This is a foodblogging post I have put off for a year and a half. The photos were waiting patiently to be edited on my desktop for all that time, and I continually ignored their pleas of “Post me! Post me!” So it is finally time for the story to be told:
A short time before encountering the Biwako Hot Dog, I wrote a post detailing the history of the Japanese fish sausage (which has turned into sort of a resource center for aspiring fish sausage makers worldwide – go read the comments!). So it was a happy coincidence that found us cruising the mountains around Lake Biwa, because the snowboarding trip we planned had been rained out. It was an absolutely miserable day, weather-wise. And the photos of death and decay on that link convey the mood we were in quite well.
The day was saved, however, by the appearance of a black and yellow kei (ultra compact 660cc class) van on the side of the road:
(click any of the images above to open a larger version)
The menu hanging off the back door of the van says:
w/wiener: 350 (yen)
w/hamburger patty: 350
The photocopied papers stuck to the side windows were pretty crazy, stuff about how women are the bane of mankind and how God hates them (but men must respect them) and whatnot… The message was basically that the owner had had a hard life and gone completely batshit – we were intrigued.
The owner, an old fellow, was snoring when we walked up – classic! – and had apparently fallen asleep in the middle of preparations. He woke suddenly as we called to him and carried on with his actions exactly where he had left off, as if nothing had happened. We felt bad for waking him, and ordered three of each kind of dog. He was cool and gave us a couple extra – not many customers that day because of the crappy weather, I think.
The traditional Japanese hot dog is a hot dog purist’s worst nightmare. Even discounting the type with a hamburger patty or a slice of ham, the wiener type is sacrilege mainly because it employs fish sausage (examples here and here). Because of the use of this quite-inferior sausage, the entire experience is ruined for approximately 100% (+/-.001%) of westerners. (This is especially ironic because of the word ?? (“European style”) written on the passenger door of the van.) However, many Japanese profess to love this taste because it brings back memories of school lunches… Hey, to each his own – I sometimes yearn for the days of sloppy joes and tater tots, too.
Behold the traditional Japanese hot dog in its full glory:
What sets the real thing apart from all fish-dog wannabes is the curried cabbage shreds (prepared in the RINNAI oven seen in the photo third from the top), as well as the karashi (hot mustard) infused sauce slathered all over the top. Since the fish sausage has so little flavor (and actually the hamburger patty and “ham” were ALSO fish-based processed meat), the main flavor comes from the karashi, the cabbage, and the white bread bun. In a word: blah. However, if you ever have a chance to try this food item, it will give you a chance to taste the cafeteria youth of your Japanese friends, and in this regard, it has true cultural value (and at least it tastes better than okara, another contender for this honor)