Liza Zimmerman takes us around the world with an American classic

My grandfather owned a chocolate factory in Brooklyn and when I was growing up it was like a triple header getting to go there, ride the Cyclone roller coaster at Coney Island, and eat a hot dog with him and my dad. I have fond childhood memories of slathering sauerkraut and mustard on hot dogs at Nathan’s in the shadow of the Cyclone.

Since then the hot dog has been reinvented a thousand times. From pretzel buns in Amsterdam to alligator dogs in Louisiana, different cultures keep on giving their own twist to what once was an American staple.

The Classic

Nathan’s Famous was founded in the New York beach resort of Coney Island in 1916. Everyone from Al Capone to Cary Grant has eaten there. The hot dogs even got some international exposure when President Roosevelt served them to the King and Queen of England in 1939; he even shipped them to Malta in 1945 to enjoy with Winston Churchill at the famous conference. The singer Barbra Streisand has them sent to London and actor Walter Matthau—of The Odd Couple fame—requested that they be served at this funeral (and they were).

Hot Dog Nathan's
Hot Dog Nathan’s / Bill Milne Studios

As of 2010 there had been over 435 million Nathan’s Hot Dogs sold, according to the company’s website. I like them best with a mix of mustard and sauerkraut, served with a side of crinkle-cut fries ideally on a sunny day.

The chain’s Coney Island location is also home to the its legendary 4th July hot dog-eating contest. And humans are not the only ones to have competed for titles in similar competitions: in 2009 the restaurant hosted a hot dog-bun eating contest that pitted three female elephants against three males. The females won.

Dutch treats

American expats and Dutch chefs are experimenting with new versions of the hot dog. The lavishly-tattooed Brooklynite SammyD at the newly opened Wyers Bar & Restaurant makes a kimchi-bacon hot dog. It’s made of Berkshire pork and comes with cheddar cheese and jalapeño peppers. Its described as “somewhat Texas in style”. The roll is made at a local Dutch bakery. It is topped with chipotle mayo and bacon with the kimchi served on the side.

Hot Dog Wyers Kimchi Bacon Hot Dog Amsterdam
Kimchi Bacon Hot Dog from Hot Dog Wyers / Rinze Vegelien

In the hipster neighbourhood of De Pijp, Bulls & Dogs offerings range from lamb merguez sausage with harissa to pork and pesto cream, all of which are served on pretzel buns. At Hema, the very affordable 2€ hot dog is a secret mustard sauce-covered sausage imbedded in a white roll.

A Touch of South Africa in Miami

This hot dog, served at the Miami’s Big Easy Winebar & Grill (a partnership with the champion golfer-turned-winemaker Ernie Els), is inspired by Boerewors, a traditional South African sausage made from a mix of beef and lamb or pork. It’s served on a soft roll with onion jam and tomato chutney. The final dish is called Boerie Bites and is topped with candied jalapeño, which the South Africans call cowboy candy.

Hot Dog Big Easy_Boerie Bites
Hot Dog Big Easy Boerie Bites / Grove Bay Hospitality

The word Boerewors comes from a combination of two Afrikaans’ words boer, or farmer and wors, which means sausage. The original versions were made with lots of spices such as allspice and coriander. Newer takes include chicken versions with garlic, cheese and onions.

Eclectic Dogs in New Orleans

In a part of the world where crawfish and alligator are favourite dishes, it’s not surprising to find them in hot dogs. The dogs at Dat Dog are made from crawfish, ’gator and duck. The chain also serves 30 different toppings including crawfish étouffée, hummus and blackberry sauce. There’s even a vegan version, the Field Roast Italian Dog, made with eggplant and served with fennel and garlic.

Datburger from Dat Dog / Dat Dog
Datburger from Dat Dog / Dat Dog

The chain’s first venue, which opened on Valentine’s Day in post-Katrina New Orleans, was in a 475-foot shack in a troubled neighbourhood near Tulane University. The owner put out benches with a picture of a smiling hot dog: the restaurant’s tagline is now “Put a smile on your face.”

A Touch of Mexico in Arizona

It’s thought that the Sonoran hot dog – a bacon-wrapped sausage in a toasted bun topped with pinto beans, grilled onions, tomatoes and a blizzard of condiments from mayonnaise to jalapeño sauce – came over the border from Sonora to Tucson a couple of decades ago. It was sold on the streets of Tucson by vendors known as dogueros. Now it’s popular throughout southern Arizona: in Tucson you could try El Guero Canelo (owner Daniel Contreras started as a doguero in the early 90s). In most places the soft, fluffy buns—called bolillos—are made in-house and the final dish is generally garnished with a grilled yellow chilli on the side. The Sonoran is now so famous north of the border that its fame has spread back to Mexico, where the Sonorans want their dog back.

El Guero Canelos
El Guero Canelos

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