Monday, September 04, 2006

Classic American Hot Dogs: An Introduction

Before I get into the sausage and bread options you can find here in Swakopmund, Namibia I have to mention the most famous example of the sausage and bread combo - the American hot dog.

I've only ever tasted NYC hot dogs so my own experience is pretty limited. I'm hoping to sample some of the other variations one day but in the meantime I'll have to make do with reading about hot dogs on web pages like the one linked to below and just imagining their sausagey, bready goodness. How sad.

Hot dogs are an intrinsic part of the culture of many U.S. cities and a source of great regional pride. This is best illustrated by an event held at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

Between March and August 2002 the museum hosted an exhibition called 'Baseball as America' showcasing the history of that sport and its importance in American culture. In parallel, the museum's food court (why can't our natural history museum have a food court?) held a kind of hot dog expo or summit, if you will, where they served a selection of ten different hot dogs in classic, regional styles.

For a non-American this is a great introduction the varieties of hot dog that can be found in the States. Check out the full menu here:

Hot Dogs As America

I like the look of the Dodger Dog - simple and with a pork frankfurter which I generally prefer to beef.

The Chicago Red Hot looks interesting. I know Chicago is a big hot dog city but is this dog dangerously overloaded with condiments? It actually looks like a salad roll with a meat condiment. This is one I have to try one day.

The Cincinnati Cheese Coney also looks like the accompaniments might overwhelm the sausage ("Don't overwhelm the sausage!" could be the motto of this blog). A chili topping that contains paprika, nutmeg, chocolate and cinnamon? There's really no need for that. Or is there?

The Texas Corn Dog and The Natural are interesting because they depart from the usual sausage and bread formula.

The Corn Dog is a beef sausage on a stick inside a corn-based dough shell which is fried. Not really sure about this one. The stick makes is seem like you would have to nibble this hot dog rather than chomp on it. I also wonder if the outer shell would just become an oily, crusty sponge after frying. This looks unappetizing and obesity-inducing.

They may have used some poetic license when they named 'The Natural'. After all, it is a piece of pretzel dough toasted on a metal spike with a sausage inserted into it. It does look interesting, though, and is probably quite healthy. The only drawback I can see is that it doesn't allow the eater to add sauces directly to the dog but perhaps that's the whole point? You get to taste the 'natural' flavour of the frankfurter and the pretzel. Another to add to my must-try list.

The one that looks the most appetizing to me is the Milwaukee Brat. This looks like a real sausage, grilled rather than fried or boiled and comes in a crusty roll with sauerkraut and brown mustard. Strong Germanic influence here and of all the hot dogs in the list this one looks like it packs the most flavour and texture in its basic sausage and bread components. Now where exactly is Milwaukee?

That was a brief introduction to American hot dogs but I'm sure we'll come back to some or all of them later.

The U.S. is probably the epicentre of hot dog consumption. You could even say - if you wanted to get analytical - that the hot dog kind of encapsulates American culture and values: It's fast, unpretentious and unfussy. It's accessible, democratic food.

But I don't think an appreciation of the sausage and bread combo has to start and end in the U.S. Other countries have their own take on the hot dog which can be just as good, if not better and I'm hoping to make this a really global blog by not just focusing on the American frank-in-a-bun.

Next time...Hot Dogs Namibian Style

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