April 3, 2013

Taste Bud: Japanese hot dogs

A hot dog is about as American as you can get. The concept started at a New York Yankees baseball game, for crying out loud.

So imagine my surprise when I saw something called a “Japadawg” on the menu recently when I visited a little Japanese bistro in Middletown named Masa (12336 Shelbyville Road). Japadawg? What in the name of Tojo Yamamoto is going on here?

Well, Masa’s Japadawgs start with the basic American ingredients — processed meat in a tube, roasted and then placed in a bun — topped with unusual blends of non-basic ingredients. In other words, you can’t order chili and shredded cheese for your Japadawg.

Masa offers three versions: the Avalanche, featuring asparagus, tomato, red onion, “japa mayo” and seaweed flakes; the Dynamite, topped with avocado, fresh jalapeno, tomato, cilantro and “japa garlic”; and the MasaDawg, featuring baked scallops, mushrooms, onions and “japa sauce.”

Yeah, I know.

At first, I couldn’t decide what to order. Should I order two? My assumption would be that Japanese hot dogs are small. And then I wondered, Will they expect me to eat a Japanese hot dog with chopsticks? That could get tricky.

I decided to order the Dynamite Japadawg, eat it, and see if I was still hungry. Surprisingly, my dawg arrived not just piled with toppings but with a side order of sweet potato fries and an orange slice. (The fries also explained why our server brought me a small saucer of ketchup ahead of my meal. To quote Dirty Harry, “Nobody, I mean nobody, puts ketchup on a hot dog.”)

I have to tell you: That was a darn good Japadawg. It was such an odd blend of flavors that each bite offered something just a tad different from the last. Especially strange to my taste buds was the combination of the hot dog flavor mixed with the creamy avocado. Strange bunfellows, those two.

As you would imagine, the crispy slices of jalapeno pepper offered moments of heat that were in stark contrast to the light orange sauce on top of the concoction. And the cilantro, one of my favorite things, like, ever, was surprisingly nonexistent in the mix. And even if the thing hadn’t tasted good (it did), it was still nice to look at.

“It’s so colorful, it almost looks fake,” was my girlfriend Cynthia’s reaction to the bright presentation of my lunch.

Trouble was, a lot of that color spilled all over my hands and around the edges of my mouth as I devoured the dawg. Japadawgs are messy indeed, with sauce-covered chunks of red tomato plopping on your plate, sauce oozing between your fingers, and avocado and peppers sliding here and there.

At one point, I had to replace a jalapeno slice on top of the dog three times before I finally managed to get it to go into my mouth.

The sauce was one of the more interesting ingredients. I expected a garlic-y flavor, but it was so mild and creamy that I had a hard time figuring out just what it was. Cynthia said she sensed a hint of wasabi, but qualified her assertion by telling me, “Your taste buds are so deadened from all the spicy food you eat that you probably can’t even taste it.”

Fair point. So I asked our server what’s in it.

“It’s a special sauce,” she said.

“So, you’re saying you aren’t going to tell me what’s in it?” was my response. She just smiled and nodded.

Ancient Japanese secret, eh?

Anyway, I’m going to go back, and when I do, I’ll try the MasaDawg. I mean, scallops and mushrooms on a hot dog? You can’t get that at Yankee Stadium.

Flossing for Octopus
I bought a baby octopus salad at Kroger in the Highlands the other day. For $4, I got about 15 thumb-sized octopi that had been cooked in a combination sesame and soy sauce. They were quite tasty, but ridiculously chewy (as octopus tends to be).

Anyway, I ate them while watching “The Walking Dead,” first biting off the heads, then chomping the tentacles. And when I was done, I had so much octopus stuck in my teeth that I had to take a time-out to go floss.

And that’s when I came up with a great name for a hipster-indie band: Flossing for Octopus. Feel free to use it; you know you want to.