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Hot diggety dog: the language of hotdogs

In my local supermarket there is a section of shelving devoted to sausages in tins and jars. American-style hot dogs whose label reveals them to be made in England from mechanically recovered turkey, frankfurters made from slightly more identifiable meats, Bockwurst from Germany, and jars of Polish kiełbasa. European harmony expressed through the medium of processed meat products.

As a Brit who grew up in a rural environment, these uniform sausages with their smoky flavours and smooth consistency could hardly differ more from the chunky butcher’s sausages of my upbringing. A banger with strong English mustard in a wholemeal bun is as far away from a hotdog at an American stadium as the game we call American football is from the one they call soccer. Dripping pork fat and burned casing is a virtue on a British sausage but, I am told, is anathema to a hotdog lover.

Are frankfurters from Frankfurt?

Sadly I don’t have the budget to research the meat products of our neighbours in person, but that won’t stop me sharing a piece of general knowledge that I probably tell everyone. Since an American hotdog is a frankfurter, you might assume that if I took a Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt I’d find the real thing, wouldn’t you?

In fact, if I visited a traditional Frankfurt sausage butcher I wouldn’t find an American hotdog sausage, but its ancestor. The Frankfurter Würstchen is a smoked pork sausage that has geschützte Ursprungsbezeichnung status or, in English, Protected Designation of Origin. This means that to be legally described as such, it has to be made within the locality of Frankfurt am Main. It’s certainly recognizable to a hotdog lover though, and like a hotdog it is cooked in hot water rather than fried or grilled in the manner of a British banger.

Dogs and sausages

The precise genesis of the modern hotdog is disputed, but the European origin of today’s sausage is likely to be closer to the Frankfurter Würstel or Wiener Würstchen, a Viennese development of the original from Frankfurt which may contain beef as well as pork. Its evolution into the street food we know and love today came at the hands of 19th-century immigrants to the United States. The term hotdog originated in US college slang, and somewhat alarmingly was probably influenced by a popular belief that the sausages contained dog meat…

When we think of a hot dog, we probably first imagine a Frankfurter sausage in a long white soft roll, perhaps on a bed of fried onions and with a line of American style mustard and maybe ketchup applied to it.

This classic image is not the end of the story, though. As anyone who’s watched a few episodes of Man V Food or Diners, Drive-ins and Dives will tell you, there seem to be as many regional variations as there are cities in the United States. A particular favourite of mine are the ones with chili con carne added to the mix, though as a Brit I couldn’t possibly enter the argument over where these chili dogs originated.

However, the Americans don’t have all the variations to themselves. A few years ago I encountered hotdog made by puncturing a hole down the centre of a French style baguette with a metal spike and inserting the sausage and condiments. On enquiring I found that this style came from the vendor’s home country in Eastern Europe.

Not for the first time, I (and my stomach) silently thank the miracles of international communication for delivering new ways to eat delicious and probably rather unhealthy food. 

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