Tuesday, January 4, 2011

If you've ever been to Costco, you know what this is.

An admission: the quarter-pound Hebrew National all-beef hot dog is one of the more cherished delicacies of my upbringing. Let's be clear: it's a boiled meat product in a smushy white bun, typically loaded up with sodium-rich condiments. Even if this thing is blessed by all the appropriate religious officials, it just can't be healthy. It is 360 delicious calories of Meat.

Oh, how I love it. It was the reward for a successful trip to Costco (and before it was called that, Price Club). Oddly, as an adult, it reminds me of my grandfather, may he rest in peace. My father's father was a military man, very disciplined but very sweet. When I was in the third or fourth grade, he came to live with us for a time. Every day, he would do morning calisthenics in his bedroom, counting his exercises out loud. Like clockwork, he made his bed, combed his silver hair and shaved his face using a little brush and a little bowl of lather. Sometimes, he'd let me work the brush. He could recite hundreds of poems, and would sit for hours during the day, reading and writing in journals. He would tell me stories from Shahnameh, though I don't remember them; I remember the sharp smell of his French cologne and the way he'd play with his voice to entertain me, and giggle at his own silliness. He enjoyed a quiet, rigorous life _ and I admired him a lot.

His diet was unadventurous. Every day, he would eat cornflakes for breakfast, with a spoon of sugar sprinkled carefully on top. For lunch, he would have one Costco hot dog plain, with a fork and knife. No bun, rarely a smattering of ketchup. And for dinner, every night, if he could get it, he would eat baghali polo ba maycheh, which is a rice pilaf with dill and lima beans, paired with a lamb shank stewed in onions, turmeric and saffron. Every once in a while, after a meal, he would indulge: one scoop of vanilla ice cream. Though he would protest if you gave him a big scoop, he would quietly run his spoon along the bottom of the bowl to catch every last bit.

No matter how many times I tried to turn him on to the things I loved eating at the time, he would express smiling disinterest _ which, in hindsight, was the correct thing to do when dealing with a precocious child's palate (rainbow sherbet, anyone?). I used to fear he wouldn't like America or staying with us if I couldn't get him to like junior Western cheeseburgers from Carl's Jr. or all-you-can-eat salad bars. But really, he was like so many of the parents of his generation: torn between homeland and his children who had left it for far-flung places. He wasn't going to while away the end of his life in an unfamiliar land for seasoned criss-cut fries, despite my youthful conviction that they made life -- anywhere -- worth living.

Nowadays, I take my dog with a bun and ketchup. In my grown-up defense, the bun is one of those fake white buns that's secretly whole wheat but they somehow mill it to look, taste and feel like white bread (yeah, I don't really buy it either) and the ketchup is organic and from Trader Joe's. Thank god these kosher delights come in packs of 4 and no more. Though, now I have four spare hot dog buns and don't know what to do with them.


  1. I was vegetarian in college until one day, I woke up and craved a hot dog. Really bad.

  2. I feel like I remember it wasn't just a hot dog... it was a cheese-filled hot dog. Am I remembering that right? I definitely associate that food with you.