I am a pharmacist, and pharmacists are scientific by nature. That probably accounts for the experiment in trans-cultural diffusion that I am currently conducting. The experiment involves introducing two fantastic, albeit, regional foods common to the area of North Central West Virginia from where I migrated. The topics of my study are hot Dog SAUCE and pepperoni BUNS, the words SAUCE and BUNS are emphasized here.
My study subjects have been primarily neighbors and co-workers, but recently a much wider study group has been added, more on that later. The information that I have obtained through my observations has been very peculiar indeed. The study is not really meant to glean new information related to trans-cultural diffusion, it is a well accepted phenomena that cultural elements from one culture will diffuse into a new culture as a result of migration. No, in fact, I am interested in a totally different phenomenon, one that I have not been able to understand. The test subjects have reacted in an overall positive fashion when exposed to the hot dog sauce and pepperoni buns. There have been requests for recipes and one test subject baked a batch of pepperoni buns to take on a family camping trip only to end up crying the next morning when he found that the racoons in the campground had eaten all of his buns. The one product of the study that is baffling me however, why can't they get the names right? For the life of me, I can't convince them that the sauce is sauce and NOT chili, and that pepperoni buns are pepperoni buns and not, pizza rolls or calzones, or pizza buns or pizza bread rolled up, etc. etc. etc.
This is going to be a two-part post, so for today, I will focus on hot dog SAUCE. First off, a disclaimer, now I am NOT saying that a great hot dog is native to North Central West Virginia, so fans of the street vendors in New York City and Chicago, back off. I, being a hot dog officianado, have had some great hot dogs all over the United States, but I will go as far as saying Great hot dog SAUCE is absolutely endemic to North Central WV. You have to understand, the hot dog itself takes on a whole different level in WV. To illustrate I will tell you about a very, very distinguished man, a good friend of mine and a long time US Federal Judge appointed by John F. Kennedy. Judge Robert Maxwell recently passed away in his beloved Elkins, WV. A public memorial was held and those in attendance were treated afterwards to his favorite snack, hot dogs. That's how it is in WV with hot dogs.
Anyway, why the fuss over referring to a hot dog with sauce as a chilli dog?
It's not really a fuss as much as it is correction of fact, a righting of a wrong if you will. There is a difference, a HUGE difference. Heck, you can get a hot dog with chilli on it, all over the world. For crying out loud, these days, you can get anything you like on a hot dog. Macaroni and Cheese? Yup. Mashed potatoes and gravy? You betcha. Crab meat? Of course. The point is, hot dog SAUCE is unique. The difference is evident in the texture, thickness and flavor. Not to mention the lack of beans. It may share some of the ingredients of chilli, the soup, but the method of preparation is different and to say that hot dog sauce is just a version of chilli, would be like saying 24 carat gold is just a type of metal. I mentioned that the hot dog is a thing of reverence in North Central West Virginia, and if the dog itself is reverent, the SAUCE is the holy grail. The popularity and importance of the WV Hot Dog is well chronicled, for instance, you can surf on over to the WV Hot Dog Blog
or you can join the facebook group WV Hot Dogs. For me, the mecca of hot dog sauce is Yanns Hot Dog Stand in Fairmont.
I mentioned a larger group of test study subjects earlier in the post. At Northwood Academy, in North Charleston, SC I have begun providing them with hot dog SAUCE for the concession stand at the high school basketball and baseball games. When I take my turn working the counter at games, I ever so subtly plant the term in their heads. When they order a chilli dog, I shout out, one hot dog with sauce. My wife working the other end of the counter smiles knowingly, as do my friends Erin and Kevin, a teacher and coach at the school, native Fairmonters. Now Northwood Academy hosts games against some of the most exclusive private schools from Charleston and from time to time some of the real true blue-bloods from Chawlston will frequent the concession stand and they will in a very proper and hospitably Chawston broque order a "hoault dawlg wuid chileh pliz." And it gives me such pleasure to serve them a Northwood Academy hot dog with West Virginia SAUCE. I love it, and it makes me smile to know that I am contributing to the trans-cultural diffusion of hot dog SAUCE into the lowcountry. It makes me smile, and I bet it makes Judge Maxwell smile too.