Behold the humble hot dog

August 1, 2009

Guelph Mercury, 22/07/09dog

Mankind has made a lot of wonderful things – the wheel, single malt scotch, the push-up bra.

But his most perfect invention just might be the humble hot dog.

Yes. It is probably nature’s perfect food, with a little help from man. Step aside bananas or eggs or whatever imposter makes that claim. We’re talking hotdogs today.

What’s inspired this? The New York Times reports that Iranian diplomats in Washington were invited to Fourth of July receptions hosted by the State Department for the first time since 1979. On orders from the president, they dined on hot dogs, just like everybody else.  America knows if you want to warm delicate international relations, you do it with dogs.

The State Department also knows one of life’s other truisms: Someone who does not like hot dogs is probably untrustworthy and should be avoided.

It is the everyman food, so comforting, so familiar, so cheap. And as far back as June 1939, it has been a part of American foreign relations. That was the day the king and queen of England attended a picnic at President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s estate. The queen, presented with a hot dog on a silver tray, reportedly turned to the president and asked: “How do you eat it?”

“Very simple,” Roosevelt said. “Push it into your mouth and keep pushing it until it is all gone.”

The Queen is said to have used a knife and fork.

And yet, the hot dog remains maligned, so often ridiculed as second-class, as suspicious. It’s filled with mystery meat, pig lips and Chinese newspaper, they cry.  Like racism, we should all step in and stop those kind of comments when we hear them.

You see, the hot dog is close to my heart. They kept me alive in university, when your columnist was on a diet of four per day. Steamed, boiled, or fried in a pan, you’d tuck them in a folded slice of bread and call it a meal. To impress a girl, you’d cut them into slices, which would be added to a pot of Kraft Dinner.

Yes, the hot dog does it all.

And sure, they’re pretty American – what other country would have a National Hot Dog and Sausage Council, and place it in its nation’s capital? But they’re awfully Canadian, too.  (A Manitoba radio station claims that to make a Canadian hot dog, one must top it with mustard, mayonnaise, maple syrup, Old Cheddar cheese, and crispy bacon.)

Many nations and many people have contributed to the evolution of this most perfect food. As the story goes, the wife of German hot dog vendor in St. Louis was the first to place hot dogs in buns around 1880, because so many customers kept walking off with the white gloves her husband gave them to eat the wieners with.

Since the addition of bread, though, the best way to eat them has always been the simplest: boiled or steamed, with a soft bun, and a coasting of mustard.  If you want to get fancy, you can grill the bun in butter, like they do in Fenwark Park, home of the hated Boston Red Sox.

If you feel the need to dress your dog as a Cincinnati Cheese Coney, you’re missing the point. That variety calls for a special chili topping—one spiced with chili powder, paprika, nutmeg, chocolate, and cinnamon, all on top of mild cheddar cheese, diced onions, and a fancy mustard available only in Ohio. People who like their dogs that way are the same as people who drive Cadillac Escalades. Show offs.

Hot dogs are one of life’s simple pleasures and should be enjoyed as plainly as possible. Perhaps this is a belief I inherited from family. I have a grandfather who once shouted “not unless you’re trying to cover something up!” at a terrified teenaged fast food worker who asked if he wanted anything – anything at all – on his hamburger.

No he did not, for the record. And when it comes to hot dogs, neither should you.

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