Imagine your ideal hot dog (for those of you who are anti-hot-dog, take this moment to reconsider your life decisions and work with me a little).
A steaming dog with a perfectly taut casing filled with juicy goodness… nestled between a slightly toasted bun… covered with golden lines of mustard…perhaps topped with relish and onions (or sauerkraut for the bold) … finished off with a swirl of Heinz Ketch— *insert crazed Chicagoan*
NO!! KETCHUP IS SATAN’S CONDIMENT!!! HOW DARE YOU DEFILE THIS AMERICAN TREASURE?!!?!?!
For those of you from the West coast (#bestcoast) this may seem like a fictional response to putting ketchup on your hot dog, but it’s 150% true. I experienced this first hand during my first year at Northwestern when I ate at Portillo’s (a proud server of $1 classic Chicago-style hot dogs today) in Skokie, IL. While I was standing getting ketchup for my fries, I barely lifted my hand to pump some ketchup onto my carefully crafted dog. Before my hand could push down the pump, an elderly woman put her hand on my shoulder, looked me dead in the eye, and said, “We don’t do that here, sweetie.” Ever since then, I’ve refrained from putting “the poor man’s sauce” on my hot dogs and senior citizen ketchup-Nazis in the Mid-West.
Being in New York this summer, I was given a quasi-mandatory list (curtesy of my moms and my addiction to TimeOut Magazine) of things to check out and do. On this list, a day at Coney Island enjoying all the rides, beach, and eats it has to offer. It’s main food attraction: Nathan’s Famous, home of “the most famous hot dog in the world.”
This time, I did my homework. I looked up all of the permissible condiments on a New York hot dog to find the same Chicagoan verdict: no ketchup allowed. Once my Coney Island excursion arrived, I smoothly ordered an original hot dog with onions and sauerkraut and topped it with mustard, like a perfect hot dog purist. Honestly, I understand why some people prefer to distant ketchup from their dogs; its sweetness is pretty suspect. Also the cut back on sugar made my post-hot-dog-food-baby slightly less noticeable while I romped around the beach in my bikini (emphasis on slightly). But I don’t think I’ll ever stalk people near condiment dispensaries in pursuit of preserving the ketchup-less integrity of hot dogs. There’s something about ketchup on a hot dog that reminds me of summer family picnics and home.
But this whole ketchup controversy brings up a bigger question: What is Essential? And more importantly, who gets to decide?
- A crazy Chicago lady guarding people from tainting Chicago hot dogs with ketchup?
- An arbitrary list on TimeOut selecting all of the necessary (and expensive) summer events to attend in New York City?
- Literally every image from popular media portraying the beach as the place to show off your “perfect” bikini body?
I beg to differ. Opinions are opinions, yes. So there’s no right or wrong (unless you don’t like Ella Fitzgerald, that’s a whole separate conversation). But my point is, although I had a fantastic time at Coney Island and enjoyed all of the food and rides prescribed to me, what has made my experience in New York so amazing have been the people I’ve been able to spend it with: from fellow interns at my job, friends in town from Northwestern, and random people I’ve bonded with in work out classes. And these experiences you can’t find in a travel or ketchup-hating dining handbook.