Monday, February 21, 2005
Midwestern Culinary Faux Pas.
Midwestern Culinary Faux Pas
Flying from Boston to San Jose, we made the usual stop in Chicago. I had one of these rare itineraries where I was to stay on the same plane. I felt that fifty minutes was too long to sit, so I took all my belongings and my boarding pass and ventured out into the exciting arena of Chicago O'Hare Airport.
I observed all the spawning and migratory beings making their way to all points of the earth. Ah, there's the gate to San Francisco and there are folks going back to the freezing cold Northeast. Oh, look at those happy ones boarding a flight to the Bahamas!
Observing humans in transit is a wonderful way to spend time at O'Hare, but hunger called and remembering the cuisine on American Airlines where sustenance consisted of plucking a little blue bag out of what can only be described as the food morgue, I opted for a quick airport chow-down.
Moving on past the Panda Garden, Pizza Hut and the always available $10.00 Martini I chanced on a stand that claimed to sell authentic Chicago Hot Dogs.
Ah indigenous foods, yes why not? Though I have gone beyond the wiener in my culinary evolution, I have indeed heard much talk of this fabled sausage creation of the Midwest.
I found a seat at the bar in the small bistro residing on a open corner between gates K4 and K5. On the other side of the bar was a very tall African American women with great hair and a wonderful chiseled face She opened her eyes leaned forward and said "Yes…"
I heard the cook call her name, it was Doris.
"I'd like one of those venerated Chicago hot dogs, but I must be sure I'm about to consume the real thing. After all, airports truly are full of illusion."
My host guaranteed me that this would be an authentic Chicago Dog and I would soon be part of a tradition I had only heard about but never experienced. She had a great face. I trusted her.
As I waited for my dog and beer, I observed the dozen or so people at the bar. No one making eye contact, most were fidgeting with their carry on bags, looking at their respective watches and consuming consumables in a most consumptive fashion.
My masterpiece arrived and I was perplexed. It was beyond any hot dog experience in my 50 plus years of eating.
First off, the bun was really thick and the pickle relish was placed across the dog, not up and down the dog. In other words, it went from bun to bun. Adding to the sausage mystique, there were tomatoes and cucumbers cascading around both the bun and the actual dog itself. Lastly, there were quite a lot of fries, all on the same very small cardboard plate. The fries were dipping over the thick bun and falling on my dog.
Although I had never spent much time in the Windy City, I knew that the proper way to consume this beef creation was to pick the whole thing up and somehow guide it down one’s gullet. Had I been alone, I might have tried such a feat.
With great apprehension I reached for the plastic bag that contained the little plastic knife, fork and spoon. Meanwhile, with the smallest corner of one eye, Doris was observing me opening the bag.
I then proceeded to start the consumption experience of my Chicago hot dog with a knife and fork. All the while, Doris' eyes got bigger and her cursory glances were morphing into short stares at me and the dog.
There was now not a doubt in my mind that I was committing an indigenous culinary faux pax. I knew it, and I knew she knew it, and I was sure she knew I knew she knew.
I sheepishly raised my eyes. I lifted my palms in the most sincere form of submission a weary airport traveler could muster. Our eyes met. A long silence was interrupted by my confession.
”Okay, okay” I said. “I know I have done a really uncool act by eating a Chicago Hot Dog with a knife and fork.”
Bowing my head even lower I continued.
“I was confused by the relish, the bun, the tomatoes, the abundance of fried potatoes product...I'm jet lagged , it's my primary Chicago Hot Dog experience and I don't have a manual.”
After more silence, Doris spoke. "Let me ask you this. Would you eat a pizza with a knife and fork?"
I assumed an upright position and replied, “Of course not! I'm originally from New York."
"New York!" Doris exclaimed - "I thought you were from Omaha or some small place in North Dakota, but now that I know you’re from New York, this is inexcusable."
We both tried as hard as we could to keep that smile away. This was really fun. We debated about bun size and tomatoes and hot dog customs at quite a high and excited volume.
Everyone on the counter got into it. Each person had his or her interpretations of the proper dog eating experience. People were lighting up like Christmas trees. Everyone stopped looking at their watches, cell phones were tucked away, people were looking at each other, all of us were escaping from our traveling isolation and just enjoying the moment.
It was agreed upon that no matter what the venue, the dog must be consumed without benefit of knife and fork, and I did promise Doris that on my return to their bistro, I would amend to the proper etiquette and culinary mores.
During the entire 30 minutes that I spent with Doris, somehow we knew we were great friends. We were conspirators in breaking up a boring reality. As short as it was, it was wonderful because we understood each other from the get go.
All that fun and all I had to do was to commit a small Midwestern culinary faux pas.