Category Archives: Food and Drink

samosas

An Evening of Indian Cuisine at Poggenpohl

The other week I was invited to Poggenpohl’s North London branch for a champagne reception with a celebrity chef.  I love Poggenpohl kitchens and plan on having one in my new house.  In fact, I have already bought the kitchen but that is a story for another time.  The celebrity chef was Cyrus Todiwalla, owner of Cafe Spice Namaste and co-presenter of BBC television show, The Incredible Spice Men.

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Chef Todiwala was fantastic! Seriously, I’m a fan girl now.  He’s really witty, charming and an amazing cook.  I usually lose interest in cooking demonstrations (eating is my thing!) but Chef Todiwala was really informative.  He peppers his demonstration with random trivia which holds your attention.

I learned more than I thought possible about onions and about rice, both of which are very important in Indian cuisine.  Chef Todiwala says his four restaurants use about 11 tons of rice a year and so the man clearly knows a thing or two about rice.  He suggests that after you start the rice on the stovetop you transfer the rice for the rest of the cooking time to the oven in a closed oven-proof pot.  I’ve cooked Risotto in the oven but never basmati.  I may have to try this technique because risotto is so much easier in the oven.  In addition, he rejects the idea that you can not store leftover cooked rice.  He says you can keep rice by cooling it first uncovered in the refrigerator.  As soon as you cover it when it is warm, the moisture builds up and bacteria can grow on the bottom of the rice.  By the way, did you know rice can go stale?  I didn’t, but then again, we never keep rice around long enough in our household to go stale.  Apparently, you can’t smell the staleness of rice unlike lots of other ingredients.  However, if you hold rice near the light and it glows, then the rice is past its best-by date.

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As for onions, Chef Todiwala suggests you buy small onions.  Large onions just have more water and less concentrated flavour.  In addition, larger onions are harder to chop because the sections split up.  When you chop an onion, cut off the bottom but retain the top so that you can use it as a stem to hold the onion as you chop.  The small cheap onions sold by the bag in supermarkets are the best onions.  Finally, you should store onions in the wine fridge because that is the best temperature for them.

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I thought it was charming that Chef Todiwala brought along his pre-measured/sliced etc. ingredients in little Tupperware containers even though he could probably afford some high-end variation of containers.  It’s very Indian to have a whole collection of these little plastic containers.  Most Indian households (including mine which isn’t very Indian really) have a cupboard full of plastic containers.

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The appetisers at the reception were delicious.  They were traditional dishes but with a modern twist which is Chef Todiwala’s signature approach.  My favourite, though, was the lentil fritters which were even better than my mother’s ones.

Chef Todiwala’s demonstration involved some favourite dishes from his Parsi background using the Poggenpohl kitchen and Gaggenau appliances.  (Parsis are ethnic Persians who relocated many generations ago into India.)  Before our eyes, he whipped up a handful of dishes, including rice, a vegetable curry, a baked chicken and a pan-cooked egg and potato dish.

Poggenpohl had large-screen televisions set up to show the cooking demonstration throughout the showroom.

vegetable curry

Chef Todiwala has several books to his name – Cafe Spice Namaste and Indian Summer both from 1998, Mr. Todiwala’s Bombay: Recipes and Memories from India (2013) and The Incredible Spice Men (2013).   He says all of the dishes he cooked are in his books.  For someone who is a fan of spices and has a television show about spices, he says you can get away with having only a handful of spices (coriander, chili, cumin, turmeric, cloves, cardamom and peppercorns) and still create amazing dishes.  If you would like to try out some of his dishes, they are available on the BBC Food website.

Chef Todiwala is a natural teacher which is readily apparent.  Probably a good thing because Chef Todiwala and Poggenpohl are teaming up to offer cooking classes at his Cafe Spice Namaste restaurant near Tower Bridge.  You know I’ll be there!

savoury dishes

Afternoon Tea at the Conrad St. James

Anyone ready for Christmas?  Of course not – I would be worried if you were.  I am, however, always ready for a good afternoon tea. Decadence, after all, knows no season.  I was delighted, therefore, to be invited to the London Bloggers Tea  organised by Selena at Oh, The Places We Shall Go at the newly opened Conrad St. James Hotel for a preview of their Christmas Afternoon Tea.

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Afternoon Tea at the Conrad St. James is served at Emmeline’s Lounge named after Emmeline Pankhurst, a leading 19th century women’s right activist who was instrumental in getting women the right to vote.  Ironically, Emmeline Pankhurst like many of the suffragettes of the time would endure hunger strikes in order to get the political establishment to listen to their cause.  I expect if Emmeline Pankhurst had been offered an Emmeline’s Christmas Tea she would have been sorely tempted.

Emmeline’s has a modern, sophisticated vibe which is neither achingly hip nor stuffy traditional.  The contemporary pieces played on a harp provide a friendly ambience.

For true decadence, the afternoon tea is served in 2 courses – savoury and sweet – together with your choice of tea as well as champagne.  The savoury morsels included a brussel sprout and goat’s cheese mousse, venison pastry, turkey balloting and cranberry sauce.  Of the sandwiches, my absolute favourite was beetroot and spinach which I found surprising because usually I despise beetroot.  To top it off, there was also Christmas spiced orange and cranberry scones – yum!!

savoury dishes

I was pretty full after the savoury bites but the sweet dishes were just so tempting.  The sweets were arranged in a charming Christmas scene which came with a triangular cloche covering dusted with edible snow.  They included a winter berry Christmas tree (with a brownie tree trunk!), snowflake macaroons, a white forest yule log and, of course, more edible snow.

Christmas Scene

I loved the mini meringue snowmen who just looked silly and happy.  How could you not get into the Christmas spirit with these charming faces?!

happy snowman

Let it snow!

The Conrad St. James Christmas Tea will be served from November 24th until Christmas itself. Conveniently located right across from the St. James’ tube stop, the Conrad St. James is right near many of London’s iconic tourist destinations (Buckingham Palace, The Palace of Westminster, Westminster Abbey etc.).  If you are visiting London in December, this Christmas Afternoon Tea would be the perfect refresher after a spot of sightseeing.  Christmas Afternoon Tea is £37 (£45 with free-flowing Laurent-Perrier champagne).

nail polish cake

A Pyjama Party The Easy Way

There are lots of nice things about having twins (especially now that they are older!) but, birthday weekend, is not one of them.  We either have to have their parties together or back-to-back to avoid hurt feelings and accusations of favouritism.  I’m usually exhausted by the end of the weekend!

pennant decor

home made pennants

We decided that we could not have a joint party this year after last year’s fiasco when the boys and girls decided to start a food fight.  This year my son had a bowling party at a nearby bowling alley and my daughter had a pyjama party at home.

flower decor

decoration

My daughter really wanted a slumber party but we had to reach a compromise.  Mr. N was not enthusiastic about babysitting a bunch of over-excited and sugar-ridden little girls overnight.  So, we made it an afternoon pyjama party so that we didn’t have to have 9 girls around all night for an actual sleepover!

party decor

party decor

We made the pennants and a lot of the decorations were from the Christmas clearance at Graham and Green, a home store in Primrose Hill which also has a great outlet section on their website.

butterfly mask

butterfly mask

We arranged for the party guests to have manicures, temporary tattoos and hair braiding.  All very civilised – right after they played some party games and beat each other up with a pillow fight.

My daughter really wanted a smash cake after having seen them at family and friends’ parties.  Lauren, my friend who owns Smashing Cakes, made a nail polish shaped cake which was a big hit! Believe it or not, this cake is made entirely of delicious chocolate and not a piece was left over after the party!

I found these Nail Polish Party Treats while browsing Pinterest and adapted the recipe.  I used food colouring spray on giant marshmallows as instructed.  We, however, don’t have tootsie rolls readily available in London and I was also wary about sticking a toothpick in candy with overexcited little girls popping them in their mouth.  So, I just cut up some black liquorice sticks and poked a hole in the marshmallows and stuck them in.  The liquorice bottle tops probably would have stood straighter with the toothpicks.  After seeing the girls devour them, though, I’m glad I went with the safer option.

Here’s a video I made with one of the new toys that I’ve discovered in the App Store.  This app, Qwiki, makes a short video out of your still/video photos.

party bags

party bags

Overall, this party was actually pretty cheap.  My friend’s teenager and her school friends helped out with the hair and nail polish.  The decoration was pretty DIY – pennants, balloons and lots of girly stuff we had around the house.  We spent money on a beautiful smash cake but, birthday cake (and good chocolate) are dear to my heart.

If any of you have any ideas for next year’s birthday parties, I’d love to hear them!  After all, next year’s birthday always rolls around faster than you expect.

High Drama at High Tea

I always find myself ready for a snack after visiting a museum or other excursion but usually museum cafes are fairly uninspiring and crowded.  The Drawing Rooms of the Ampersand Hotel is a perfect alternative if you are visiting the museums in South Kensington.  I was delighted to be invited with a group of other bloggers to experience Afternoon Tea at The Ampersand.

The Drawing Rooms are adorably quirky and set up as someone’s living room so they are comfortable yet elegant.  I thought the interior decor of The Drawing Rooms was charming.  A combination of sweet animals which together gave off a cool English quirkiness!  Fear not, the eccentric is applied with a light touch so that you won’t have flashbacks of being stuck in some crazy old Aunt’s front room making polite conversation.

I loved the use of old vintage bottles arranged with a few stems.  Although Afternoon Tea was served on china plates etc, the flower arrangements added a casual and modern flair.  Definitely nothing matronly about this Afternoon Tea!

The hotel window’s are massive and let in a lot of natural light. The hotel has emphasised this light by having carefully placed mirrors everywhere.  The whole effect is bright and welcoming.

drawing room

Mirror on mirror is an old decorator’s trick.  Here they have used a mirrored vase on a mirrored table so that the image is magnified.

mirrored flowers

This chandelier is so cool.  A long chandelier dropping down the flights of stairs is a pretty traditional look.  Here it is updated with the use of ‘bare bulbs’ and feathers attached in artistic fashion.  Is it me or does this look like doves or angels flying into the sky?

OK, enough about the decor – what about the Afternoon Tea itself? We were invited to the Science Tea which is one of their special Afternoon Tea experiences.   It was fairly decadent with divine little sandwiches made with choux pastry.  The scrumptious scones were white chocolate with clotted cream and jam.  The desserts really played into the Science part of the tea – a citrus cocktail in a beaker, a pistachio macaron with a cherry pipette and a raspberry sponge cake shaped like a planet.  My hands-down favourite, however, was the chocolate cake decorated with chocolate dinosaurs set on a bed of dry ice which gave off a volcano effect!  very cool!

My children love the Science Museum but, sometimes, I feel it overwhelming and noisy with so many children running around.  I will look forward to museum excursions now that I have discovered tea at The Ampersand is such a treat!

I was provided the Science Tea at The Ampersand Hotel free of charge in exchange for my review but all words and opinions are my own.

cup of macaroni

I Say Mac ‘N’ Cheese, You Say Cheesy Pasta

A bowlful of macaroni and cheese reminds me of my childhood.  Although the term Mac & Cheese is particularly American, I’m sure that there are variations of it in many countries since pasta is associated with cheese like Miley and twerking.  My Australian friend calls it cheesy pasta.  By whatever name, it is one of the ultimate comfort food recipes.

Mac & Cheese cover

I am now LOVING this Mac ‘N’ Cheese cookbook by Laura Washburn having run out of variations I created myself for mixing cheese and pasta for my children.  My daughter can live on pasta but my son gets bored quickly.  It’s not easy keeping them both happy because I do not have time to cook separate meals for them.

cup of macaroni

The book has 30+ variations on this old standby dish combining different cheeses and ingredients in interesting ways.  The first recipe is the classic dish and then sections detail ways of adding vegetables, fish and meat.  There is nothing old-school about many of these recipes, which include Provencal Tomatoes and Goat Cheese or Smoked Haddock and Spinach.  I want to try Lobster Thermidor because lobster mac & cheese is one of my favourite New England dishes at our summer house.

From the book, we have made for family meals the Chicken Alfredo (parmesan cheese and poached chicken) and the Chorizo, Sweet Pepper & Manchego variety.  The Spanish flavours in the last one was a huge hit in our family.  The book has not only recipes that children will eat happily but also flavours for a more sophisticated palate.

by the fire

photo: Ryland & Peters

I really like the international spin on some of these recipes.  For example, you could try the dish based on the traditional recipe for moussaka (minced lamb and graviera cheese) or tartiflette (leek, bacon and Reblochon cheese).

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Mac ‘n’ Cheese by Laura Washburn is published by Ryland Peters & Small.  The photographer is Steve Painter.  It costs £9.99 in hardback.  You can get a sneak preview of the scrumptious recipes and photos on Amazon.

I was provided my copy of the book Mac & Cheese free of charge in exchange for my review but all words and opinions are my own.

golf course cake

Smashing Cakes

Have you heard of smash cakes?  They are hollow chocolate cakes that you smash with a hammer and the inside contains further goodies, such as small chocolates, gifts or toys.  It’s effectively a pinata cake.

Smash cakes have grown quite popular in the United States for first birthday parties in the last year. Instead of the hollow chocolate cakes, they are just small cakes served to the child for them alone.  I used large cupcakes for my children.

 

The child can do what they want with the cake – it’s all good!  Usually it’s their first taste of cake and they can’t believe their luck.  My children were close to ecstasy with their first birthday cake.  Needless to say, everyone else got served from another cake that didn’t have large finger holes and the icing licked off!

pinterest

photo: pinterest

I personally think smash cakes are better appreciated by older children and adults.  So much more fun than just cutting a slice of cake.

For my mother-in-law’s birthday, we ordered a  smash cake for her.  My friend, Lauren at Smashing Cakes makes smash cakes in chocolate for parties.  She comes from a family of South African chocolatiers and I’ve got to say the chocolate was delicious.  We ordered the smash cake in the shape of a golf course since my in-laws are into their golf.  The inside contained more chocolates and a small jewellery box containing a ring from the grandchildren.

 

smashcake (Enhanced) from Shobha George on Vimeo.

As you can see, the smash cake itself was very pretty and my mother-in-law was a bit reluctant to break it into pieces.  She got into the swing of it pretty quickly though!

golf course cake

Smashing Cakes does lots of other types of cakes, as shown below and on their website.

We finished off the chocolate pieces of the cake during the course of the weekend.  Unlike other cakes we had, we didn’t have lots of left over cake that just got thrown away.

Smashing Cakes only delivers smash cakes around North London.  They are too fragile to send via courier or postal service elsewhere. Your cake might wound up smashed before the celebration even began!

The cake was such a success that my children both want smash cakes for their birthday.

Measured Success with the Ozeri Pro II

What’s your diet weakness?  Mine is very much snacks.  I’ve pretty good meals but the snacking in-between meals is my biggest downfall.

I absolutely love the calorie counting app from Myfitnesspal.com to keep track of what I eat. It’s hard though to keep track of the constant munching I do throughout the day.  I’m always estimating (downwards, of course!).  Recently I’ve been using the Ozeri Pro II digital kitchen scale to weigh my snacks and keep my calorie counting accurate.

Reports suggest that up to 40% of people underestimate their serving suggestions. For example, that heaping tablespoon of peanut butter may technically be 2 tablespoons.   Here’s how this neat-looking kitchen scale comes in handy for weighing different snacks.

Jellybeans

jellybeans

How many calories can a handful (10 precisely) jellybeans be?  You can check the calorie count for a lot of foods in the handy Ozeri calorie guide which comes with the scales.  At 3.75 calories per gram, 10 jellybeans came in at 10 grams or 38 calories.  Not too bad I think.

Marshmallows

marshmallows

I thought for sure the marshmallows would be a lot more calories than the jellybeans because they were just big and puffy and sugary-looking.  Five marshmallows weighed in at 32 grams and at 3.18 calories per gram were equal to 102 calories.  That’s less calories than I would have thought.

Pistachios

pistachios

Pistachios are supposed to be a healthy snack. A bowl of pistachios (or 37 to be precise) came in at 5 grams and at 5.64 calories per gram were a reasonable 28 calories.

Apples

apple

An apple is the healthiest of the snacking options in terms of filling you up for minimal calories.  My apple weighted 146 grams and at 0.52 calories per gram, was equal to 76 calories.

Crackers

crackers

The nine cheese crackers weighed 14 grams and a total of 180 calories.  The crackers were a lot of calories (and that’s not including the cheese that goes on top of them!).

In honour of Halloween, I had to weigh some Skittles and a snack-size Mars bar.

candies

The candy came out to 20 grams and 236 calories.  So little and so many calories.  Yikes.  I could have had  A LOT more jellybeans for far fewer calories than the candy if I really just wanted a sugar fix.

I’ve noticed that measuring my snacks has helped me cut down on the amount I eat.  I still snack (a habit of a lifetime will be hard to change) but now I have better portion control.  And, I can’t delude myself that a teeny amount of junk food really amounts to barely any calories.

I love the black and stainless steel look of the scale which blends in well with the rest of my modern kitchen.  The scale is incredibly easy to use and accurate (I’ve tested on packaged items).  The measurement can be set to imperial or metric.  The scale works on batteries which are included.  You can also use a container to weigh items using the tare button which allows for the net weight of the items to be calculated.

What do you think?  Do you agree with the people who suggest measuring food will help people make healthier eating choices?

I was provided the Ozeri Pro II Digital Kitchen Scale free of charge in exchange for my review but all words, opinions and images are my own.

The Many Faces of Newport

Newport has the most numerous surviving colonial buildings of any city in the United States.  These colonial houses are beautifully maintained and colourful.  The diverse architecture reflects its changing population and fortunes.  There are the colonial buildings of the seafarers, grand mansions of the industrial magnates, boarding houses and hotels for the non-magnate population and commercial buildings.

This charming building was built in 1872 to be the office for Dudley Newton who was one of the main architects of Newport in the 19th century.  He was famous for creating the “Newton Roof” – a decorative roof which hid a building’s gutters.

Lots of the older buildings are now charming inns.

The Artillery Company is the oldest military organisation in continuous service in the United States.  It was chartered by King George II in 1741.

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Some more charming sites around Newport, including the fire house, a quintessential New England church spire and the incredibly convenient Newport trolley.

The window box above is from Decatur House which was the family home of Commodore Decatur, a renowned naval hero in post-revolutionary America.  Decatur House is now a great Mexican restaurant, El Perro Salado.  The restaurant is set amongst the jumble of rooms on the ground floor and overflows into the patio area.  I thought keeping the original small rooms with their low ceilings and fireplaces was a charming touch.  It made each eating area feel intimate and cozy in a restaurant that is actually quite big.

restaurant patio

History really comes alive in Newport walking around the old part of town.   There are lots of small decorative touches everywhere which catch your eye.  The town reminds me of Brugges in Belgium and the old reconstructed part of Warsaw in Poland.  You can really get a sense of the past because the atmosphere is so lovely.  What’s your favourite old city to visit?

Ode to The Burger

Has anyone else noticed the launch of American burger chains in London?  I’m not talking McDonalds and Burger King.  Recently, both Five Guys and Shake Shack, large American burger chains in the United States, have opened up branches in Covent Garden.  Five Guys UK are planning another 5 stores and the next one is planned for Reading.  Here’s Shake Shack’s You Tube video of their opening day:

I personally think American celebrity chef, Bobby Flay, has the best burger chain in  the U.S. with his Bobby’s Burger Palace.  He still only has 15 locations in the U.S. though and no word on international expansion.

This trend for American comfort food has not escaped niche publisher, Parragon Books.  I received a review copy of  Parragon’s recently published book, The Burger, An Action-Packed Tasty Adventure from Love Food Cookbooks.

The cookbook is quite fun and the graphics are in a comic-book style.  But, boy, is it serious about the burger.  It has 100 recipes, mostly for burgers.  There are loads of recipes for burgers, from the traditional versions to gourmet ones.  Mr. N and my son (who like their meat!) fell in love with it immediately.

photo:  Parragon Books

photo: Parragon Books

Among the traditional flavours are the cheese and bacon burger, the turkey burger and chilli burgers.  Vegetarians options include the tofu burger, the bean burger, the sweet potato and halloumi burger and the beetroot burger.  The more adventurous burgers include tuna burgers with mango salsa, truffle burgers, turkey gorgonzola burgers, Jamaican Jerk chicken burgers and Kimchi burgers.

In addition, there are a handful of recipes for toppings side dishes such as sweetcorn relish and potato salad.  The sides are definitely All-American, no nods to international cuisines here.

We tried two recipes from this book., both from the more adventurous flavours section.

The Lamb and Feta Burger

This burger calls for an unusual combination of lamb mince, feta cheese, prunes and pine kernals.

lamb burger

It’s definitely among the more exotic flavours you could do in a burger.  Not your daddy’s burger at all.   My kids thought it was weird but that was always a risk with anything vaguely different.  They found it mind-boggling that burgers could be anything other than beef.  Mr. N and I, however,  thought it was delicious.

lamb burger cooked

The pine kernals added crunch and the prunes a bit of sweetness.  I’m sure the prunes are also good for digesting all that meat.  As with any recipe calling for lamb mince, we had to be careful on the timing because lamb mince burns easily.

The Beef Teriyaki Burger with sizzling vegetables

This burger calls for steak mince, wasabi and teriyaki sauce.  We added more teriyaki sauce than the recipe called for because we prefer our meat well-seasoned.  This burger was a big hit with the whole family.  The teriyaki sauce and wasabi give it a slight sweet yet spicy flavour.  We liked the book’s idea of putting the burgers on pita bread so that wecould taste more of the burger.  Especially with the children, too big a bread roll is too difficult for them to eat.

We will definitely be trying more creative recipes from this book.  If you would like to see more of The Burger, Parragon have helpful provided this free recipe sampler.

No one quite knows who thought of creating the first burger but reports seem to agree they started appearing in the late 19th century at American country fairs in the United States.   Thank goodness burgers were created because they are an easy family meal sure to placate the fussiest of eaters.

What’s your favourite burger joint?  Or do you have any tips on making the perfect home-made burger?  I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

Hot Diggity Dog

Hot dog, hot dog, hot diggity dog.  Anyone who has young children will recognise the tune to the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse song sung by Mickey and his gang at the end of every episode.

I thought I’d wax lyrical about the almighty hot dog in this post.  Hot dogs are an integral part of American culture.  Last year, Americans spent $1.7 billion (yes, billion) purchasing hot dogs in the supermarket.  This amount doesn’t include hot dogs bought in restaurants or at sporting events.  Hot dogs are pretty much standard fare at baseball games (sort of like popcorn at the movies) and baseball fans are expected to eat more than 20 million hot dogs during the season.

hot dog Americana

Tuesday (July 23rd) was National Hot Dog Day in the United States.  Yes, really.   It was sponsored by the National Hot Dog & Sausage Council.  The council’s name makes it clear that hog dog’s are different from sausages.  The council’s Facebook page has loads of random information about hot dogs.  Did you know that Joey (the “Shark”) Chestnut has set a new hot dog eating record by downing 70 hot dogs (and buns) in 10 minutes at the Nathan’s International Hot Dog Eating Contest?  I can’t even imagine the heartburn that guy must feel.  Anyway, Joey the Shark won $10,000 in prize money but said he do it for free because of his love of hot dogs.

nathan's hot dog eating contest

The origin of the American hot dog seems enshrouded in mystery (similar to its content).  In 1871, the first hot dog stand was established in Coney Island, New York.  Their popularity grew until they were served at a baseball park in 1873 and the rest is history.

Hot Dog

There are regional American hot dog variations.  The New York hot dog is served garnished with mustard and steamed onions.  A Chicago hot dog is made from all-beef and served on a poppy seed bun and garnished with raw onions, green relish, tomato slices and mustard.  A Southern style hot dog is garnished with cole slaw on top.  A Michigan hot dog is traditionally served with chilli, mustard and onion.

Chilli Dog in a Napkin

Some variations involve getting rid of the bun altogether and encasing the hot dog in another suitable carbohydrate, such as cornmeal or puff pastry.

corn dog

I’ve tried this recipe for making a corn dog.  I found it too sweet but my kids loved it.  I prefer the puff pastry encased hot dog instead.

pastry Hot dog

For all you worried about etiquette, the National Hot Dog & Sausage Council has published a Youtube video on hot dog eating etiquette.


Pointers include:

  • Always put garnish on the hot dog not the bun.
  • Use the following condiment order:  wet (e.g., mustard), chunky (e.g., relish), then cheese, then spices (e.g., salt).
  • Use your hands to eat your hot dogs.
  • Always finish your hot dog in 5 bites.

So now, you know more than you probably wanted to know about hot dogs.  I hope you get to enjoy (at least) one this summer.