Today is the Fourth of July, Independence Day in the United States of America, and I'm firing up the grill. I won't be grilling slabs of ribs or juicy steaks or thick hamburgers. I'll be cooking hot dogs, the all-American meat thingy if ever there was one.
Hot dogs are not particularly healthful fare, but they are so American and, oh, so good. Fourth of July festivities must include hot dogs.
I've eaten hot dogs in France, Japan, Norway and many of the United States. Those U.S. franks have included Dodger Dogs at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, wonderful German-American wieners in natural casings in the Midwest, and funky Lucky Dogs in the French Quarter in New Orleans.
I apologize for writing this next revelation, but some of the tastiest hot dogs ever to pass my lips were served to me in Paris, France, where the Marine Corps had assigned me to the U.S. Embassy for a couple of years. A French hot dog? Ah, bah oui! I know it sounds unAmerican, but I often ordered a dog at a little restaurant a few blocks from metro-stop Bir-Hakeim, not far from the Eiffel Tower. That delicious dog-in-dough sandwich featured a long, old-fashioned wiener tunneled inside a crusty length of baguette bread. Also inside the bread was warm, gooey-thick Gruyères, the cheese named after the village of Gruyères, Switzerland. I always thought that the yellow, alpine cheese was named for some place in France, not Switzerland. Nevertheless, the melted state of that rather hard cheese — also used in French onion soup and on most croque monsieurs —made the wiener-in-baguette creation even more delectable, and the addition of some sharp French mustard finished it off perfectly. It was the most scrumptious rendering of an American staple I've ever tasted. I'm drooling as I write about it.
Hot dogs in Japan are another matter. The frankfurters you can buy in most Japanese markets do not taste like our hot dogs. They are edible, and I rather enjoy them in the neat, soft, dog buns the Japanese make. I enjoyed a very good frank in Yokohama, Japan, the port city south of Tokyo. However, it was a Swedish hot dog, served up in a Japanese bun, at a Swedish Ikea store. My American taste buds reveled in the experience, as I watched the many Japanese eaters around me feasting on the tubular treats.
The Norwegians respect hot dogs. They treat them right, dressing them in the best condiments in the world. My favorite toppings there are the crispy-fried, golden-brown, coarsely crushed, Norwegian onions. If you're ever in Oslo, you must stop at a pølse (hot dog) kiosk, order a couple of dogs and load up on the accompaniments. Don't expect to get a bun, though. It will come in a traditional lompe, which is similar to a flour tortilla, although American hot-dog buns are now on the scene in Norway.
Growing up in my hometown of Lebanon, Ill., I loved natural-casing hot dogs, those delicious, old-fashion, German-American franks or wieners. My mother bought them at the City Meat Market on West St. Louis Street in Lebanon. The Blumenstein brothers opened the City Meat Market in 1898. Sadly, it's gone now. These days, I buy natural-casing wieners at the IGA store in Trenton, Ill., or wherever I can find them here in an area of southwestern Illinois settled mostly by German immigrants.
Well, it's time to fire up that grill. I'll be serving three kinds of old-fashioned, Midwestern, stuffed-inside-natural-casings, snappy wieners. Yes, the kind that pop or snap when you bite into them, and the hot wiener juices squirt up into your nose or ruin your brand-new St. Louis Cardinals T-shirt.
Happy Fourth of July! Let freedom ring! Hot dog!