Why Do Chicago-Style Hot Dogs Always Come On Poppy Seed Buns?

There is absolutely no mistaking a Chicago-style hot dog when you see one. The dead giveaways are the neon-green relish, the pickle spear, and the slices of tomato that lay on top. Just as important and apparent is the fact that true Chicago dogs are always served on poppy seed-speckled buns. These buns became a part of Chicago's hot dog culture over a century ago; they were introduced to the city by Sam Rosen and his Chicago-based bakery, S. Rosen's Baking Company.

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As to why the poppy seed bun remains a must for the Chicago dog, some say it's for flavor and texture, while others believe it's a purely visual touch, giving this already colorful hot dog a burst of teeny polka dots. Whatever the reason, any Chi-town native will tell you that their city's signature frank just isn't authentic without the proper bun.

Supporters of the flavor and texture theory might tell you that the poppy seeds round out the taste of this type of hot dog with a hint of nutty flavor. The meat and celery salt add umami, the onion gives it crunch, the mustard and pickles contribute sourness, and the sport peppers bring heat. Proponents of the "it's just for looks" argument will say that there's no way anyone can taste the poppy seeds with everything else going on in the hot dog. Either way, the bun is a necessity and a very unique element to the dish.

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Who brought the poppy seeds?

Credit for the introduction of the poppy seed-coated hot dog bun goes to Sam Rosen, a Polish immigrant who first honed his baking skills in Germany. He moved across the Atlantic to New York City, where he opened his own bakery, and then relocated to Chicago in 1909. It was here where he developed his poppy seed hot dog bun. Whether hot dog vendors were attracted to the poppy seeds themselves or were wooed by the soft texture of Rosen's bread, the bakery caught on, and S. Rosen brand hot dog buns with poppy seeds are still the standard on the Chicago hot dog scene.

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The Chicago-born, -bred, and -based hot dog company Vienna Beef also makes its own brand of poppy seed hot dog buns, but outside of these two brands, these types of buns can be difficult to track down. And, while you can certainly build a Chicago-style hot dog on a seedless bun, it won't be a true representation of the Windy City, even with all the other toppings. Needless to say, the buns are worth ordering online if you want to recreate Chicago-style dogs at home.

To each their own bun

Chicago-style hot dogs certainly aren't the only ones that are served on a very specific type of bun. There are several signature hot dogs from all over the world that are noted for the unique breads that hold the wiener and condiments inside. In Sweden, the tunnbrödrulle features a hot dog with shrimp salad, mashed potatoes, and crispy onions rolled up in a flatbread. In Hawaii, they love puka dogs; these come in soft bread rolls that have a hole punched through the middle to cradle the hot dog. It wouldn't be a Kansas City hot dog if it wasn't served on a sesame seed-crusted bun, and Fenway Franks, which are served at Fenway Park in Boston, feature hot dogs inside New England-style hot dog rolls, which are buttered and toasted split-top rolls.

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Like the Chicago hot dog, these weenies wouldn't be the same without their unique buns; it's not just about the toppings or condiments. All in all, what matters most is the taste, and if that involves poppy seeds (regardless of whether you can truly taste them or not), so be it.

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