Rise of street foods — hot dogs Part 1

With the rise of late night food stands across Fiji, Chef Seeto delves into the myths and history of some of our favourite hand-held foods and shares some delicious recipes to enjoy at home or to sell on the street.

It was not that long ago that night food and barbecue stands were just for the drunken masses leaving our nightclubs in search of some carbs to soak up the excessive alcohol at 2am in the morning. However, more vendors have worked out that there is a market for customers who are now time poor (or just lazy!) and in search of a quick dinner solution after work or on weekends.

No longer confined to the nightclub strips, food stands appear to be popping up in vacant car parks and alongside traditional fruit and vegetable stalls selling home- cooked snacks and barbecue meal packs. It seems many families just do not have the time or money to visit a fancy restaurant or cook at home, and are satisfied with picking up a meal cooked by someone else; and that’s good news for our food vendors.

Street foods and hawker-style stands will continue to pop up so long as there is customer demand, but there is now opportunity and a need for vendors to diversify and offer something different to the competition.

You can see it at festivals such as Hibiscus or the food stands on Victoria Pde, Suva’s nightclub strip; everyone seems to be selling the same thing.

In this four-part series, I’m going to share a collection of distinct recipes of handheld foods that may inspire those hardworking vendors to create something new, or encourage the entire family to have a hot dog day and let the kids create their own concoctions.

This week, it is the hot dog. What are its origins, where did it get its name and is there a Fijian version of this popular fast snack?

Sausage before the hot dog

To understand the history of the hot dog, we must first look at the history of sausages. Sausage is one of the oldest forms of processed food dating as far back as the 9th Century BCE. In Roman times, it was customary to starve pigs for one week before the slaughter. One of Emperor Nero’s cooks had accidentally forgotten to clean a pig before roasting it whole.

He stuck a knife into the belly to see if the roast was edible, and out popped the intestines, empty because of the starvation diet, and puffed from the heat.

According to legend, the cook exclaimed, “I have discovered something of great importance!”

He stuffed the intestines with ground game meats mixed with spices and wheat, and the sausage was created.

The modern day sausage has its origins in Germany with the frankfurter and weiner, but was popularised in America after German immigrants arrived in New York in the 1860s. Traditionally eaten with bread and sauerkraut (pickled cabbage), the three ingredients would soon evolve into what we today know as a hot dog.

How the sausage got its bun

The marriage of bun and sausage is a controversial topic among food historians, and many have claimed to be the original inventor; no doubt to claim some sort of patent or copyright.

While its origins are most probably closer to how German’s traditionally eat bread with sausages, some of the legends are inspirational.

In 1880, a German named Antonoine Feuchtwanger was apparently peddling hot sausages in the streets of St Louis, Missouri in the US.

His sausage business was not going well, and because the sausages were piping hot, he felt obliged to provide a white glove with each purchase so that customers’ hands and fingers would not get burned.

This, of course, did nothing to raise his profits as the customer walked off with the glove.

His more practical wife suggested that he cut costs by putting the sausages in a split bun, which his baker brother-in-law dutifully supplied in the form of long soft rolls that fit the shape of the meat.

Not surprising, people fell in love with this new and foreign handheld street food, which went on to delight emperors, kings and presidents over the ensuring centuries.

WHY IS IT CALLED A HOT DOG

Some cheeky myths claim early sausages contained dog meat but there is no historical record of widespread dog consumption in ancient times, and besides, domesticated dogs have been “man’s best friend” and companion throughout history; so why would you eat them?

The more simplistic reason is more likely because its German creators affectionately knew the spiced sausage as a dachshund sausage, as its long shape resembled a brown German dog species with short legs, pointed snout and … a long, thin sausage body.

References to dachshund sausages and ultimately hot dogs can be traced to German immigrants to America in the 1800s.

These immigrants brought not only spiced sausages, but dachshund dogs.

In fact, even Germans called the frankfurter sausage a ‘little-dog’ or ‘dachshund’ sausage, thus forever linking the word ‘dog’ to their popular concoction.

Today, vegetarians don’t have to miss out on this delicious icon as vegetarian sausages can be found in some overseas supermarkets and deli shops.

Well dressed dog

Hot dogs, buns and garnishing and how they are ‘dressed’ will differ from place to place, but in the US, the law has even regulated several hot dog terms:

Chicago dogs — poppy seed bun, yellow mustard, dark green relish, chopped raw onions, tomato slices and celery salt.

Kansas city dogs — sauerkraut melted Swiss cheese, sesame seed bun.

New York City dogs — steamed onions, pale yellow mustard.

Coney Island dogs — created by the Original Coney Island company, spicy meat mixture.

Southern slaw dogs — these are probably the only ones served with coleslaw.

Corn dogs — these are placed on a stick, dipped in corn bread batter and deep-fried.

Tex-mex dogs — salsa, Monterey Jack cheese and chopped jalapeno peppers.

Pigs in a Blanket — wrapped in baked puff pastry

Baltimore frizzled — split and deep-fried

Lilies/Lilliputians — cocktail-sized sausages are usually served as an appetiser, and come with a sauce.

A Fijian hot dog?

When I think of a hot dog it’s basically a sausage in a bun, so there’s no reason why you can’t fill it with more local flavours.

The cheaper, locally-made sausages are mainly chicken and lamb and can be quite boring in flavour so adding different sauces, relishes and pickles is all up to your imagination.

I prefer the more gourmet sausages you can buy from specialty butchers such as South Pacific Butchery on Denarau Rd, Narewa in Nadi, as they have different spiced meats to choose from.

When it comes to flavour combinations, just think of your favourite local dishes and start from there.

A curried lamb hot dog with tomato salsa, mango or tamarind chutney, dhaniya leaves, pickled cucumber and lashings of raita comes to mind when thinking Indian flavours.

For a traditional iTaukei hot dog, it might be a beef or pork sausage with palusami, grated coconut, pickled onions and a homemade tomato relish.

Or what about a chilli chicken hot dog with caramelised onions, sautéed cabbage, chilli chutney and roasted capsicum?

And while crunchy and toasted buns add a bit of texture, I still prefer the soft warm buns rubbed with some cow’s butter.

The possibilities are endless when creating your own distinct hot dog, and great fun for the kid’s and family to try at home on a Sunday — hot dog day!

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