Better Living through Hot Dogs


There's a curious type of store in New York City that you don't see anywhere else: The combination fruit smoothie and hot dog stand. For reasons that shall become clear, these stores all have "Papaya" in their name, e.g. Gray's Papaya, Papaya King, Papaya Dog, Chelsea Papaya, etc.

From what I can piece together from websites and the various clippings they post on their walls, the first of these was Gray's Papaya. Apparently one Mr. Gray decided to open up a tropical fruit juice stand, centered around the Papaya, then believed to be Nature's Wonderfruit, a veritable fountain of youth. So he opened what was ostensibly a health-food juice bar, think Jamba Juice for the 1920s. And, of course, what healthier complement is there to fruit juice than hot dogs? Gray's was apparently popular enough to inspire a competitor, Papaya King, in the 1930s. It's also in the 30s, in order to help fight against the competition, that Gray's started running its Recession Special, which it continues to run to this day: Now it's two hot dogs and a small fruit drink for $2.75. Now you have these restaurants all throughout the city, selling cheap hot dogs and tropical fruit smoothies, and all with "Papaya" somewhere in their name.

The interesting thing about it all is that not only do these places survive, they thrive, based on the number of them that the market supports, despite the fact that they're not actually very good. I've sampled the hot dogs at Papaya King and Gray's Papaya, and the veggie dogs at Papaya Dog, and they're all pretty universally blah, not much better than the dogs you can get from the street vendors all over town. As for the fruit drinks... Let's just say that Jamba Juice didn't need to worry about too much competition from the Papayas when they moved in. They're gritty and not at all tasty; I suspect they're just the fruit pureed and then watered down and chilled. And the signature papaya drink is disgusting because, as all good-hearted people know , papayas suck.

I think it's a tribute to the power of inertia. One guy struck it rich riding the papaya fad in the 1920s. He sells a product that's popular enough to weather the wintery economic climate when papayas are no longer the favored fruit they once were. Soon every hot dog store in the city is an imitator of his store. So when New Yorkers go to get hot dogs, they take for granted that they get tropical fruit smoothies with them. Nobody particularly likes them, but eh. That's what you get with a hot dog. That's how all the places do it. Any new hot dog stand here has to sell fruit juice, because that's how things are done here. It's now how they do it anywhere else, because lord knows there's no rational reason for it. But dagnabbit, that's how hot dog stands work here, and that's how they'll always work here! We did it this way before, so we need to keep doing it now.

I'm intimately familiar with this line of irrational reasoning, because it is the primary justification for 90% of all court rulings in the United States.


Hey Zach, this is Jon -- I saw the blog a couple weeks ago on the new and improved CLS forums (it's possible I'm the reader you're referring to in the posts below ... though I'm not certain about that. it's a rare night when i'm surfing the web until 5:45 in the morning. thought I'd say hello, in any case.)

Wanted to note that Rhode Islanders take pride in their local "New York style" or "New York system" wieners, which have neither papayas, nor, as far as I can tell, any relation to New York City. They're four-inch hot dogs served by the plateful and covered in mustard, onions, celery salt and a meat sauce with a thin, distinctive -- vinegary? -- flavor. You usually find them at small old greasy spoons that specialize in cooking the things. Kind of tasty, too, in the once-in-a-late-night-moon sort of way.

Not as absurd in the papaya-hot dog combo. But then, there are worse things in this world than trying to sell a few honest papayas. I've always been puzzled by the survival of cotton candy: where's the appeal in food that dissolves to nothing in the mouth? And yet carnival hucksters have been bilking little kids out of their quarters for a century with the stuff.

Weird. I wonder why "New York Style." Maybe it predates the Papaya-ization of New York hot dogs. If asked, I would define "New York Hot Dog" as hot dogs that are slightly longer than the average dog, somewhat skinny and anemic, and covered in sauerkraut and deli mustard. And on the cheap side, a buck or less.

Maybe it's sort of like how "New York-style Pizza" outside of New York tends to mean "Thin and not very good pizza."

Speaking of pizza, I'm amazed that everyone includes anchovies amongst the toppings they put on pizzas. Do you know anyone who actually gets anchovies on their pizza? And yet not only are anchovies available as a pizza topping, everyone had them.

I think the pizza analogy is probably pretty correct. It may not be very good, but, hey, it's *from* New York! Although I happen to like NY pizza, actually ... it's junk food when compared to deep dish, for instance, but it's still hot junk food with cheese and tomato sauce.

And anchovies ... only my mother. We always had to order them on half, and even then the anchovy-free slices tasted salty and fish-like. But I think that's more because she ate a lot of seafood growing up. I can't imagine why the average twenty-something choosing to eat little fishes on a pizza.

Don't get me wrong; I like New York pizza here in New York, I just find that, as a rule, outside of New York New York-style pizza tends to be somewhat inferior to just regular pizza.

Although, speaking of pizza, I should point out that California Pizza Kitchen is an abomination.

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This page contains a single entry by Zach published on September 19, 2005 9:27 PM.

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