability to put together two things which really can’t work in partnership, and insist that they can. Take peanut butter and jelly, for instance – no, I mean it, somebody just take it away and never let me see it again. Not since Nick Leeson and Barings Bank have two more unsuited partners been brought into close proximity.
Then there’s the weird couples that the United States throws up from time to time – Mariah Carey and Nick Cannon (don’t worry Britain, America doesn’t really know who he is either), Angelina Jolie and Billy Bob Thornton, and of course Charlie Brown and Peppermint Patty. I know that they weren’t strictly speaking a couple, but let’s face it there was always a frisson there despite her protestations. I know, she could do SO much better…
The strange thing is that America turns its collective nose up at some time-hono
ured classic combinations. Like ‘building a toilet’ and ‘using enough construction materials to make sure that people can have a dump in private’. Or ‘the letter H’ and the ‘collective name for the likes of coriandercilantro, parsley, rosemary and sage’.
But if there’s one combination that annoys me more than anything, it’s the US penchant for putting cheese on top of chilli.
I love chilli with all my heart. She Who Was Born To Worry used to make a classic chilli when I was a kid, although she still hasn’t forgiven me for telling my sister that it was actually chilli and not “savo
ury mince”. I’ve spent the years since leaving home trying to perfect my own chilli recipe. Being in the US, I’ve learned more about the legendary spicy stew than I ever thought I could, and my own recipe is beginning to develop as I taste more and more variations. Put simply, I’m open to change, and if that means experimenting with more smokiness, or a few chunks of chorizo, then so be it.
However, when it comes to putting cheese on top of my chilli, I draw my experimental line. Eat chilli at a friend’s house, and you’ll no doubt be offered little bowls of grated cheese and grated onion to sprinkle on top. Order a portion of chilli from a takeout place (as I did last week) and you may be unfortunate enough to find melted orange gloop all over the top of your joyous mix of ground meat and spices.
Of course, sprinkling cheese on stuff is practically America’s number one sport. From servings of vegetables to bowls of soup, there’s nothing that an American citizen regards as off-limits when it comes to grated cheese. If you see somebody scattering shredded mozzarella over, say, a building site or an elected official, you’ll know why.