Tag Archives: chicago hot dog

Foodways— Chicago

Jim told me that the Chicago hot dog has to have the right bread— A Mary Ann poppy seed bun.  This is a specific brand, but any other brand of bun immediately disqualifies the hot dog as a Chicago dog.  It also has to have a Vienna brand hot dog, made with all beef rather than pork.  Condiments on the Chicago dog always include mustard, relish, chopped onions (he emphasized that they must be chopped), tomato, two hot peppers (one on each half), and seasoning salt.

At this point, Jim emphasized that you can never put ketchup on a Chicago hot dog.  He jokingly said that you cannot chemically put ketchup on a hot dog, as it would have an adverse reaction.  He said that the only people that put ketchup on hot dogs don’t really know how to eat a hot dog.  He said that that’s just not how it’s supposed to be.  If you put ketchup on a hot dog, you’re not from Chicago.  While discussing the idea of ketchup and hot dogs, Jim became very passionate and animated, raising his voice and making sure that I got the message.  In a seemingly serious tone, he said that he feels shameful and embarrassed when his friends put ketchup on their hot dogs.

Jim said that he learned the Chicago hot dog tradition just by growing up in Chicago.  He said that every few blocks there would be a hot dog stand, and each hot dog would be prepared in the same way.  He said that you’d be asked to leave one of these stands if you ask for ketchup on a hot dog.  Once again, he emphasized that the practice is not acceptable in Chicago.  Jim didn’t have a clear answer for why the Chicago hot dog is prepared this way or insightful analysis on what the Chicago hot dog means, he simply claimed that that’s the only way he knows how to eat a hot dog.  His family and his friend’s families would prepare hot dogs with slight brand variation, but they would never put ketchup on the meat.

This specific hot dog preparation likely exists as a form of identity for Chicago citizens.  As Jim said, “If you put ketchup on a hot dog, you’re not from Chicago.”  Even though Jim had no idea where this tradition came from, he still felt strongly connected with it because it was a part of his culture growing up in the city.  The tradition is likely a way to distinguish locals from outsiders and tourists, ultimately uniting Chicago citizens.

It is also a way for Chicagoans to connect throughout the world, as there are many “Chicago restaurants” located in different cities that usually prepare hot dogs in this manner.  Furthermore, it offers something for tourists to try when they come to Chicago.  It provides a unique experience for tourists that want to experience the local culture.  The companies that make the specific buns and beef likely attempt to keep the “official” hot dog a staple in Chicago society in order to continue to make money.