This is the plate I gave Jacques yesterday. We're having that sort of time. The let's-get-the-hell-out-of-here time. He's studying for his exams and I'm being miserable. Things were a lot easier when when we were were travelling. I wouldn't say better, or more meaningful, but certainly a lot more fun and a lot easier.
We've just had lunch during his study break. I made hot dogs because they're easy and trashy. And that's what I wanted. And because I have Obama-fever and I'm glad that he's here in South Africa. How awful that I should admire The President of the US more than I admire my own country's president. But then I suppose that was always the case, bar the time Madiba was in office. Anyway, I see on Twitter that there's a lot less Obama-lovin' than one would have thought. Pity that. But I'm being shallow and can only see our own JZ through the haze of his many wives, the Gupta's, Nkandla and a shower head and hell, how I wish I had a president who does this. And this. And this.
Anyway, here is a column I wrote on my crush on Obama and my love for New York and hot dogs. It appeared in Taste in may 2010.
President Barack Obama and Dirty Water Dogs and New York City embody all that SAM WOULIDGE loves about the USA. Fox News and Hershey Bars do not.
I admit to having a huge crush on US President Barack Obama. And no, the reason is not necessarily any lofty (or misguided) political ideals. Afghanistan, proposed health care bill, the promised closing of Guantanamo Bay are not the reasons that I have no less than three Obama fridge magnets, (just for the record all my fridge magnets are rude, subversive and/or contain expletives. I do not collect holiday souvenirs.) The first depicts him as Superman, the other is a picture of him with the inscription ‘It’s not called a Messiah Complex if he changes the world’. And last but not least a highly amusing interactive set of What would Obama Wear? magnets in which my preferred option is always Obama in those red board shorts sporting a bit of bling… But relishing his presence every time I open my fridge aside, the reason I like him is because the one-time intellectual nerd has become Very Powerful. I like him because he holds his own on a basketball court, even when he is the shortest player (It’s amazing how tall you are when you sport a title…) I like that he has date nights with his wife and the way his hand brushes Michelle’s buttocks when he think no one’s looking. I like that he reads Harry Potter and The Life of Pi to his daughters. I like that he’s part African and that he celebrated his political victory by drinking Graham Beck Brut NV (local politicians please take note). I make no attempt to defend my imaginary infidelity to my husband, who is far more cynical (sensible?) than I am when it comes to politics or politicians, and Jacques (bless him) indulges my infatuation.
Which is why, on our last day in New York, before we exchanged our seafaring ways for a permanent home in the shadow of Table Mountain, I could drag him to Gray’s Papaya on the corner of Eighth Avenue and 37th Street. I told him that Anthony Bourdain rates this small, open 24/7 hot dog joint. But my primary reason for visiting was that this tiny place had publicly endorsed Barack Obama’s bid for presidency in 2008. ‘Yes, Senator Obama – we are ready to believe again’ posters filled his shop front, so gaining him more that a few mentions in the influential Huffington Post and causing hungry, hot dog lovin’ Republicans to reevaluate the meaning of loyalty. Because hot dogs are very serious business in NYC. And those bought at Gray’s are particularly good. And democratically priced. These days a Recession Special consisting of two hot dogs and a fruit drink (the preferred accompaniment) will set you back only $4.95. Served on warm soft bread rolls, with enough crispy onion relish and mustard to give it a nice bite, these smallish hot dogs are the perfect grab & go meal. Well almost perfect. At Gray’s the dogs themselves are cooked on rollers, which gives, it a reassuringly pleasant sanitized greasiness, but I, having spent some time in New York, and always favouring the street food option, have developed a bit of a thing for the slightly dodgier Dirty Water Dogs sold on almost every street corner. Dirty dogs, as they are also known, are sold from mobile carts, and are so called because they are boiled in water and then stored in the same hot murky water, only being fished out when a customer requests one. Languishing in day-old water, these sausages are not always the most healthiest most hygienic of foods. But no matter, they are delicious, it’s as if the New York pollution adds the extra, mysterious zing. The best dogs are those sold from underneath a yellow and blue Sabrett’s umbrella, Sabrett’s is the Rolls Royce of sausages, being an all-beef frankfurter with natural casing and having a distinctive ‘snap’ when you bite into it. This is the sound that Hot Dog aficionados look for. So having shared the Recession Special (Yes, we can!) at Gray’s we left to find the best dirty water dog. Because once you’re on a roll, one dog just aint enough.
Which, as an aside, brings me to the rather revolting extreme sport of competitive eating, something I once watched in horrified fascination on television. Competitive eating is one of America’s fastest growing sports, and in excess of 1.4 million households tune in to ESPN to watch competitors scoff down hot dogs at Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Contest in Coney Island. On the Fourth of July 2009 Joey Chestnut consumed 68 hot dogs (with buns) in 10 minutes.
So Hot Dogs are big business in New York City. Recently a vendor lost his concession outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art for failing to pay his monthly rent of $53 558! And I wonder what ridiculous amount the nice guy selling outside the Apple and FAO Schwarz stores on 5fth Avenue pays for renting his small square of pavement. Which is where, I think, the best Dirty Water dogs are to be found. Perhaps it’s the fact that they’re still cheap in an area where nothing else is, $3 buys you one mighty fine dog. The onion relish, sharp mustard fumes, soft warm bun and the promise of sharp snap when you first bite into the sausage, and the faux brusqueness of the vendor comes with the unspoken agreement that for a few minutes of culinary comfort you too will feel like a New Yorker. And for a short while that feels good.