The evolution of the not dog

Chicago style hot dog
Image via Wikipedia

My mom loved hot dogs.  When I was little, and we went to the park, she’d either bring our little hibachi grill and cook the hot dogs right there, or we’d buy them from the vendor who sat outside the park every day.  Later, as she grew older, and Chicago pretty much eliminated all street food I’d make hot dogs every couple of months and we’d sit down and share them, have a little convo about everything and nothing, the way you do when you and your mom are sharing food you both love.  It was nice.  I honestly think that’s the thing I love most about them.  They remind me of Mom.

So, fast forward to the present.  Glinda doesn’t like hot dogs, and I’m not crazy about the idea of downing enough nitrate-ridden encased meat to make buying a package worthwhile.  I found Yves Good Dogs, which are tofu-based, and I have to say they taste pretty much like the real thing.  There’s a difference in texture, the Yves dogs are softer, and there’s no snap when you bite into one, but on the whole the flavor is pretty close.

I’m a Chicago girl and grew up on the Chicago-style hot dog.  If you’re not from here, let me explain:  The Chicago-style hot dog begins with a poppy-seed bun.  Now I’m a great believer in tradition but this is one point where I can easily diverge from it.  I don’t really need the seeds; I can make do with a plain bun.  And then there’s the hot dog.  Everyone likes a different one and you won’t get any argument from me about which is better, though you might from other Chicagoans.  Chicago is home to the Vienna Beef Co., and Oscar Mayer was headquartered here for over a century giving both of them a bit of a hometown edge, though Oscar Mayer is owned by Kraft Foods now, and their dogs don’t really count as a hometown product anymore.  Don’t even ask most Chicagoans about faux hot dogs.  Just don’t do it.

On top of dog and bun we put the following:  yellow mustard, pickle relish (I tend to prefer pickle-colored relish, but neon green relish is quite popular here.), chopped onion, chopped or sliced tomato, a kosher dill spear, sport peppers and a sprinkle of celery salt.  Not for nothing is this hot dog referred to as “dragged through the garden.”  However, and this is important: You must never ever, under any circumstances, have ketchup on your hot dog.  I’m serious.  At best it marks you as a naif, a child of nature who must be gently but firmly corrected (or a tourist to be laughed at.)  At worst it can get you run out of town on a rail.

So you see my problem?  Here I am trying to get away from meat in general, and processed meats in particular, but I have this comfort thing going on with the Chicago-style hot dog, a dog so tradition bound that it’s hard to separate the eats from the experience.  Also I happen to like that combination of flavors.  So anyway I’ve been eating the Yves dogs Chicago style, and they’re not really bad, though they don’t really add much to the mix except protein.

So today I thought: If I’m mostly enjoying this hot dog, but the dog itself isn’t really adding anything to the experience, why not take it out of the equation and the bun?  I steamed a bun, squirted it with yellow mustard, and instead of the hot/not dog I laid the pickle spear along the fold.  Then I added generous amounts of onion and pickle relish, sliced tomatoes and a sprinkle of celery salt.  (No sport peppers in the house, alas.)  The result?  Tasty.  The pickle spear gave me back that snap I was looking for at the center of the pile, and the flavors were right.  There was a light smokiness that I missed but it wasn’t a huge deal for me.  In short, I think I  can live with this particular version of not dog.

I’ll still very occasionally get a hot dog when I’m out somewhere.  I’m really fond of the ones from Portillo’s.  And street vendors?  Any time, bubba, any time.  Yes, we’re getting our street food back.  Go Chicago!

The author enjoying a picnic with her mother, circa about 1960


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