In Waltham, MA last week, at a cookout at the house my niece is renting with her friends, I experienced newfangled hot dog buns. They appear to the naked eye to resemble simply slices of white bread folded over, but no. Well, yes, but there’s more going on than that. Somehow, in the baking process, they are shaped and crisped into action, ready to perform the bun function, supporting the dog as authoritatively as any bun out there. (No slice of folded-over white bread could do that.) They just taste better than normal buns, that’s all, being nearly crustless. You get delicious bread in every bite, not useless crust, and the bread not only supports the hot dog literally, but taste-wise. Being less intrusive in the total flavor experience than a big ol’ crusty bun, it lets you taste the dog better, while complementing it perfectly with its ever-so-slightly-toasty white bread goodness. Whoever thought of it is a genius.
Well, it turns out the buns aren’t newfangled, and whoever thought of them might be long gone. My research turns up that they are actually called “New England style hot dog buns,” so, just like Thickly Settled road signs, this bun is an indigenous regional treasure. I’m picking up hints that the origin of the bun style may be Portuguese (which makes sense, given the large Massachusetts Portuguese-American population in such towns as New Bedford and Fall River, south of Boston, as well as Boston itself, and in Rhode Island). Internet message boards are full of people who have fallen in love with these New England hot dog buns and are desperately seeking them in areas outside New England without success. According to my niece’s friend Laine (mouth pictured above), the ones at the party were purchased at Costco, but it must be that only New England Costcos have them. Wonder Bread sells a “New England Style” hot dog bun on the web; I can’t tell from the picture on that web page whether the buns inside the bag are really the kind I had, but for $4.75 a dozen, it might just be worth biting.