Friday, September 18, 2015

Ketchup It Up!

My home state of Kentucky doesn’t have a major league baseball team but we do have WGN. When I was a kid, that Chicago TV channel showed all the Cub games so they felt like a local team to me. Next to the snap-buzz of a Star Wars light saber, THE iconic sound of my childhood was legendary Cubs announcer Harry Carey’s "Holy cow!” (And also his late season, possibly drunken ninth inning breakdowns of exactly what was wrong with the team after they’d yet again been mathematically eliminated from the post season by the end of August.) I was such a Cub fan that I took all the money people sent me for high school graduation gifts and used it to make a pilgrimage to Wrigley Field where I got to see the Cubs beat the Mets two out of three and eat plenty of ballpark food.

That's 18-year-old me on the right at Wrigley Field with no shirt sleeves to impede my enjoyment of a ball park pretzel. 

The point is that even though I never lived there I've always kind of felt like an honorary Chicago resident. One of the things that bugs me about my fellow Chicagoans is their militant insistence that ketchup doesn’t belong on a hot dog. What?

The Anti-Ketchup Nazis’ foolish rhetoric has infected others, too, spreading across the country like a virus. A “national council” (who I won’t name because I’m sure they only did it for the publicity) recently decreed that anyone over 18-years-old putting ketchup on a hot dog should be taken out back and shot (I’m paraphrasing but you get the idea). A native Californian, when seeing me ketchup-up a hot dog asked, “What are you, eight?” My answer was, “Yes. When I’m eating a hot dog, I’m eight-years-old again.” Don’t try to stand in the way of the only kind of time travel we’re ever really going to have.

Beyond the nostalgia factor and the fact that someone trying to impose their own beliefs and preferences on others brings out my strong contrarian streak, I just honestly like the taste of ketchup on a hot dog. Alone or combined with mustard (or, occasionally, cheese) the sweetness adds something to the experience. From Dodger Dogs...

 to New York City dirty water street dogs...

 I ketchup coast-to-coast. But I recently realized that I’d never put ketchup on a Chicago-style hot dog. That seems like the ultimate "screw you" to all the anti-ketchup idiocy so, you know me,  I just had to do it.

A traditional Chicago Dog is topped with yellow mustard, white onions, sweet pickle relish, a dill pickle spear, tomato slices, pickled peppers and a shot of celery salt.

 The preponderance of vegetables piled on top leads people to say that the Chicago hot dog has been “dragged through the garden.” My aforementioned contrariness makes me want to rant about how a hot dog is no place for a vegetable patch or crack that all the bright colors make a Chicago-style hot dog look like a clown threw up on it. But I won’t. The truth is, I really like the Chicago dog’s combination of toppings and I relished (no pun intended) digging into the first few bites to ketchup (pun intended and horribly forced) my buds so that the traditional taste of the Chicago hot dog was fresh in my mouth and my mind. I did and it was delicious. Then I committed the atrocity.

I laughed while defiling this sacred food with my base and dirty ketchup. I couldn’t wait to take a bite, love it, and declare to the world what a fool anyone is to not ketchup a Chicago Dog. Then I tasted it. Wait. No way. 

I took another bite. Ugh. I finished the damned thing. Yuck. As much as it pains me to admit it, a Chicago-style hot dog is much better without ketchup. I think it’s the relish. That’s your sweet taste right there. Another sweet toping is overload. Plus, the relish combined with the tomato and the celery salt kind of makes it’s own rudimentary ketchup. So I guess my real discovery is that you shouldn’t put ketchup on the Chicago Dog because IT ALREADY HAS KETCHUP ON IT! Ha! Suck on that, food Nazis!

Listen, I’ll never be convinced to go along with any food decree. Keep your culinary commandments to yourself. Those kinds of arbitrary rules just beg to be broken. Besides, once you start trying to force your personal tastes, choices, and downright prejudices on others you might as well just go join the Taliban or whatever. You’re a big part of what’s wrong with the world. But I’ll also say this: Chicago Dogs are way better if you don’t put ketchup on them. You do what you want but – only when it comes to Chicago-style hot dogs, mind you – I’m killing the ketchup. 

Lesson learned. 

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