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Why Mustard is the King of Condiments

It is alpha and omega, sun and moon.

By Peter Meehan March 2, 2016
Illustration by Rob Engvall

This is excerpted from The Wurst of Lucky Peach: A Treasury of Encased Meats, Lucky Peach’s new single-subject cookbook and reference guide for anyone interested in sausages, on sale now! 

“Ketchup is an acceptable condiment on hot dogs, but only for children and degenerates. And not for my children.” —My Dad (and all the dads of the greater Chicagoland area)

Coming into consciousness in the Midwest, one is raised knowing that to put ketchup on a hot dog is like wearing diapers to middle school—some people are going to do it, but you don’t want to be one of them unless absolutely, medically necessary.

I could say that this belief stems from tradition, but that would be skirting the truth, which is this: Mustard is the king of condiments. It is alpha and omega, sun and moon; kimchi and ketchup wash its feet and anoint its shoulders with liniments when it is sore from the weight of the crown.

It is glorious and resplendent when it is school-bus yellow and tastes of turmeric and the national anthem. Yellow mustard is the condi­ment that makes hot dogs hot dogs, and the rest of the garbage that people put on them is either for fun (hot dog cosplay, let’s call it, which we will not malign in the sex-positive pages of this tube-steak missive) or folly, as in what happens to hot dogs every day on the streets of New York, as the careless robotic populace toddles by—an outrage perpetrated on every midtown corner.

Though I was originally suspicious of Dijon mustard, which I first saw being passed between two lonely old queens who were being squired about the countryside in his-and-her Silver Shadows, we have welcomed it into our lives, our refrigerators, and our ambigu­ously Euro-leaning sausage conquests—for me, it mitigates the lambiness of a merguez like nothing else.

Weißwurst would be a pointlessly tumescent ghost penis of a joke sausage were it not for the faint domination of sweetness in the Bavarian mustard that is its natural partner, its raison d’être. To walk into a Polish delicatessen and breathe in the variety of kielbasas and mustards—this one is spicy enough to light your nose hairs on fire! This one comes in a cute collectible glass beer stein!—is to be an exhibitionist on his first nude beach, inhaling the salt air of the sea and the liberation of endless possibility.

The uncapturable and irreducible scope of mustard profusion matched, caringly, with the right specimens from the ever-uncoiling universe of sausage­dom makes for the most infinite, and one of the most deeply satisfying, adven­tures in eating.

And you were going to put what on that hot dog?

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This is excerpted from The Wurst of Lucky Peach: A Treasury of Encased Meats, Lucky Peach’s new single-subject cookbook and reference guide for anyone interested in sausages, on sale now! 

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