Despite what many would claim as NYC’s most iconic food (sorry Brooklyn-style pizza), the humble hot dog is undoubtedly the one thing you’ll see most often upon visiting the city—when it comes to culinary quantity.Hot dog carts no longer solely dole out simple tube steaks, but their presence around NYC is daunting. According to potentially accurate internet sources, over 12,000 vendors peddling their meats upon tourists and hungry locals alike (counting the ones lacking an official license to operate).
Well, how did the quintessential sausage become an NYC staple you ask? Hop in our DeLorean and let’s take a quick ride back to Ancient Greece.
Historians (though many argue the finer points of this) believe that the street food cart originated between 800 B.C. and 500 B.C. in Athens, Greece—due to their mentions in Homer’s “Odyssey.” There is even a play from Greek playwright Aristophanes called “The Knights” that follows such a vendor who eventually becomes a city leader (still better than Cuomo).
Aside from this ancient street meat, there are countless other mentions of sausages being sold throughout history (including Roman times), but it wasn’t until the Germans perfected the sausage into the frankfurter that the hot dog of today was truly conceptualized.
Approximately 500 years ago in Frankfurt, Germany, the red hot dog we know and sometimes love was created… though historians (and Vienna, Austria) disagree on this because they can never seem to agree on anything.
Hot dog popularity is still astronomical around the five boroughs, with an estimated 1,000 franks being sold per minute, on average.
Hundreds of years after this, sausages eventually made their way to the States and became “red-hots” or “dachshund sausages”… the latter of which makes us extremely uncomfortable. Nevertheless, this quick jaunt through history brings us full circle back to New York City. In the 19th century, NYC’s famous hot dog carts were already cropping up, with many laying claims to the title of “original.”
German immigrants were likely the first to sling their sausages about the city, with many claiming the first around the 1860s in Bowery. One of the most iconic sausage slingers around the time was Charles Feltman, a baker from Coney Island who claims to have invented the hot dog. As the 20th century drew closer, the rise in popularity of hot dogs continued to grow as they became staples at the World’s Fair in Chicago, baseball games and other public gatherings—touted as America’s first “fast food.”
Easily NYC’s most iconic name in hot dogs (unless you’d argue for Sabretts) is Nathan’s Famous. Back in 1915, Nathan Handwerker began his rise to sausage stardom after saving up $300 to open his own stand, undercutting his old boss and becoming top dog in the hot dog world just in time for the Great Depression to hit. His cheap meats then found their way into the mouths of hungry Americans all around the nation.
Supposedly, the actual term “hot dog” was coined around the same time cartoonist Tad Dorgan of the New York Journal was unable to spell “dachshunds” and instead used the shorthand version of hot dog … saving us all from the horror of ordering “one dachshund with sauerkraut please.”
Mystery meat jokes aside, the backlash against processed meats in recent years hasn’t kept the good dog down. Hot dog popularity is still astronomical around the five boroughs, with an estimated 1,000 franks being sold per minute, on average.
While that may sound like a lot of cash to be raking in for simply selling food on the streets of New York, it’s also worth noting that many of the licenses to sell such grub can run a vendor as much as $289,500 a year just for the right to operate a single cart in Central Park. Other less-traveled areas can be far, far less than that, but the price of setting up shop around the city each year is no joke, and there are thousands of vendors who never get accepted to officially sell in the city.
Despite this, the average price for a single hot dog is still around $2 or $3, making it one of the last few bastions of cheap food in the city aside from a slice of pizza.
Just remember, if you act like a tourist, your cheap dog might instead go up to $4 or even $5, so here’s a quick tip next time you’re trying to stretch your last few dollars in one of the world’s most expensive cities. Ask your humble street meat distributor what a hot dog costs, when they tell you, act like that is the most insane price you’ve ever heard, express your displeasure and begin to walk away. Typically, they will rope you back in and drop to a more reasonable price—it hasn’t failed me yet.