Canadian Jumbo - The True Seattle Hot Dog


The Ajimi team was at our local Costco today. As usual, the subject of hot dogs came up as we exited the store, passing by the window where one can ogle at the amazing pizza saucing machine – a metal arm of several tubes that squirt perfect concentric circles of scarlet pizza sauce on a turning turntable of raw pizza dough. Beyond that display one comes to the counter where one can not only get a big floppy slice of said pie, but the fast, cheap hot dogs that are part and parcel of the Costco experience. We passed them by this time. Which may have been a first. Not that we don’t like them. They are a fine, if not very memorable, fairly long tube of all-beef wiener served on a short bun. The only condiments available are ketchup (never!), yellow mustard, and a kind of sweet relish slop. But as we sauntered past the receipt checker into the wilds of the parking lot, I thought of hot dogs in the Pacific Northwest. And what it says about us who call this home.

The Seattle hot dog – a grilled polish sausage slathered with cream cheese and topped with grilled onions or what-have-you – passed the Ajimi team by. Some folks say that the whole concept started with a guy named Hadley Long, who hung around the Central Tavern in the 1980s and 90s with his bagel cart by the Central Saloon. This member of the Ajimi team was in Seattle during those heady days. I didn’t spend much time in Pioneer Square then as Belltown was where it was at. And if memory serves, it was nearly impossible, particularly in the 80s to have a street cart selling hot food. The city was not very street-food-friendly in those days. Nonetheless, after the Ajimi team’s years long sojourn in Japan, we returned to find the travesty of the Seattle dog was being pushed, fictions of its history being published and it was supposedly available somewhere. Who knows where? I still wasn’t seeing it being sold at any place one could buy a hot dog. My particular feeling is that it was some city-boosting marketing scheme concocted by some cabal of yuppie business types. Like the ones who decided to “rebrand” Seattle as the Emerald City. It’s still a stupid name that nobody uses. What’s wrong with the Queen City? A fine name. Or something that came up in the late 20th century – Jet City! However with Boeing, the company that put Seattle on the map in the mid 1900s, moving to Chicago, a city that really knows how to make hot dogs, the name has less cache. But I digress. 

Hot dogs are what is really on my mind.

Which brings me to the Canadian Jumbo hot dog. Once a fixture in fast food markets and delis, lowbrow cafes, the ferries, throughout the Pacific Northwest, these big fatties could be found turning endlessly on roller grills with simple illustration signifying hot dog in orange and yellow in Franklin Gothic lettering over the facing half of facing bun in black simply saying “CANADIAN JUMBO.”

Of course, a product named Canadian Jumbo certainly does not necessarily bring up anything to do with Seattle. But this dog was the brainchild of Seattle-based food food distributing company, Totem. Why they decided to brand their Seattle product with a name that connotes our fine neighbor to the north is anyone’s guess. (I have an email out to the folks at Totem asking about this mystery). But this dog is really is a Seattle original. 

The Canadian Jumbo is a 6 inch all meat (What meat you ask? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯) tubesteak. It’s about an inch thick. This hefty guy is served in a classic hot dog milk bread bun and one dresses it with whatever one wants. The usual choices are those little plastic packages of yellow mustard or ketchup (only to be used if you are truly Canadian). Or if you really want the complete Totem experience, try Mickey’s Prepared Horseradish, the proprietary condiment of the company.

All this makes me think that the hot dog that should wear the mantle of Seattle is the Canadian Jumbo. Sure, it makes no sense, but this is the dog that was here first – and will probably be here long after the people of the future, reading about the history of Seattle, will stop and wonder why anybody would have put cream cheese on a hot dog – and if that really happened.


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