One of the most popular fast foods, after hamburgers and pizzas has to be the highly underrated hot dog and, in honour of International Hot Dog Day, which is celebrated on Wednesday, July 22, we decided to investigate the history of this sausage-in-a-bun that has been around for hundreds of years.
Historians believe that the origin of the wiener sausage used in hot dogs can be traced all the way back to era of the notorious Roman emperor Nero.
In Roman times it was customary to starve pigs for one week before the slaughter. Nero’s cook Gaius was watching over his kitchen when he realised that one pig had been brought out fully roasted, but somehow not cleaned. 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, Gaius got the idea to stuff the intestines with ground game meats mixed with spices and wheat and … behold … the sausage link was created.
After that, the humble sausage travelled across Europe, making its way eventually to present-day Germany, where the locals took to it as their own, creating an estimated 1 500 different versions that exist today. But it’s two towns that vie to be the original birthplace of the modern hot dog sausage. Frankfurt claims the frankfurter was invented there in 1484 – some 736 years ago, but the people of Vienna (Wien in German) say they are the true originators of the “wienerwurst”.
But whoever is correct, it’s agreed that German immigrants to New York were the first to sell wieners from a pushcart in the 1860s which led to the modern-day hotdog as we know it. There are many stories of people who claim to have brought together the wiener and the bun but according to Josh Chetwynd, author of How the Hot Dog Found Its Bun, there are only two credible contenders:
One story takes place in the 1880s in St. Louis where hot dogs were referred to as “red hots.” A vendor was selling red hots on the city streets and passed out white gloves so people who bought them wouldn’t get burnt or have greasy hands. But after people began stealing the gloves, the vendor turned to his brother-in-law to help solve the problem. His brother-in-law, a baker, suggested the vendor pair a soft roll with the red hots. Voila – the complete hot dog!
Another story takes place on Coney Island, involving a man named Charles Feltman, who sold sandwiches on his cart. Unable to completely fill up his cart, he decided to sell something else and wondered if red hots could be added to a bun and eaten the same way as a sandwich. The rest is hot dog history.
But how did the sausage and bun combination get the actual name “hot dog”?
No one is certain, but one theory has it that in the 1890s, the sausage and bun vendors would sell their wares outside student dorms at several major US universities and their carts became known as “dog wagons,” a slang term from the popular belief that dog meat was used in making the sausages. It was not long before the students began referring to them as “hot dogs”.
Whatever the facts though, there is no doubt the hot dog is as popular today as it ever was. Served with lashings of ketchup and mustard it is standard fare at sporting events, children’s parties and almost always on food truck menus.
In South Africa, the much-loved “boerie roll” is a close relative of the hot dog and is often served with chutney, chakalaka or fried onions. But what other topping options are there for hot dogs?
We asked a few chefs from the Capsicum Culinary Studio for their favourites:
Chef Lungi Makiza: “I’m a lover of all things cheesy and spicy, so a mix of mozzarella and gouda with jalapenos or piquant peppers is my go-to topping,” while Chef Mark Coombe likes a sriracha mayo to give a little spicy kick to the hot dog. “I also like to add some fresh rocket for a peppery flavour,” he says.
Chef Natasha Jooste enjoys topping her hotdog with caramelised onions and blue cheese, and for Chef Bianca Jacobs nothing beats Mexican salsa with white cheddar cheese.
“Try it and you’ll never look back,” she says.
Whatever your preference there’s no doubt that this simplest of fast foods is going to be around for a long time and enjoyed by generations to come.