I have a complicated relationship to hot dogs. It all started about twenty five years ago when I ate one for the first time. I immediately fell in love.
I loved the way the skin on the hot dog snapped when you bit into it, the rush of salt and meat juice, and the tangy mustard on top. I loved the fact that the dog was between two pieces of bread. I even loved when the hot dogs turned to charcoal on the grill. The meat underneath the casing was still tender. At barbecues, I barely looked at the hamburgers.
Then, for some reason, I decided to become a vegetarian. I’m not sure why. I think it started in France when I felt weird about walking into butcher shops to buy meat or poultry. Maybe it began in grad school, when my friend and I decided to do an in-depth reporting project on factory farms. Regardless, I didn’t eat meat, including hot dogs, for about three years.
During this time, my sisters would give me trouble about not eating hot dogs. “How can give up something you love this much?” they’d say when I’d come home to visit during the summer and refuse to eat one.
Then, about two years ago after I moved to D.C., I found myself craving a hot dog. It wasn’t a passing fancy. It wasn’t a subtle yearning for days gone by. It was a full-on NEED for hot dogs.
I wanted to eat one again, but I didn’t want it to be just any hot dog. It had to be good. I wasn’t going to end almost three years of deprivation with a shoddy dog.
I wish I could tell you that I waited for the right one. Instead, I got very drunk at a New Year’s party in D.C. that year and succumbed to a pastry-wrapped mini dog, the kind that you buy frozen at the grocery store to serve as hors d’oeuvres. It was, as my friend Nat called it recently, an “anticlimactic secret hot dog.”
Since then, though, I’ve made progress. I’ve stopped being a vegetarian and I’m back on meat. I love hot dogs, even though I don’t eat them as frequently as I did when I was little. Yesterday, I went and got one for lunch.
Steve’s Hot Dogs is the place to go in St. Louis if you want a legit dog. I ordered the “St. Louis-Chicago Dog Huh?” as an homage to two places I’ve lived and loved.
When I took a bite of the dog, it brought back a flood of memories. I was a little kid again, standing outside in the scorching St. Louis heat, wiping mustard away from the side of my mouth with the back of my hand.
Two years ago when I was getting ready to eat a hot dog again, I was telling my coworker about my dilemma. “How sad that you would deny yourself for no reason,” he said.
His words have stuck with me. Now, if I don’t have a good reason for giving something up, I don’t. Self-restraint and moderation are good to a certain extent. But when it comes to the things we love, indulgence is key. Call me a hedonist, but food, as in life, is better when it’s savored.