Hot Dog of the Week: Puka Dog

"In the constantly evolving culinary melting pot of Hawaii, it's hard to pick the state's one true hot dog."

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Who knew that Hawaii was a gold mine of obscure hot dog variations? Portuguese immigrants first came to Hawaii in the 19th century, bringing sausages and sweet bread buns. American-style hot dogs were introduced to Hawaii (along with spam) by the United States military during World War II. Throw in Chinese and Japanese influence, plus local ingredients, and you get one of the wildest hot dog regions in the world.

The Puka Dog is the culmination of sixty years of island hot dog evolution. Puka means "Hole" in Hawaiian. Special loaves are baked on a custom contraption which creates a perfect tunnel for the Polish sausages, which are grilled and jammed into the hole. Puka dogs are dressed with any combination of secret sauces, tropical mustards, and fruit relish (think habanero, lemon, mango, coconut, papaya, guava, and so on). The standard condiment is a lemon garlic sauce similar to aioli.

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Hot dogs are served many ways in Hawaii. The Portuguese sausage--traditionally made with pork and flavored with paprika and vinegar--has been part of the Hawaiian diet for a long time, often served sliced with breakfast or in chili over rice. But Portuguese sausages can also be found baked into a sweet bun, or on a standard hot dog roll with mustard.

Also popular are Redondo's bright red Hawaiian Winners and Japanese style Arabiki. Even Portuguese hot dogs, spiced like the sausage but with a hot dog texture, and Spam Dogs are available--blurring the lines between sausage, hot dog, and spam. These are used almost interchangeably, and pop up in everything from sushi to Portuguese bean stew.

Roadside shaved ice stands often serve hot dogs on buns, American style, often adding island flavor in the form of pineapple mustard or sweet Maui onions. At Hawaiian bakeries you're likely to find hot dog musubi--a hot dog split and wrapped in seaweed with sticky rice--and all variations of sausages baked into sweet rolls and steamed buns, going by the name of hot dog manapua.

Popular for years was the Waffle Dog at KC's Drive in, a hot dog cooked inside a waffle, made on a custom iron. KC's Drive-In is no longer open but the family continues to serve waffle dogs at fairs and special functions, and versions of the Waffle Dog can still be found all over Hawaii.

Last but not least, at the annual Okinawan Festival we find the Andagi Dog--a hot dog on a stick dipped in vanilla-laced Japanese donut batter and deep fried like a corn dog. Or head to Hank's Haute Dogs, Hawaii's modern hot dog parlor, for chili dogs and Chicago dogs, or a Duck & Foie Gras sausage with dried fruit confit.

The Puka dog is a great evolution of the Hawaiian fascination with stuffing and baking dogs and sausages into loaves. Adding the sweet and spicy tropical sauces, and breaking with tradition by using Polish sausages, makes the Puka Dog unique. But in the constantly evolving culinary melting pot of Hawaii, it's hard to pick the state's one true hot dog. I guess you'll just have to try them all.

Where To Find Them

Puka Dog
2301 Kuhio Avenue, Honolulu HI 96815 (map)
2360 Kiahuna Plantation Drive, Koloa HI 96756 (map)
pukadog.com

Hank's Haute Dogs
324 Coral Street, Honolulu HI 96813 (map)
hankshautedogs.com

Hawk Krall is a Philadelphia-based illustrator who has a serious thing for hot dogs. Dig his dog drawings? Many of the illustrations he has created for Hot Dog of the Week are available for sale: hawkkrall.net/prints/.

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