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The fairy tale of the Danish hot dog

The Aarhus Food Festival and the re-vitalisation of a declining symbol of street food

10-09-2014

Four of the competing participants last Sunday on the seventh edition of the Danish Hot Dog Championship, within the Food Festival in Aarhus, the second most important city in Denmark. The contest included the products of 8 traditional sellers and the creative versions of 16 important chefs, including Paul Cunningham and Henrik Yde, who were previously speakers at Identità Milano. A case history worth studying

The Danish gastronomic reports indicates that the first hot dog peddler kiosk was opened in Copenhagen in 1918. Over here, however, people wouldn't call it this way. They'd order “bread with sausage”, leaving to the Americans the bizarre assonance between this sausage and the canines gender. Popularity and diffusion reached their peak in the Seventies, when the authorities in this small Nordic country counted around 400 peddlers. Each one was authorised to insert the hot sausage inside a hole in a long sandwich seasoned with mustard, ketchup or mayonnaise. A feverish traffic of smoking wheeled shops, chased by crowds of well-mannered workers and clerks, eager to give a meaning to the lunch break.

The Aarhus Food Festival registered 30 thousand visitors during the weekend. Among the stands, many craft beer brands, liquid nitrogen ice-cream kiosks, apple distillers, smørrebrød interpreters and producers of the delicious Unika cheese

The Aarhus Food Festival registered 30 thousand visitors during the weekend. Among the stands, many craft beer brands, liquid nitrogen ice-cream kiosks, apple distillers, smørrebrød interpreters and producers of the delicious Unika cheese

As of the Eighties, the slow decline began. The hot dog was penalised by the growing competition given by fast foods and sushi bars. And by the sudden overtaking of the smørrebrød (to find out how to pronounce this, click on the small megaphone on this link), rye bread spread with butter that can hold a tray of fish, meat and/or vegetables. This is the break in of the true working class hero in Denmark, an open sandwich which, in the same preparation, unites the work of the fishermen, that of the farmers and the taste of the city bourgeoisie. To be honest, one needs to point out that it is easy for hamburgers, sashimi and smørrebrød to challenge a product that has been gradually undervalued by itself, because the quality of the hot dog is sometimes very poor, and has decreased (or has never improved) over the decades. «I’d rather starve than eat them», local gastronomic critic Ole Troelsø once complained.

«It’s a pity, however», the expert added, «that a symbol that was historically so important to our people has become marginal». That many sellers have decided to park their cart in the garage for good, without even trying to take new roads. In order to make citizens once again more interested in hot dogs, in 2008 he invented the first edition of the Danish Hot Dog Championship. The latest, the seventh one, took place a few days ago at the Aarhus Food Festival, the first port and the second largest city in the country (little over 300,000 inhabitants). A lively (mostly on Saturday nights) university town in the Jutland region, a 3 hour train ride from Copenhagen.

GOLIARDIC. Right, chef Paul Cuninngham, the English chef at Henne Kirkebi Kro in Henne

GOLIARDIC. Right, chef Paul Cuninngham, the English chef at Henne Kirkebi Kro in Henne

Dozens of important chefs from the country participated in the contest. Their creative ardour was sided by the traditional skill of the surviving hot dog street vendors who do not want to give up. People who were frowning over the barricades, trying to obtain better flours and better dough, to improve the right selection of the pork meat, and to prepare sauces and toppings themselves. And meanwhile they keep an eye on fine dining chefs such as Paul Cunningham, and old acquaintance of Identità: the English chef today magnifies Denmark more than Shakespeare, and he has shaken the palates with a mixture of hot dog and bánh mì, the French-Vietnamese mini-baguette, which was revolutionised this time with liver pâté, greavesand crispy pork skin, coriander and chilli sauce.

The most sold hot dog? That by Rasmus Munk of the Tree-top in Vejle

The most sold hot dog? That by Rasmus Munk of the Tree-top in Vejle

All the competing stations were assaulted by thousands of Danes, tidily in queue. Here and there, the pan brioche sandwiches of all kinds of texture and colour, were dripping with fried camembert, mashed potatoes with prawn mousse, duck intestine and liver with green sauce, ox heart, lamb skins with hot spices, truffle and bacon. Some very Nordic hot dogs with fried onion, fried prawns and dill were sided by transcontinental sandwiches with chilli, crispy lamb, onion rings and fat Joselito slices. Most importantly, the contest collected 120 thousand Danish crowns (16 thousand euros) all for charity. A great event that is pushing a good number of carts back in the streets of Aarhus and Copenhagen, once again all spikc and span. Porchetta and focaccia sellers in Italy should take note.


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Gabriele Zanatta

born in Milan, 1973, freelance journalist, he's been working as a co-author and coordinator of both Identità Web and Identità Golose World restaurant guidebook for the past 7 years
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