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The humble power of the hot dog bun

By Monica Bettson,
The Stop’s Community Chef

There’s a special feeling I get when I cook for my friends and family around the holidays. As we come together to enjoy new recipes and ones that have been handed down for generations, our conversations take on a new warmth and a spirit of gratitude for one another.

It’s an extra special experience when I cook with my partner’s family. We combine our styles into a Chinese/Canadian cuisine mashup, swapping stories and laughs throughout.

These kinds of shared meals can bind us closer to our friends and families. They make us feel that we have a place in the world, that we’re part of a community that cares for us. It’s a feeling that I try to recreate for people every day at The Stop.

As the Community Chef, I get to nourish people with healthy food, to give them energy to conquer hardships, and most importantly, to contribute to a place of community and friendship. They may be eating a familiar dish, and the taste brings back good memories for them. Or it might be their first time trying a new cuisine, and it sparks a conversation with a tablemate.

I’m acutely aware that it also may be the only meal they eat, and the only human contact they have that day.

The Stop’s Drop-in at our 1884 Davenport location

When I’m preparing our menus, I always look with a critical eye. Is our food accessible to everyone? Is it representative of the people we’re cooking for? Is it nutritious and tasty? Is it ethically sourced and environmentally responsible?

These are important questions to ask. And when we answer them thoughtfully, we can create transformative experiences for the people that dine with us.

Eating other people’s food (and by that I mean food we have not grown up eating) can be a pathway to being more open to engaging with people that eat, look, speak, or think differently than ourselves. Good food sparks connections, and that’s part of what makes The Stop so special.

This year I took inspiration from one of my partner’s childhood favourites, a Chinese bakery classic: the hot dog bun! Now, I wouldn’t normally purchase hot dogs for The Stop, but we received them as a donation. So we decided to do something special. We made an enriched dough, wrapped the dogs, glazed them with egg wash, and sprinkled them with sesame seeds. I brought a finished bun home to my partner (who’s eaten hundreds in his lifetime) and he gave it five stars!

However, my favourite reaction was from James, a Chinese volunteer in the Drop-in. James is normally very quiet and reserved. But when I brought out the hot dog buns that day, he laughed out loud! Ever since, he’s brought me Chinese recipe booklets every week. Seeing yourself represented through food is important, even if it’s through a humble hot dog bun.

Eating with a diverse cultural palette isn’t going to solve systemic problems, but it is a starting point. We can connect through food, and learn about our respective histories of migration, war, and inequality. When we start to have these conversations, we can start to talk about solutions.

Monica (second from right) preparing a Drop-in lunch with volunteers

The Stop’s meal budget is just $1.50 to $2 per plate. This can be very challenging, but it mirrors what most of our community members experience on a daily basis: making do with food bank hampers, discounted food, and unexpected grocery items.

For many of the people I cook for, this is a constant struggle, and I need to hold that close. At the end of the day, I go home to a full fridge and a salary that allows me to spend more than $2 on a meal. My health, my outlook on life, and my opinion of hot dogs would be much different if I faced the challenges our community members deal with every day.

Whether you’re a Stop donor, volunteer, visitor, or a supporter of our mission, thank you for making this work possible. 

I wish you and your community a very happy holiday season.

Sincerely,

Monica Bettson
Community Chef at The Stop

P.S. As a small token of my appreciation, below you’ll find the beloved recipe for the Chinese hot dog buns. Perhaps it will become part of your holiday tradition!

Support The Stop this holiday season

 

Chinese Hot Dog Buns

Here’s the 5 star recipe we served in the Drop-in this year. You can always upgrade the protein from hot dogs to sausages or to a veggie option – up to you!

Prep time: Around 2 hrs 30 mins
Cook time: About 20 mins
Serves: 12 buns

Ingredients

  • 12 hot dogs OR sausages OR veggie alternatives
  • 2/3 cup heavy cream (room temperature)
  • 1 cup milk (plus 1 tablespoon, room temperature)
  • 1 large egg (room temperature)
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • Egg wash: whisk together 1 egg with 1 teaspoon water
  • Simple syrup: 2 teaspoons of sugar dissolved in 2 teaspoons hot water

Instructions

  1. In the bowl of a mixer, add in this order: heavy cream, milk, egg, sugar, flour, yeast, and salt. Using the dough hook attachment, turn mixer to“stir.” Run 15 minutes, occasionally stopping to push dough together.
  2. Cover mixing bowl with a damp towel and place in a warm spot for 1 hour. The dough will expand 1.5x times.
  3. During this time, heat a tablespoon of oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add hot dogs, allowing them to crisp slightly and get some color. Set aside to cool.
  4. Return dough to mixer and stir for 2 minutes to remove air bubbles. Place dough on a lightly floured surface and cut into 12 equal pieces.
  5. Roll each piece into a 10-12 inch rope, keeping the middle thicker than the ends. Roll the rope around a hot dog, tucking in the ends. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet (keep the buns 2-3 inches apart). Repeat until all buns are assembled.
  6. Cover baking sheet with a kitchen towel and allow buns to rise in a warm place for an hour. The buns should just about double in size.
  7. Preheat oven to 350°F. Brush with egg wash, and bake buns for 14 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through baking.
  8. Remove from oven and immediately brush buns with sugar water. This gives them that lovely bakery shine.
  9. Share and enjoy!

Support good food at The Stop