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hot dog

17 june 2011

I've eaten one hot dog in the past two years. (And given how much time I spend in ballparks, that's quite a feat.)

My one hot dog was eaten in late May, at a waterfront stand in Denmark that offered up the classic national hot dog. A tough red tube protruding from its bun, slathered in mustard, ketchup, and remoulade, with a heap of dessicated fried onions. Actually, the 100% Danish hot dog is supposed to be topped with a row of marinated cucumber slices. But when I was there, northern Europe was in the grip of a cucumber panic, so I declined the slices. (Never has my dislike of cucumbers paid off better.)

The Danish word for "hot dog" is "hot dog"; for a foodstuff associated in English with European cities (Frankfurt, Wien), it's a pure product of America. Bruce Kraig's Hot Dog: A global history for the Reaktion Edible series, however, really is a global history. Kraig tracks down the favorite tubesteak varieties of nearly every nation on earth.

You wouldn't think there was too much you could do with a hot dog, but perhaps its very sameness produces a sense of minute refinements among hot-dog aficionados. German Currywurst or Icelandic lamb/pork pylsa may represent truly unique national spins on the wiener, but a lot of these international sandwiches are the same old dog. Particularly baffling are the many American regional nuances, which frankly all amount to the unexplainable piled atop the uneatable.

I grew up in Chicago, home to one of the proudest hot dog traditions, but dang if I knew anything about "Chicago Hot Dogs" while growing up. Celery salt was a very important part of my grandmother's larder, but she didn't put it on hot dogs as I remember. In fact, I had two kinds of dog as a child: pasty Oscar Mayer Wieners, and their daringly flavorful first cousins, Oscar Mayer Smokie Links. I have never been much for mustard. As a kid, I loved pickle relish on wieners; as an adult, the few hot dogs I eat each decade are usually slathered with lots of that thin habañero sauce you buy in little bottles, with names like Seven Shrieking Flames of Hell and Cajun Core-Breach Meltdown.

I liked Hot Dog, though the sheer collection of facts in the book tends to drown out cultural analysis. But who wants to analyze a hot dog (especially literally)? My favorite part of the book is an illustration that I will append here: what a l'il darling.

Kraig, Bruce. Hot Dog: A global history. 1988. London: Reaktion, 2009.

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