A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from December 07, 2006
Soup of the Devil (Devil’s Soup) (=chili)

Chili has been called the “soup of the devil” or “devil’s soup.” Yes, it can be hot.

The term “soup of the devil” supposedly dates to the 19th century, but the exact citation has not been found. If anyone can find a “soup of the devil” citation before the 1960s, please send it.


Chili Quotes and Trivia
Some Spanish priests during the 19th century were said to be wary of the passion inspired by chile peppers, assuming they were aphrodisiacs. A few preached sermons against indulgence in a food which they said was almost as “hot as hell’s brimstone.” “Soup of the Devil,” one called it. The priest’s warning probably contributed to the dish’s popularity.

Texas Legends & Oddities
Chili: A true Texas invention of the “River Walk City”, San Antonio, the city of chili and the home of the chili “queens” of the late 1880’s who sold their chili from carts in the town square until health officials closed them down in the 1940’s. Early Texas chili did not contain tomatoes but only meat and peppers simmered down to a stew like concoction. Officially known as “Chili Con Carne”, it is also known as “Bowl of Red”, “Bowl Of Fire” and “Soup of the Devil”.

Frommer’s Texas
Chili—A bowl of Texas red, hot, or hotter than hell, is often thought of as Mexican or Tex-Mex. But it’s as Texan as they come, with its origins in San Antonio in the late 1800s. Chili (not chile, which is Spanish for pepper) should be thick, meaty, and spicy, and served unadorned. Real Texas chili is made with beef (or occasionally rabbit or venison) but not beans. This standard has been relaxed, though, and plenty of Texans like pinto beans (never kidney beans) in their chili. There are annual chili cook-offs across the state; the most famous is held in the border town of Terlingua. Degrees of fire are usually designated as one-, two-, or three-alarm or indicated by an X, XX, or XXX. Four X’s means that bowl of devil’s soup is guaranteed to scorch your tongue, lips, and entire digestive tract. 

4 April 1965, Dallas Morning News, “Chili Started a ‘War’ in McKinney” by Frank X. Tolbert, section 1, pg. 25:
According to Captain Hall, an authority on McKinney’s past, chili con carne was unknown in that town until 1890. It was introduced there by an old Negro named George Myers, who had just returned from a trip to San Antonio.

Myers had a small cafe on the town square. In 1890 he had already been renowned for two decades or more for his “special beef stew.” Jesse James and Frank James, the prominent bandits, had relative in McKinney. And the brothers often stopped off in McKinney, notto rob the bank but to visit kinsmen and to eat Old Myers’ wonderful stew.

ROY HALL WAS a child in 1890. ALong with some adult relatives he was in Myers Cafe the night the old cook served his first pot made “from the chilley recipe I got down in Santone.”

“I dearly loved my first bowl of red,” said Mr. Hall, “although it was hot enough with peppers to boil on a cold stove. George Myers’ chili started trouble in our town. Most folks relished the new dish. Others maintained it would ruin your insides. Heads of families forbid their children to eat the stuff. Of course, that just made the kids even more determined to sneak down to Myers’ place and sample it.”

THE CHILI CON CARNE dispute got so warm that it was taken up by the McKinney newspaper with editorials and letters-to-the-editor. A few ministers preached sermons against indulgence in a food which they described as almost as hot as hell’s brimstones. “Soup of the Devil” one called it, although Old Myers’ chili was far from soupy.

IN THE MEANTIME, though, Myers’ chili, while it wasn’t winning all the battles, was winning the “war.” It was soon out-selling his special beef stew. The preachers got tired of denouncing it. And the chili con carne furor gradually died down in McKinney.

18 March 1982, Frederick (MD) Post, “The chili controversy—who is superior,” pg. F7:
Frank X. Tolbert’s fondly named “bowl of red” is Will Rogers’ “bowl of blessedness.” And, still other people refer to the spicy, savory dish as the “soup of the devil.”

Posted by Barry Popik
Texas (Lone Star State Dictionary) • (0) Comments • Thursday, December 07, 2006 • Permalink