On almost every corner in Toronto, street vendors crank out hot dogs, aka "street meat," all hours of the day and night. The dogs are grilled and often scored with a knife creating a wild corkscrew shape. Along with the standard Shopsy's brand beef hot dogs, most carts serve grilled veggie dogs and a variety of sausages as well.
In Toronto, it's all about the toppings. The vendors compete by offering a ridiculous array of toppings and sauces. Every truck has a self-serve garnish bar not unlike a Roy Rogers fixins' bar.
Local favorites seem to be corn relish, sriracha and bacon bits. There's your normal hot dog toppings such as sauerkraut, diced onions, pickles, hot peppers and mustard. Canned mushrooms seem to be fairly popular (ugh) as are black olives, and even poultry seasoning. Some of the better carts do fresh cut fries, served dripping with gravy.
What you won't find on a Toronto hot dog is mayonnaise, cheese, or fried onions. Why? Because they're illegal. Street vendors are prohibited from selling any meat that isn't pre-cooked, and hot dogs are pretty much the only thing they can legally sell. Also banned are any toppings or sauces that require refrigeration, hence no mayo or cheese.
Rumor has it there is a black market for mayo and fried onions, and some carts have secret garnishes "under the counter." Toppings must also be store-bought, so no homemade slaw going on either—this probably explains the canned mushrooms. There's also a distinct lack of chili, strange being only 100 miles from Buffalo which is "Texas Red Hot" territory.
I had initially tossed around the idea of doing a veggie dog this week, what with new years resolutions and all, and to show some love to the vegetarians—I used to be one myself, believe it or not. So I picked up a pack of Smart Dogs and cooked one up at home—and remembered why I started eating meat again.
So I called up a few vegetarian friends who agreed that most veggie hot dog are disgusting, except in Toronto where they are amazing and everywhere. Toronto carts almost exclusively serve Yves brand veggie dogs, although my friends admit the real reason they taste so good is because they're cooked on the same grill as the meat.
Aside from the ubiquitous hot dog carts, Toronto doesn't have much else in the way of street food due to the wacky regulations. The city tried to remedy this last year with their A La Carte program, setting up a few select vendors with prefabricated carts and a focus on healthy food. The program looks to be a disaster that led to the director being canned.
But there is hope for Toronto in the form of a mobile, tweeting poutine truck. Smokie's Poutinerie, which serves 15 varieties of poutine from a three locations as well as the truck, doesn't set up in a single location so the truck isn't subject to the same regulations as the hot dog carts. Toronto may be ripe for a hip street food explosion, but until then there's plenty of street meat for everyone.
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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