With street food goes responsibility

Just what is Seattle's favorite, indigenous hot dog of choice?
Just what is Seattle's favorite, indigenous hot dog of choice?

One of the ways Seattle has improved — and could continue to get better — is in its offerings of "street food." I'm in favor of a proliferation of stands, carts, buses, sidewalk and parking lot eating options throughout the city.

Street food should be for locals, not just tourists. I love the way vendors popped up between Qwest and Safeco fields. Hot dogs just taste better when they're cheaper and sold out of the back of a van. Same with Mexican food from a taco bus. I can't say why, it just is.

But with street food comes responsibility. Here's something that came up on KUOW the other day. A listener called to complain about the phenomenon of the "Seattle Dog," which is a hot dog with cream cheese on it being touted as a local delicacy. Salmon and salal berries, maybe that would be local, but cream cheese? Isn't that Philadelphia? Wisconsin? Chicago?

I've never encountered a cream cheese hot dog, but Seattleites are known for food mischief, like offering sushi at the ballpark or putting mayo on a pastrami sandwich. I contacted Jonathan Kauffman, the excellent food critic at Seattle Weekly who has been known to explore some of the city's more off-beat culinary contributions, like the proliferation of teriyaki joints. He replied:

I don't know that it's an only-in-Seattle thing, but I've never heard of it anywhere else. A few months back, I squired a traveling food writer around for a book on street food that he's writing, and when I told him about the cream-cheese on-hot-dog thing he hadn't heard of it before.

Kauffman pointed me to a 2006 Seattle Times article about local hot dog trends:

Though he says the Emerald City isn't much of a traditional hot-dog town (folks in the Northwest are just as likely to toss vegetarian or salmon dogs on the grill), Matt's Famous Hot Dogs owner Matt Jones has an offering on his menu deemed the Seattle Dog, with mustard, onions, tomatoes, and Tillamook cheddar cheese.

"The Seattle Dog is just a dog people would ask for a lot," Jones said. "We made it up because we have the authority to do that."

He's also noticed a steady stream of locals asking for hot dogs with, of all things, cream cheese, sometimes with mustard and onion as well.

"Some people just swear by it," he said.

I asked Kauffman what he thought of cream cheese hot dogs. He said, "I'm not a huge fan until 1 a.m. and several pints...it's the booty call of street food.

Seattle used to be known as a white-bread kind of town. Are we a white cheese town too?


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Knute Berger

Knute Berger

Knute “Mossback” Berger is Crosscut's Editor-at-Large.