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Obama and the Half-Smoke

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hotdogsSo, I'm not a Washingtonian. I was born there and lived there for three short years before we took off for points middle-west, but I'm clearly no Beltway insider. Naturally, I didn't know what a "half-smoke" was until I saw the discussion surrounding it and Obama's trip to Ben's Chili Bowl on Meet the Press with video reposted at Serious Eats.

Wasn't I just talking about how obsessed we all are with every little move Obama makes, including where and what he eats?

After David Gregory played the clip of Obama in Ben's asking, "What's a half-smoke?" Cosby reacted to this question with a humorously exaggerated eye-roll, just as though Theo had asked if he could borrow the family car to take Charmaine on a date while wearing a crazy yellow shirt that Denise made for him just before Rudy ran down the stairs and lip-synced to a comically low-pitched song.

This is the thing -- I like that Obama asked that question. I like that he's come to D.C. and, with that question, pretty much said, "Hey, I know I'm not from around here. I'm from the lands of Portuguese sausage and of Polish sausage. I'm not going to jam a Yankees cap on my head and pretend as if I've always lived among you, I'm asking you to teach me your ways and your customs."

It's humble, it's curious. It's Obama.


So, what IS a half-smoke? As I understand it from Wikipedia, a half-smoke is "similar to a regular hot dog, but slightly larger, spicier and with more coarsely ground meat; it is usually grilled but can be found steamed." It's usually made from a combo of beef and pork and there's some question about what "half" or "smoke" even means in the name. Quite frankly, it sounds like pot jargon to me.

There's a repulsive little photo accompanying the entry, but from the sound of it's I'm guessing it has to taste way better than it photographs.

The half-smoke revelation sort of begs the question: does every metropolis have their own hot dog? Here's a very loose analysis of my answer to that question: D.C. has the half-smoke, Chicago has Polish sausage, Hawaii has Portuguese sausage, Boston has hot dogs in those split rolls that do double-duty for lobster rolls, Philly has...cheese steaks (it's not a dog, per se, but it's still meat in a long bun), New York has Nathan's Famous Franks at Coney Island and maybe Grey's Papaya, and New Jersey has whatever New York has.

So, what sort of dog does San Francisco have? The easy and dated joke would zing "tofu dog," but really, we can do better than that, can't we? We've definitely got Rosamunde's, but maybe the quintessential San Francisco hot dog would be made from half Marin Sun Farms beef and half Fatted Calf pork on a sourdough and black olive bun, topped with diced Happy Girl Dilly Beans and Spicy Carrots.

Yeah, um, I'd really appreciate it if someone would go invent that right now.

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