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The semiotics of the hot dog


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Split from the Amaxing Hot Dog Thread

(Jason Perlow @ Jan 20 2006, 10:34 PM)
(jackal10 @ Jan 20 2006, 05:29 PM)

Whats with this US obsession with the hot dog (and hamburger)?

Once in while, maybe at a fair, but its not real food.

That's fighting words, Jack.

I thought it might start an interesting discussion on the semiotics and societal significance of the hot dog, but if I posted that no one would answer. To me, Hot Dogs are nursery or street carnival food.

I wonder if they are popular because they reflect the "on the go" aspirations of the east coast US - it is I believe mainly an east coast phenomena - something eaten in passing rather than proper sit-down meal. Although sausage is certainly a German (and northern Europe) tradition, eating it in a bun is not. For example an English Banger is best enjoyed with mashed potato as the starch, onion gravy, and on a china plate, eaten with a knife and fork. Hand food (not counting canapes which are not sustenance) is for kids who can't use a knife and fork, or for when you are doing something else. Sandwiches were originally for when you were playing cards (or going on Exodus, and did not have time to eat properly.

According to Larousse Hot Dogs date to an advertising gimmick of around 1930.

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Hot dogs are popular first and foremost because they taste good. For many mothers, it's a quick and easy to prepare meal that kids love. Hot dogs are great at the ballpark, carnival, or street fair as well.

Although many people look at them as cheap food, quality franks are made from good cuts of meat. In the case of kosher hot dogs, only certain parts of the animal may be used. And there are no fillers. You are actually eating a good piece of meat. The better beef dogs use choice beef; some, like Lobel's use prime.

While hot dogs are very popular on the East Coast, they're also popular in other parts of the country; Chicago, LA, and the South. While eating a sausage in a bun is not a European tradition, it's certainly an American one. In Germany, they steam or boil a frank consisting of beef, pork, and veal. They eat it plain, dipping it in mustard with a semmel roll on the side.

In America, there are many ways to prepare a hot dog. Deep frying, steaming, boiling, char grilling, griddle frying, roller grilling, and combinations of these. And there are many toppings that show up on hot dogs. People who are fortunate enough to be able to travel like to discover and enjoy the many different regional versions of hot dogs. Although sausage making may have it's origin in Europe, hot dogs (the combination of a sausage on a bun) are an American phenomenon.

My interest was sparked when a local newspaper reviewed hot dog joints around New Jersey (where I live). I was curious to see if my local place would be included. It was, but I was surprised when the place that was picked as the best in the state was also located in my hometown and I had never heard of it! I went to sample their dogs, which I loved. I then went to the dozen places that were reviewed, and became interested in the brands used, methods of preparation, and house specialty toppings. There's a lot more to hot dogs than what you might think.

It seems that everyone has their own favorite hot dog place. And there are really no nation wide chains where everything is the same like McDonald's or Burger King. Each hot dog joint is unique and has it's own character, just as each quality frankfurter has it's own special mix of spices and cuts of meats. I enjoy sampling and comparing dogs at home and at the fun places that serve them.

John the hot dog guy

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I agree with John. Americans have embraced the hot dogs to a degree that in the seventies there was a commercial which named them as one of the four undeniably American things. The others being baseball, apple pie and Chevrolet. :biggrin:

I know people with such loyalty to hot dogs brands that no other brand ever darkens their doorsteps. Not even in times of crisis.

If ever you are in Chicago, check out the dogs they sell there.

If only Jack Nicholson could have narrated my dinner, it would have been perfect.

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Hot dogs are also a classically North American foodstuff in that they are very malleable. This prompts me to say that, Jack, if you had ever had the pleasure to sneak under a tent to escape the 110F July sun of South Tucson AZ to have a few Sonoran hot dogs (wrapped in bacon, served with charred chilis, scallions, tomatillo salsa, and -- not a typo -- mayonnaise) with some icy beer, well, you'd be unable to dismiss the humble weiner.

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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I thought it might start an interesting discussion on the semiotics and societal significance of the hot dog, but if I posted that no one would answer. To me, Hot Dogs are nursery or street carnival food.

I have spent my entire life in pursuit of semiotic-free hot dogs.

from the thinly veneered desk of:

Jamie Maw

Food Editor

Vancouver magazine

www.vancouvermagazine.com

Foodblog: In the Belly of the Feast - Eating BC

"Profumo profondo della mia carne"

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My Hessan husband and I had a very thorough discussion last night on the origin of the word "Weiner" and all the implications.

It was funny, because I was not aware that a weiner is an Austrian, as in not really a German, and some Germans use it as an epithet.

We speculated that perhaps somebody, somwhere, told a German that he was getting a "Frankfurter", and that the German responded "NO, that's a Weiner!"

I guess you would have to be there...and know my husband, who is a gem of a guy.

:wub:

ETA: He absolutely loves my grilled brats, on a hard roll. No problem. He HATES potatoes.

Edited by annecros (log)
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From Urban Dictionary

"weiner

A common but incorrect spelling for "wiener." This word is actually pronounced "whiner" and does not refer to the man's penis or to a hog dog.

"You are a weiner."

"No, idiot, you're the wiener.""

Interesting annecdote from your German husband, annecros. I hadn't heard of it but I'm sure there are many names Germans have for Austrians (and vice versa)!

At least in Austria though, I believe the common word for hotdog is "Frankfurter" and "Wiener" is also just the name for "Viennese" (i.e., an inhabitant of Vienna).

This site has some history on hotdogs and their names in the US... Also the annecdote about Franklin Roosevelt serving the King of England hot dogs at a visit to Hyde Park.

"1805 - The people of Vienna (Wien), Austria point to the term "wiener" to prove their claim as the birthplace of the hot dog. It is said that the master sausage maker who made the first wiener got his early training in Frankfurt, Germany. He called his sausage the "wiener-frankfurter." But it was generally known as "wienerwurst." The wiener comes from Wien (the German name of Vienna) and wurst means sausage in German.

1860 - In the United States, the wienerwurst became known as a "wienie" in the 1860s and as a "wiener" by the early 1990s. "

All that being said, I think there are parts of the US (R.I.? for eg?) where the non-traditional "weiner" spelling has been considered the "right" spelling from use and tradition over a number of years.

"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"

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Hi my name is tracey and I like hotdogs.... I am planning to head to Amazing Hot Dog later today.

We must like hot dogs in general or there wouldnt be so many variations on the theme....I mean turkey dogs, chicken dogs, Tofu Pups :wacko:

While Icelanders enjoy a lamb dog with an onion sauce very similar to Sabrett's sauce, had a couple on vacation ...not half bad.

After moving on from the childhood Oscar Meyer to my current preference of Best's deep fried of course....char grilled is nice too, but often the moment after it looks perfectly done it looks perfectly shrivled. Kind of like scrambled eggs..if they look done in the pan they are overdone :sad:

And yes Jack...we do ignore whats in there and try to think of BSE as a European problem.

oh I just remembered when my daughter wouldnt eat them for a while in 2nd grade...the teacher told them they were nasty

T

The great thing about barbeque is that when you get hungry 3 hours later....you can lick your fingers

Maxine

Avoid cutting yourself while slicing vegetables by getting someone else to hold them while you chop away.

"It is the government's fault, they've eaten everything."

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According to Larousse Hot Dogs date to an advertising gimmick of around 1930.

Maybe in France, but in the U.S., they were served at the 1904 World's Fair. Nathan's opened its hot dog stand in Coney Island in 1916.

And actually, there were other hot dog stands that preceded Nathans by at least 40 years -- Nathan Handwerker himself worked at one before he started his restaurant. According to This site and This site Charles Feltman invented it in the late 1860's-early 70's, and opened Feltman's restaurant, where Nathan learned the trade and later opened Nathan's.

Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

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Let me put on my glasses, cross my legs and cough ever so slightly into a closed fist.

To explore the semiotics of the hot dog, one would debate the nature of the nomenclature.

How did the American wiener get its canine name, first of all?

Second, how has our understanding of that term developed over time, shifted in different contexts, and so forth?

Edited by Pontormo (log)

"Viciousness in the kitchen.

The potatoes hiss." --Sylvia Plath

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P.S. Bessie Smith is seminal to the semiotics of the hot dog.

"Hot dog" as a verbal construct is a cultural sign with meaning beyond that which it originally was intended to signify.

I.e. etymology does not define the meaning of a word or phrase.

The sign is implicated in sex, race, class, national identity, slang ("Hot DAWWG!"), and culinary hegemony (hot dog vs. hamburger).

It ain't just processed meat.

Edited by Pontormo (log)

"Viciousness in the kitchen.

The potatoes hiss." --Sylvia Plath

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I haven't ever cracked open a copy of Larousse Gastronomique, but I suspect that what the entry cited here may have been referring to is the use of the phrase "hot dog" to refer to a "frankfurter" or "wiener" sausage.

I vaguely recall reading something--here on eG, I think--about the phrase catching on when an advertising copywriter designed an ad featuring a wiener altered to resemble a dachshund.

My recollection is also that the frankfurter or wiener was one of those food products popularized at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis in 1904--as was one of the most popular condiments to put on a hot dog, French's yellow mustard, which made its debut at the fair. French's mustard packages up until a couple of years ago even bore the legend, "An all-American favorite ever since its introduction at the 1904 World's Fair!"

In fact, it might be argued that the 1904 St. Louis World's Fare, um, Fair, was to American eating habits what the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago was to American city planning.

But as for the semiotics of the hot dog, you really don't want to get a gay man started on the subject, now do you?

Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

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The hot dog needs no defense or explanation. It simply is, glorious in its simplicity, sublime in its endless variations (do I crave bleu cheese and scorched onions today, or cole slaw an mustard? Koshoer, or something with a little pork?). Roosevelt served them to the Prince of Wales, Ignatius J. Reilly served them to Bourbon Street tourists and I served them to my children, each of us harboring a guilty glee in presenting so plebian a food to our betters, each with a warm knowledge that our guests would be relieved and delighted to encounter so humble and fulfilling a treat.

Explaining a hot dog is like explaining a joke or a Matisse, pointless and exhausting. Those who do not understand hot dogs should merely accept that they have a unresponsive point in their pleasure centers where others do not -- a numb culinary nipple as it were -- and move on to other, more personally exciting gastromic erogenous zones. As for the rest of us, we'd like a little mustard, please...

(P: I have been lead to believe that the phrase "hot dogs" was one of those "freedom fries" constructs that sprang up in WWI and, among other things purport to explain why Berlin, New Hampshire, is pronounced Burr-len by the locals. I also like the baseball stadium appellation: "red hots".)

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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(P: I have been lead to believe that the phrase "hot dogs" was one of those "freedom fries" constructs that sprang up in WWI and, among other things purport to explain why Berlin, New Hampshire, is pronounced  Burr-len by the locals.  I also like the baseball stadium appellation: "red hots".)

I like the stadium term too, but as I tend to associate a certain level of spiciness with the phrase "red hot," I am invariably disappointed when I order one of these puppies.

They're still delicious, though. Maybe I should smuggle some Tabasco into the ballpark and secretly spike the hot dog water with it.

Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

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The thing I find curious, and therefore wonder if it is symbolic of a deeper societal value, is how much US food is fast to eat, and eaten from the hand, often on the move; not just hot dogs, but also hamburgers, Po-boys, heros, submarines, bagels and other deli sandwiches, pizza and much BBQ even.

This seems unique to the US. Does this reflect a hurried, grab it and go society, or one that treats food as fuel, rather than something to linger over in comfortable surroundings and company?

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The thing I find curious, and therefore wonder if it is symbolic of a deeper societal value, is how much US food is fast to eat, and eaten from the hand, often on the move; not just hot dogs, but also hamburgers,  Po-boys, heros, submarines, bagels and other deli sandwiches, pizza and much BBQ even. 

This seems unique to the US.  Does this reflect a hurried, grab it and go society, or one that treats food as fuel, rather than something to linger over in comfortable surroundings and company?

Yes.

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The thing I find curious, and therefore wonder if it is symbolic of a deeper societal value, is how much US food is fast to eat, and eaten from the hand, often on the move; not just hot dogs, but also hamburgers,  Po-boys, heros, submarines, bagels and other deli sandwiches, pizza and much BBQ even. 

This seems unique to the US.  Does this reflect a hurried, grab it and go society, or one that treats food as fuel, rather than something to linger over in comfortable surroundings and company?

Greeks have gyros and meat, cheese and spinach pies available on countless Athenian streetcorners; pizzas are Italian; French "delis" are full of ham and cheese combinations on baguettes that resemble in every way a Gallic hogie and neighborhood frites joints; and the Brits have their porkpies. On the other hand, BBQ is by no means an eat-on-the-run dish, and other classic American dishes include gumbo, chowder, Sunday dinner with fried chicken and biscuits ,and my old favorite: steak, baked potato and iceburg lettuce salad served on Sunday after church.

Beware easy generalizations.

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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I think Busboy makes the point, every culture has some foods that can be eaten on the go, also, cornish pasties, eggrolls, etc.

I think the appeal of the hotdog is like the appeal of pasta or pizza, you can change the sauces, toppings, etc, and make hotdogs (and burgers) to be exactly what you like.

A hotdog with sweet relish, cheese and catchup is very different from the same dog with raw onion, hot mustard and kraut. It's food that lends itself to different tastes.

Edited by christine007 (log)

---------------------------------------

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The thing I find curious, and therefore wonder if it is symbolic of a deeper societal value, is how much US food is fast to eat, and eaten from the hand, often on the move; not just hot dogs, but also hamburgers,  Po-boys, heros, submarines, bagels and other deli sandwiches, pizza and much BBQ even. 

This seems unique to the US.  Does this reflect a hurried, grab it and go society, or one that treats food as fuel, rather than something to linger over in comfortable surroundings and company?

No, I think Americans just like to eat during every waking moment. Unfortunately during some of those moments they are required to do something besides eating, so they efficiently combine the two activities.

Actually, busboy, every culture has its "portable" fast food but you will find that people in other countries will typically eat their purchases right at the cart, not carry it with them. In most other places I've lived it is seen as kind of rude to eat while walking around...this is what sets Americans apart, I think.

Edited by Behemoth (log)
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Add this factoid... my mother is having house guests this week from Chicago... my first thought, can they bring some hot dogs and sausages??? please

tracey

just had an Amazing Hot Dog with creamy cole slaw, chile and diced jalepenos....Mmmmmmmmmm

The great thing about barbeque is that when you get hungry 3 hours later....you can lick your fingers

Maxine

Avoid cutting yourself while slicing vegetables by getting someone else to hold them while you chop away.

"It is the government's fault, they've eaten everything."

My Webpage

garden state motorcyle association

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Besides "eating on the go" in the city, hotdogs are also strongly associated with other American activities such as baseball games, state fairs and backyard cookouts--inexpenisive, easy to eat and easy to cook.

Maybe early on, people also associated hot dogs with 'fun' activites like going to a fair or to a game, but being inexpensive and easy to cook also puts them within everyones range to make at home. Even if you often make more elaborate cook outs, having people over for hotdogs and hamburgers can be a very simple and relatively spontaneous way to feed a large group of people in your backyard when the weather is nice. My family would usually plan more for other cookouts but on any nice evening someone might say, why not grill some hotdogs and quickly you have a moderately festive occasion!

I think eating hot dogs at baseball games and making them at backyard cookouts contributed to cementing their place in American food. Besides, as already mentioned, they taste good, go great with beer and can be tailored to individual tastes.

What would be the food eaten at similar sporting events or fairs in England, for instance, or is food less a part of those activities? Is there a dish typically eaten at football (soccer) games?

I suppose that people probably grill out quite a bit less in England, for example, but is there a typical dish that would correspond in popularity and ease of preparation to hot dogs and hamburgers in the U.S.?

Edited by ludja (log)

"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"

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But as for the semiotics of the hot dog, you really don't want to get a gay man started on the subject, now do you?

HAH! I'm glad you said that first, Sandy! My warped brain was already getting set to start paging Dr. Freud to please pick up the white courtesy phone. :laugh:

The thing I find curious, and therefore wonder if it is symbolic of a deeper societal value, is how much US food is fast to eat, and eaten from the hand, often on the move; not just hot dogs, but also hamburgers,  Po-boys, heros, submarines, bagels and other deli sandwiches, pizza and much BBQ even. 

This seems unique to the US.  Does this reflect a hurried, grab it and go society, or one that treats food as fuel, rather than something to linger over in comfortable surroundings and company?

Okay, I see several folks have already responded to this; I'll just add a shout-out to the massive popularity of fast-food street stalls in many Asian countries (which I've only been able so far to experience through book and film, alas, but boy do they make me drool). It does seem to be true, though, that the US is unique in the practice of people eating their treats while actually on the move. In fact, we have a whole class of foods, popular at state fairs, served on a stick for easy consumption on the move--i.e. if even a hot dog on a bun is not convenient enough, you can get the whole effect combined on a stick in the form of a corn dog. For some reason unknown to me, the Minnesota State Fair seems to be a motherlode of this kind of stick-ified food, as this webpage, among many others, humorously documents.

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If hotdogs really do represent, or reflect that whole "on the go"-aspiration, how come most fast food restaurants don't serve them?

Edit: Heh, cool -- the Wikipedia entry on hotdogs sports a picture with this byline: "A deep fried, bacon wrapped "Jersey Breakfast" dog from Amazing Hot Dog in Verona, New Jersey. Photo courtesy of Jason Perlow (jason@egullet.org)"

Edited by Grub (log)
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