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Today is a great day to celebrate Sundaes. It’s the kind of brilliantly hot day that (if taken advantage of) can feel like an entire summer inside 24 hours. So, some friends and I have taken this opportunity to camp at a nearby lake and bask in the sun on inflatable devices with beers in hand.
The camping invite came last minute, and I had planned to celebrate Sundaes in the city, but I was loathe to pass up such a perfect opportunity to float. Fortunately I live in a day and age where people such as myself can “telecommute”. I’m typing on my BF’s bluetooth keyboard into my iphone. I’m still agog that such things are possible.
Unfortunately my ability to technically execute a Sundae in the middle of nowhere is not as impressive. Upon our arrival last night my ice cream had melted and certain restrictions made it difficult to make my hot fudge hot. So we ate soft, melty ice cream with chocolate syrup, and nobody seemed to mind. My gracious friends made comments such as “I love soft-serve!” and “This is like the best part of a Blizzard!”
Since I can’t demonstrate a fabulous sundae I will at least give you some trivia about the dish’s origins. It was invented in the late 1880′s or early 1890′s in America during a time when “Blue Laws” placed a lot of restrictions on what a person could do, eat and drink on the Sabbath. Carbonated beverages were forbidden, so “Pop Shops” looked for an alternative product to draw business on Sundays. The syrup-topped ice cream treat was a big hit and quickly became a profitable dish all week long despite its loss-leader beginnings.
Today’s star, the Hot Fudge Sundae, is my personal favorite, though truth be told I’m not that fond of Sundaes. Still, it’s hard to deny the pleasure of silky hot fudge contrasted against creamy cold ice cream. Even McD’s can produce an enjoyable version. I have fond memories of guiding the round tip of the flimsy plastic spoon along the grooves of the plastic cup, trying to scrape up every last bit of sticky fudge sauce.
So, wherever you are, I hope you’re enjoying this blissful July weekend, and if Sundaes are your cup of tea, I hope you’ll feel decadent enough to eat one.
“Hot dogs is best food for me.” Pavel Brendl
For those who don’t know, Pavel Brendl was once touted to be the “next one” to light up the hockey world. In 1999 the promising young Czech was drafted 4th overall by the New York Rangers after three standout seasons with the Calgary Hitmen. Unfortunately for Pavel, hotdogs were not the best food to feed a finely tuned athlete. He repeatedly showed up at camp a little softer and rounder than his chiseled compatriots. His stay in the NHL was brief and uninspired.
Unlike Pavel, I do not believe that hotdogs are the “best food for me.” But, I do love them. And, I believe with complete conviction that we can enjoy all foods – in moderation. However, in the name of National Hot Dog Month I have cast aside any thoughts of restraint and enjoyed every hot dog I could lay my hands on. As the immortal Mark Twain once said, “All things in moderation, including moderation.”
I don’t think I am unusual when I say that I have a mountain of memories associated with hot dogs. I remember being a kid, standing at the edge of a camp fire with a wiener jammed on to a sharpened stick, moving from one side to the next to avoid the smoke, reaching into the heat as close as I could, and waiting impatiently for the hot dog skin to blister and char to perfection. Fast forward a few years and I remember the hot dog vendor on the beach at Waikiki who offered shredded cheese and bacon bits as condiments. I remember braving the driving wind and rain to walk two blocks from work to the little mall up the street to have a “Pizza Dog” from the Orange Julius. Then there were those unremarkable but thoroughly wonderful nights with my high-school sweet-heart, eating chili-cheese-dogs at the Dog-n-Suds (aka the Arf and Barf) drive-in in the neighbouring town.
More recent memories include the hot dog vendors scattered across Mexico City where you can buy three dogs for 15 pesos – that’s about a buck and a quarter to us Canadians! And who has been to New York and not had a “dirty-water-weenie” from one of the hundreds of carts that occupy virtually every corner in Manhattan. My son, who quotes Pavel Brendl frequently, was beside himself, stopping at every other cart to buy yet another dog as we wandered the streets of New York. I guess the question is “do I love hot dogs or the memories of them?” After a few weeks of serious “research” and I can say, without hesitation, that I LOVE hot dogs.
I have also noticed how I have inserted hot dogs into my life… how they have become the food that I associate with particular events and activities. Hot dogs and camping go together like peas and carrots, to quote Forest Gump. The golf course is another activity best accompanied by hot dogs. I almost can’t imagine not having a hot dog and a beer the turn. Hot dogs were the perfect portable food while wandering around the race track in Montreal during Formula-1 week. And, what could be better than a hot dog and a cold beer while soaking up the sun at a baseball game.
I think hot dogs enjoy enormous popularity because they are so easily customized to suit individual tastes. That familiar tube can be stuffed with just about any kind of meat… beef, pork, chicken, turkey…. and seasoned to suit any pallet… garlicky, spicy, sweet. And then there are the condiments. It seems everyone has their own particular method of dressing their dog. My son likes his with nothing but ketchup and onions – unless he’s working when he loses the onions in favour of mustard so the ketchup-coated onions don’t fall on his pants. I like mine all-dressed. At the very least it should have ketchup, mustard and green relish, but when available, barbeque sauce, mayonnaise, hot peppers, onions, sauerkraut, cheese, bacon bits, corn relish, pickles, etc. can enhance or replace those basic toppings.
Earlier this month, July 2nd to be precise, we took the first truly warm day of summer as our cue to barbeque with Jim and Eva. Jim made a great jerk chicken, and we brought the dogs. For this event I rebuffed the usual mongrel dogs and chose instead some dogs with a pedigree. I picked two breeds from my favourite Italian butcher shop – Hot Italian and ‘duck and pear’ sausages. I dressed my Italian with mustard and sweet corn relish – all too ordinary. But, I tried something a little different for the duck-dogs which I topped with grilled green onions and hoisin sauce – not your traditional hot dog but really yummy.
My Asian-inspired hot dog got me thinking about all the hot dog variations you can find around the world. Some of them are pretty straight forward like the boiled dogs you find on the Mexico City and New York carts. Even the glow-in-the-dark yellow bun you’ll find in Toronto isn’t much of a stretch. But I found a couple on-line that were not off-putting but really challenged my notions of what a hotdog can and should be.
I am not sure what to make of this dog wrapped in a waffle cone sold by street vendors in Thailand though I am seriously intrigued by the French-fry coated dogs from Korea.
Of course, Vancouver is no stranger to unusual hot dog variations. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention our own burgeoning hot dog traditions. Perhaps the best known and most popular is the Japadog. Japadog started out as a simple sidewalk vendor who soon opened a second cart to occupy another corner a few blocks away. Japadog was so popular that the line-ups soon became legendary. This year they opened up their first storefront. Now the carts and the restaurant are all lined up for the lunch rush. At one time Japadog was a local secret but now has it has received international acclaim from travel and food writers and has even been featured by Anthony Bourdain when “No Reservations” visited Vancouver. The Terimayo is their signature dog, topped with grilled onions, teriyaki sauce, Japanese mayo and shredded nori (seaweed). It is a great combo!
As I write this there is still a week left in Hot Dog Month and that means I still have one more week to indulge. I have one more week to try the Tandoori Tikka Dog, the latest addition to the fusion hot dog scene in Vancouver. And I still have a week to find a Chinese Hot Dog Bun, a wiener wrapped in a steamed bun. T and T Supermarket usually has them but they’ve been out all month. And, I might just find time to track down my favourite local vendor who makes his own corn relish. The reality is that Hot Dog Month won’t end in July for me. I have to have a foot-long with fried onions at the PNE (Pacific National Exhibition) and there are lots of ballgames left before the season ends. When we are at the farm in August, I am sure we’ll have camp fire and I will have to roast a dog on a stick for old times sake.
It’s been a great month. I’ve been able to justify all my hot dog indulgences as research. In fact, it would have been an absolute travesty to not take this post seriously. Almost everyone asked for this assignment. It seems that everyone had something to say about hot dogs. I hope I have done the noble dog justice. I really love street food of almost all varieties and hot dogs are just about my favourite. I absolutely adored the Buñuelos de Maiz (Corn Fritters) and Bocaditos de Cerdo (Roasted Pork Sandwiches) in Cuba. And the Nasi Lemak (Chicken and Rice) in Singapore was fantastic. The Hamburguesa Hawaiana outside the bar in Mexico City was the perfect kind of satisfying. But hot dogs, in all their variety are the perfect combination of flavour and convenience. Only the Mexican street taco triumphs over the hot dog in my books. If there is ever an opportunity I will tell you about the brilliant little taco stand under a highway overpass in the Coyoacan area of Mexico City, or the most amazing taco ever in Oaxaca.
How about you? Do you have a favourite vendor? Favourite toppings? What makes a good hotdog? Is it still a hot dog when you dip it in corn batter or wrap it in a waffle? Is an Italian sausage on a bun a hot dog or does a hot dog have to be a wiener? I have so many questions for such a simple food.