Can there be such a thing as a transformative hotdog experience, and if so, of what does it consist?
Though not native to these shores, in my time in the US I have sampled my share of hotdogs. I’ve eaten them at Ikea, at movie theatres, at 7-Eleven. I have made pilgrimages to Pinks, and treks to Tommy’s. I’ve had them boiled, grilled over coals, and fried on the hob. I’ve eaten them in soggy sesame-seed buns, in gourmet bread rolls and in wonder bread. I’ve consumed them standing, in the local park; sitting, on a picnic bench in the Santa Monica mountains; horizontally, sprawled out on a rug on the grass (not recommended, bad for the digestion). I’ve eaten Chicago-style dogs, as Jonathan Gold’s father recommends, topped with yellow mustard, relish and chopped raw onion; sprinkled with celery salt; garnished with a spear of new pickle; and served in a soft, steamy poppy-seed bun. And to be perfectly frank, I have never had a perfect frank.
Here’s my theory: the flawless hotdog is not about the quality of the meat or the freshness of the bread, or the precise ratio of relish to mustard. The transformative hotdog experience occurs when the setting is just right, which is why the closest I’ve come is a Dodger Dog, because as marriages go, there probably isn’t one finer than the glorious union of hotdog and baseball.
The essential thing is to arrive at the ball park early. One must be in one’s seat with a plastic cup of Miller in the cupholder and a hotdog in hand in time for the national anthem. Only then can one appreciate the full glory. Now take the first bite of the hotdog, the exposed end of sausage that sticks out from the bun like a toe poking through a holey sock. (There maybe people who can resist this protruding nubbin – ascetics, geniuses or madmen – but I, for one, do not have the self-control.) Observe the texture of the outer hotdog skin as it resists tooth-pressure, then bursts with a satisfying squeak, squirting hot, oily juices into the mouth. Marvel at the wonderous texture of the meat that has been compressed into the skin so tightly it has been liberated from all shape and form, like a tube of solid meatpaste. With the next bite, pucker up as the mustard zings and the ketchup blossoms and your jaws begin to ache from the tart, sweet cocktail of sensation. And then, as The Star-Spangled Banner strikes up, tip up your plastic seat with the back of your thighs, turn towards the flag, place your hand on your heart and wonder if there isn’t, as I hereby propose, something unsurpassable – and deliciously inappropriate – about listening to the national anthem of the US with a wiener (however sloppy) in your hand.