Anthony Bourdain says a hot dog is not a sandwich. The debate continues, but as long as it tastes good, who cares?
Mouthing Off
by Andrew Sun
Mouthing Off
by Andrew Sun

Anthony Bourdain and Matt Damon said a hot dog is not a sandwich. Let’s be frank, as long as it tastes good, who cares?

  • A hot dog is not a sandwich, according to celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain and The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council in the United States
  • This argument, which could include the ‘what makes a pie a pie?’ question, is often hotly debated

There’s a long-running argument in the food world, splitting opinions and turning a small partisan valley into a wide canyon of a schism. The question: is a hot dog a sandwich?

Everyone who’s downed a late-night post-boozing bratwurst or noshed on a frankfurter seems to have strong views on the matter. Even the Merriam-Webster Dictionary has come down with a verdict. Its vote is yes!

“The definition of sandwich is ‘two or more slices of bread or a split roll having a filling in between’. Hence, a hot dog fits the definition,” the dictionary website posted a while ago.

Frankly though, lots of people disagree even if they accept the textbook sandwich characterisation. Hot dog enthusiasts contend a wiener in an oblong bun is so iconic, it transcends such a limiting pigeon-hole. The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council in the United States – of course there is one – agrees.

Is a hot dog a sandwich or its own beast? The debate continues. Photo: Getty Images

“A hot dog is not a sandwich,” the organisation said in a 2015 press release. “Limiting the hot dog’s significance by saying it’s ‘just a sandwich’ is like calling the Dalai Lama ‘just a guy’.”

Other, prominent voices concur. Actor Matt Damon, cook Rachael Ray and, until his untimely death, chef and TV presenter Anthony Bourdain are all on record as saying the German-American invention defies classification such is its intangible cultural importance.

The joy of savoury baking over sweet – think sausage rolls instead of cakes

It’s more than a sandwich. But the debate goes further. Some suggest it’s closer in spirit to a taco. Other questions arise, like what if the sausage was between two pieces of sliced bread?

Historically speaking, it’s also complicated because in the late 1800s, when a vendor put a frankfurter in an elongated bun, it was advertised as a sausage sandwich. But that label was dropped when some Old World slang took hold.

A frankfurter is known in Germany as a “hot dachshund” in reference to the popular local dog breed. When the food reached America, they translated it literally. The sandwich descriptor became moot.

I don’t really care where the wiener bun fits. I don’t have a dog in this fight, pun intended. It’s a fun debate for so many folks to get hung up on; however, there are many other foods that defy easy categorisation.

Where do dishes such as Peking duck (above) fit into the sandwich debate? Photo: Shutterstock

Where do shawarmas, doners, roti wraps, and pita kebabs fit in the grand scheme of handheld munching? When I introduce Peking duck to foreign friends who’ve never tried it, I advise them to make a “sandwich” with the duck and the steamed wrap. Is that a grave insult to the sandwich world?

I also know a guy who sees no difference between a meatball sandwich and a hamburger. Is that ignorance or open-mindedness? Don’t even get me started on the Scandinavians’ provocative open sandwiches.

The pie is another gastro-collective noun that lacks clearly defined parameters. How do Cornish pasty, Jamaican patties and shepherd’s pie all fit together? To me, mashed potato is not a pie cover or crust.

The dictionary also notes that pies are typically baked, so would panzerottis (fried versions of calzones) qualify as pies? Or are these derivations of pizza their own thing?

Some call rice burgers fusion; the writer calls them an abomination. Photo: Shutterstock

Personally, I’m more horrified by abominations like the rice burger – with rice compressed into a bun substitute – defiling the concepts of hamburger, sandwich and all other meat-filled culinary contraptions.

As an Asian, I’m surprised there isn’t more contentious squabbling about where the border is drawn between dumpling and bao. How thick must the skin be to qualify as finger appropriate instead of chopsticks worthy? What about large soup bao? Then there are the fried dessert sesame balls – are they a dumpling or a bao?

Honestly, I’m not sure where anything really fits any more. As for the hot dog faction, I know they already hate me.

Hardcore dog lovers insist you can only use mustard (and possibly onions and sauerkraut) as condiment. I’ve been known to add ketchup and relish.

Let the hate begin.