American hotdogs are growing in popularity in New Zealand as more Kiwis crave an authentic taste of the classic US street food.
A genuine American hotdog is usually a frankfurter wrapped in a fresh bread bun, topped with the likes of cheese, ketchup and mustard, relish and sauerkraut.
“When we started five years ago, we couldn’t give sauerkraut away,” said Steve Benson, who together with wife Sharee, own and run the Hamilton-based Dynamite Dawgs food truck.
“No one wanted sauerkraut. Now people are asking for it. They’re getting a bit more adventurous.”
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Since opening in 2016, Dynamite Dawgs has grown from a small hotdog cart – “the kind that you see on the sidewalks in America with the umbrella” – to a mobile food truck that’s now a fixture at the Hamilton Night Markets every Friday.
Previously based alongside the main road through Huntly – “we stopped that when the bypass came through” – the Dynamite Dawgs truck also caters private and corporate events, and appears at community events, shows, and concerts.
“We use authentic products. We get all our mustards from America,” said Steve.
“Our most popular hotdog is the Dynamite, the traditional hotdog with the basic frankfurter,” he said.
“We do ours in a fresh bun with fried onions, cheese, and the frankfurter, and top it with tomato sauce and mustard. We sold over 100 of those yesterday.”
New Zealanders’ ideas of a hotdog are often rooted in the barbecue tradition, a charred or undercooked sausage wrapped in a slice of bread, or in the form of a battered sausage on a stick – what Americans call a corn dog.
But Steve says childhood memories and the novelty of American hotdogs, famous from US films and TV shows set in New York, and the convenience of eating while you’re on the go are helping the snack gain wider acceptance here among casual diners.
“They are quite nostalgic. We’re in our 50s, but when we were kids, we used to have hotdogs at home,” he said. “The other thing is you can hold it in one hand and eat it and still walk around.”
Hotdogs may have struggled for market share against the always-popular hamburger, which in recent years has also expanded beyond its cheap fast-food origins to also become a gourmet, and sometimes pricey, item on restaurant menus.
But the relatively low price point of hotdogs is also helping them make a resurgence as an economical meal option.
“The price does appeal to families,” explained Sharee. “We sell our basic hotdog for $7. And that’s got cheese, onion and tomato sauce and mustard.”
The Bensons say more Kiwis are asking for additional condiments and wanting the authentic flavours and textures of relish and sauerkraut.
Other less traditional menu ideas emerged from a “trial and error” process that has seen the couple put a local spin on some other American favourites.
“We’ve got the New Yorker with sauerkraut and onion relish and a spicy mustard that we get from an American store,” said Sharee.
“We also do our own take on the American chilli dog for which we make our own chilli mince,” she added.
“We put corn chips down the side because we overfill the mince and then people can scoop up whatever is leftover with the corn chips. That’s our Kiwi twist on it.”
But while Kiwis might be appreciating the likes of sauerkraut on a hotdog, the Bensons believe there are some seemingly subtle differences between US and Kiwi eating habits that are too entrenched to change.
“We’ve found that the American ketchup was too sweet for people here. So we use Watties.”