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Coney Island's "Alien Esculent": Hot Dogs

Coney Island 1869

A view of Coney Island in 1869, from Valentine's Manual of the City of New York for 1916–28 (New York: Valentine Company, 1921).

Nothing conjures up the essence of summer in New York City better than a Coney Island hot dog. One unexpected place to look for these treats is Valentine's Manual of the City of New York for 1916–28, which includes what we think could be the all-time greatest description of these summertime delicacies, "The Hot Dog Arrives":

Coincidental with the rise of spaghetti was that of another alien esculent, the "hot dog." This was known to the early German residents under the traditional title of "Wiener-wurst." I believe it began its great vogue at Coney Island where it gradually converted the addicts of the entirely native clam chowder to its charms. In the early days of the Island clam chowder was its most toothsome delight. It ranged in price from 15 cents a platter at the Manhattan Beach Hotel to 5 cents near the West End, and at any number of places was offered as free lunch with a schooner of beer.

The "hot dog" when it first made its appearance on the Island was served au naturel, coyly ensconced in a roll. Then a cordon bleu with a touch of the genius of Brillat-Savarin, embellished it with sauerkraut; this with unlimited mustard completed the conquest of the public. It could be carried on the march, eaten on the sands between baths, consumed on a carousel, used as a baby’s nipple to quiet an obstreperous infant, and had other economic appeals to the summer pleasure seeker.

Who knew you could use a hot dog as a "baby's nipple to quiet an obstreperous infant"?!

Coney Island 1920

A view of Coney Island in 1920, from Valentine's Manual of the City of New York for 1916–28 (New York: Valentine Company, 1921).

Valentine's Manual is a 12-volume set full of similarly charming passages. Other summer topics covered are pleasure resorts, picnics, and steamboat excursions. Come check them out to fully get into the summer mood.

Coney Island 2013

A 2013 view of Nathan's Famous in Coney Island, from Jeff Chien-Hsing Liao, Coney Island (Portland: Nazraeli Press, 2013).

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