Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Thursday, February 26, 2004


Page 15



Hot Dogs: a Court Surely Erred In Terming Them ‘Lowly’




“The word ‘hot’ may be used to express several very different things,” the Court of Appeal observed in a 1942 opinion. “For instance, we speak of a hot water bottle, or of hot weather, or a hot time, or hot air (with at least two very different meanings), or a hot tamale, or hot cargo (with a comparatively new meaning), or even of the lowly hot dog.”


The hot dog is an American institution. Nary an inning of baseball, the “great American pastime,” is played without consumption of “red hots” by spectators. The Fourth of July is marked by the flying of “Old Glory,” as well as by fireworks and the grilling of wieners.

There are sausages associated with various lands—German bratwurst, Polish kielbasa, Italian sausage, Hungarian sausage, and so on—but there is one sausage that we associate with the USA—the hot dog! (Okay, never mind that frankfurters came from Frankfurt just as hamburgers came from Hamburg—we combined them on buns, and they’re ours.)

A monument should be erected in the District of Columbia to that all-American sandwich that puts smiles on our faces, the exalted hot dog! 

Hot dogs are a favorite at fairs and carnivals, as they have been for nearly a century.

They’re also on menus in restaurants, but that’s only since the end of World War II. Their respectability has thus advanced since the California Supreme Court observed in a 1941 opinion that a “ ‘hot dog’ or hamburger sandwich is the type of food frequently offered for sale to and desired by persons who wish to eat something while walking about,” adding:

“It is not the type of food generally ordered by a person who patronizes a hotel, restaurant or other public eating establishment with the intention of securing a ‘meal.’”

At least the Supreme Court didn’t call them “lowly.”

There are foods that appeal to children—and, for the most part only children—like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I gobbled those down as a youngster, but the thought of one now is sickening. There are other foods that adults enjoy which children wouldn’t touch—like Roquefort cheese. But hot dogs have appeal to persons of all ages—and ethnic groups.

Indeed, they appeal to just about everybody—even vegans. There has long been a vegetarian version made from soy protein.

There are, of course, kosher hot dogs; indeed, one of the best of all hot dogs brands is Hebrew National.

It’s the food of paupers, the food of kings, the food of all.

Lowly? Hmmmph!

It is a food with unrivaled versatility. A hot dog can be steamed, boiled, broiled, baked, griddled, fried, deep-fried, sautéed, barbecued, or microwaved. For a midnight snack, it can be consumed without cooking.

Aside from putting a hot dog on a bun, you can serve it on a bed of sauerkraut; in a casserole; with mashed potatoes and gravy; or with pasta seasoned only with melted butter or olive oil, and salted.

Along the lines of combining it with pasta, there’s a brand of oriental frying noodles, containing a packet of dry brown stuff used as seasoning, available at various Asian markets. I sauté onions in olive oil, add the packaged noodles and brown stuff, then toss in chopped hot dogs, swishing the ingredients around, sprinkle on chili oil (which is sesame oil based), and wind up with a highly palatable dish.

A restaurant in Little Tokyo offers a wiener omelet.

Try sautéing chopped hot dogs with onions and green peppers (adding chili oil, if you like).

Wrap a sheet of dough around it and bake it in the oven. Or insert a stick into it, dip it in a corn-based batter, deep fry it, and, voila, you have a corn dog.

On a cold, rainy night, there’s nothing better than hot dogs in a bowl of chili with chopped raw onions.

One of my favorite dishes is a concoction of my own: a hot dog on a tortilla fried in butter or olive oil, topped with baked beans and chopped onions. I recited this recipe to a Mexican American judge who cringed at what he apparently regarded as a gross misuse of the tortilla.

But the marriage of the hot dog and the tortilla is familiar to those in the Civic Center. The Kosher Burrito (a stand now demolished, but which might reemerge in the new Cal-Trans Building when it’s completed) used to serve a pig-in-a-blanket. A flour tortilla was used. The cook would ladle chili onto the tortilla on the griddle, add a warmed hot dog, sprinkle cheese on it, add mustard and pickles, then roll the tortilla, heat it on one side, then the other, and serve it.

When I get home quite late and haven’t eaten, I know what to fix (without need for Pepcid). It’s hot dogs and Campbell’s tomato soup. Tomatoes are acidic; nonetheless—and I don’t know why—this is an ideal late-night dish.

Next week: more about the hot dog.


Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company


MetNews Main Page      Reminiscing Columns