So much of food culture is fluffed and polished to present a nation or region in its best light. Fast food, on the other hand, reveals our animal hind-brain’s darkest secrets. We eat fast food when we are drunk, when we are tired, when we are rushed. Fast food, in all its fatty, salty goodness, reveals us as we are, not as we would like to be.
I’ve mentioned before that Quebec has a particularly robust fast food culture that is quite distinct from the North American norm. Small casse croutes dot the province and its cities, in part due to Montreal’s total ban on street food, which was imposed just after WWII and was just recently amended. One of my favourite elements of this humble cuisine is the steamy, Quebec’s contribution to the world of hotdogs.
Montreal’s steamies are, as you might imagined, steamed, giving the hotdog a very soft texture, but the more interesting variation is that the buns are cut from the top rather than the side, creating a pocket for exotic toppings. The dogs themselves are quite small, allowing one to eat several at a sitting with different toppings loaded on. I should note that there are also “toasté” dogs which are grilled, but they are not nearly as popular. Traditional toppings include mustard, onion and sauercraut; a cheese and bacon dog is known as a supreme in many places. But to me the most interesting steamy is the Michigan dog. The Michigan dog is topped with spaghetti sauce, and optionally includes onions and mustard, a combination also found in New Orleans po-boys. The Quebec version often comes with cheese curds as well, creating a fairly substantial meal.
I used to think the Michigan dog was a Quebec exclusive, but it can be found in New York as well, and has existed there since at least the 1920’s. Given Montreal and New York are linked by rail, there is an easy explanation for this territory. However there is no real explanation for why they are called Michigan dogs, as they don’t seem to be available in Michigan. In most of the American preparations the hotdog is grilled, so the Michigan steamy can be classified as a Canadian food. My personal favourite steamy spot is the half-century old Decarie Hot Dog in Montreal, though any rural roadside casse-croute will do. A Vancouverite looking for a steamy had best head to Davie Street and the La Belle Patate.