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Chicago's Next Chinese Export: A Real Hot Dog

By Kim Bellware in Food on Jan 20, 2011 9:40PM

An ad for the Hong Kong based Duke's "New York" Deli as found in HK Magazine
With all the talks of trades, exports and deals surrounding Chinese President Hu Jintao's visit to Washington, DC and Chicago, I'd like to humbly offer a suggestion for what is apparently a much needed commodity in China: a real Chicago-style hot dog.

My beef (heh) pertains more specifically to Hong Kong - technically a Special Administrative Region of China - and not the mainland itself. Still, given that Hong Kong's culinary prowess greatly surpasses that of its massive, northern relative, if they can't get a hot dog right, we're guessing the PRC is making some similar missteps, too.

Family ties have yielded a lifetime of regular visits to Hong Kong where eating seems to be the pastime of choice, so I say with great confidence that crammed onto that tiny, beautiful but smog-choked island is some of the best food a person could possibly eat anywhere, and that encompasses much more than just dim sum and Peking duck. Of course, even great food cities like Chicago have their weak spots (bagels anyone?), and the hot dog seems to be the epicurean Achilles Heel of Hong Kong.

During my recent visit, I spotted an ad for Duke's Deli, a supposed New York-style deli on the popular strip of Nathan Road. The restaurant featured three styles of dogs: New York's Finest Frank, The Steel City Surprise and The Big Easy Frank.

Let that sink in for a minute.

It's hard to say what's more offensive: The fact that Chicago - a city synonymous with hot dogs - wasn't given a frank of its own, or that Pittsburgh was deemed more worthy of a dog. No offense to the City of Bridges, but the Pittsburgh version looked like nacho cheese and some Manwich took a crap inside a hoagie.

I took a stroll over to Duke's hoping to get some answers and defend the honor of Chicago's Kosher beef but found no Chicago-style hot dog on the menu, not even under a different name. Discussions with a manager (or at least I think he was) didn't yield much with most of the explanations lost in translation. Plus, it was really hard to intimate the necessity of a sport pepper in a foreign language.

Some passing conversations with American expats and a few locals confirmed that quality hot dogs were near impossible to come by on the island, Chicago style dogs even rarer. While Chicago has some nice deals in the works with exporting their expertise and goods to China, we don't seem to be sharing enough in the way of our city's good food.

I left a cocktail napkin sketch of a Chicago dog with the folks at Duke's. Maybe on the next visit the menu will have expanded just enough to include our fair franks.