A Tribute to Hotdogs and Hamburgers
Ah, it’s that time of the year when many people go on vacation—a time to explore new horizons, relax and not worry about preparing family meals. One of the easiest ways to enjoy food while traveling is sampling the street food of the region one is visiting, such as Spanish empanadas, Portuguese salgados, Puerto Rican bacalaítos, Mexican tacos, to name only a few. And if one is visiting the U.S.A., especially large cities such as New York and Chicago, there is the dependable hotdog.
A hotdog? How can a hotdog compare to the antojitos of other countries? As I pondered this question I reflected back on the hotdogs of my childhood. At home I usually spread mustard on my bun, added the boiled hotdog, and topped it off with relish, either sweet pickle relish or the mustardy hotdog relish, sometimes even sauerkraut or ketchup. At picnics we also had the choice of topping grilled hotdogs with chili, cheese and chopped onions. Yes, I concluded—hotdogs when prepared properly with lots of toppings can be quite tasty even, perhaps, as much as the street food of other countries.
When my son was small we spent our Sundays at the beach and when it was time to eat, we bought hotdogs from street vendors who walked along pushing hotdog carts. My son, who was never into eating as a child, always wanted his hotdog plain. How boring, I thought, but at least he was eating something. I, on the other hand, wanted my hotdogs with everything! And everything in this case consisted of the bun, mustard, the hotdog of course, chopped fresh onions, relish, grilled onions and a barbecue-like sauce. These were the best hotdogs that I have ever eaten!
Perhaps some might say that hamburgers are the definitive American street food but hamburgers aren’t usually purchased from street vendor carts--as far as I know. However, they are what most people think of as the most popular of American fast food. I am one of those people who must have pickles, onions, and mustard on my burgers. Or at least until I attended college one summer in Monterrey, México. There, when I ordered an hamburguesa at a downtown eatery, the pickles were replaced by pickled jalapeño peppers! And suddenly my taste buds came alive and began to crave those hamburguesas. But, of course, back in the U.S.A. I had to return to the traditional burger. But by some quirk of fate, many years later, I have discovered restaurants—at least in the Southwest—that offer jalapeño burgers! Many are served with grilled onions to create a burger taste treat that can’t be beaten.
So, wherever one travels this summer, whether in the U.S.A. or abroad, part of the fun is experimenting with the street or fast food of the region—not only is it fun but economical and easy on the family cook as well.
Oh, and those street vendor hotdogs that I loved so well? Those weren’t American hotdogs at all—we ate them at San Gerónimo Beach in San Juan, Puerto Rico!
(Originally published in Pensamientos on a bilingual webside, Está Aqui, the summer of 2001).