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Otters Oddities

Don't worry, it's bark is worse than it's bite.

Hot Dogs are something we, as Americans, think of things that are American. What was the commercial in the 70's? "Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet.". When you think of hot dogs, and the people who eat them, you think of Americans.


But, the truth is, the hot dog isn't American at all. "We know, Otter", you're saying. "It was invented in Germany in the late 1800's. Frankfurt in fact, and that's why they're called Frankfurters."

Bzzzt. Wrong answer. Seriously, do you really think I'd make a post on something that everyone knows?

The truth is, the hot dog is much, much older than people think.

The hot dog can trace it's lineage back to Babylon, some 3,500 years ago. It was then that people first started cramming spiced meats into animal intestines. It was a practical way of storing meat, as well as using all parts of the animal. Different animals had different sized intestines, so there were different sizes made.


The Greeks and the Romans made a lot of different types of this preserved meat. The Romans called the results, salsus, which is where we get our word sausage from. Salsus was the end result, and all sausages were called that regardless of their flavor.

The first reference we have to sausage in popular literature comes from Homer, who wrote in the Odyssey, "as when a man beside a great fire has filled a sausage with fat and blood and turns it this way and that and is very eager to get it quickly roasted.."


Sausage was a favorite dish in Ancient Rome during the festival of Lupercalia. Sine this was a pagan festival, and since it included sexual initiation rites, the burgeoning catholic church disapproved of it, and everything to do with it. So, in 228 CE, the church declared the consumption of sausage to be a sin. (dang you church...really?) And as Rome became controlled by christian emperors, Constantine finally banned sausages in all of Rome around 338 CE.

However, sausages were popular among the citizenry. (including the christian ones). There was a booming trade in bootlegged sausages. Such a booming trade that the Roman officials eventually determined the ban was unenforceable, and rescinded the ban.


By this time, the sausage was popular all over the world. Each region had their special recipes and methods for preparing. And they were a closely guarded secret. And this is where we notice a real regional diversity in the type of sausages.

In the Mediterranean region, sausages were hard and dry to prevent spoilage in the heat. In Europe, especially the north, sausages were softer and fattier, as they could last in the cool climate.


No one knows exactly when the spice/meat/fat combination that we now call a hot dog was first used. The first time the recipe was written down was in 1852 in ....Frankfurt Germany. That's why we call them Frankfurters. But it's almost certain the sausage known as a hot dog was being made long before that. (most people couldn't read/write before then, so no need or ability to write the recipe down).

German immigrants brought the Frankfurter to America, and it's here that it earned it's nickname as 'Hot Dachshund', because it looked like the dog. A cartoonists couldn't spell dachshund, so he called it a hot dog, and the name stuck.


In 1890, a man named Charles Feltman had a pie cart, and as the area he worked gained more restaurants, he found his sales plummeting. So he put a small grill on his cart and started selling Frankfurter Sandwiches. He served them in the traditional style, with sauerkraut and mustard. And he charged a nickel.

He soon became rich enough to open his own restaurant. He called it Feltmans German Beer Garden, and raised his price to a dime. In 1913 he hired a bun slicer/delivery boy named Natan Handwerker.


Nathan was popular with Feltmans long time customers. However, some of them weren't happy with the recent price increase for the frankfurter. Two of them, singing waiter Eddie Cantor and his accompanist Jimmy Durante, convinced Nathan to strike out on his own.

By 1916, Nathan had saved $300, and his wife had perfected a frankfurter recipe, so he bought an open front corner concession stand and started selling his hot dogs for a nickel. And to help promote his new business, he offered free hot dogs to doctors from Coney Island Hospital provided they ate them outside his stand while wearing their doctors coats and with their stethoscopes prominently displayed.


The combination of the doctors and a newly hired employee, a pretty redhead named Clara Bowtinelli, Nathan almost drove his former boss out of business. Sadly for Nathan, Bowtenelli only lasted a few months. A talent agent discovered her working there and decided she would become the 'it girl' for the new industry called Movies. She changed her surname to Bow and moved to Hollywood and became Americas first real super star.

But, things didn't end too badly for Nathan. You can still buy a Nathans Finest Hot Dog in most stores, not to mention visiting his location on Coney Island, still in it's priginal location.


Today, most people think of the hot dog as a cheap sausage to feed kids to keep them happy and quiet. And some hot dogs are cheap. They have a reputation of being made with the leavings of every scrap of meat from any type of animal available. And, some are. But increasingly, hot dogs are coming back into vogue. Gourmet hot dogs are common, and high quality dogs are not very expensive.

Some people think there are rules to hot dogs. To eat it it must have X, Y, and Z condiments, but never ketchup, while others say that if it doesn't have ketchup, it's not really a hot dog.


I say, eat them however you like. There is no right way to eat a hot dog. Personally, I like peanut butter on my hot dogs. And a scoop of chili with the peanut butter....well, if you value your life, you won't take one from me.

So, while the hot dog as we know it today may not be 3,500 years old, it's undoubtedly older than you think it is. (just like Joan Rivers)

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