There's really nothing all that special about corn dogs. They are just pale, cheap sausages propped on sticks and wrapped in cornmeal. Yet Texans by the thousands--or more like tens of thousands--will shell out the equivalent of $4 for a sample of one at the state fair.
Of course, it could be argued that the only time and place corn dogs taste absolutely right is at such public festivals. The same, in fact, could be said about a number of foods. We link hot dogs with the ball park, burgers and backyards, cranberries--the jellied stuff from a can, in particular--with Thanksgiving. Would anyone eat candy corn outside of Halloween? It's the only time of the year people tolerate those nasty, multi-colored wedges.
Clearly there's a psychological dimension to the enjoyment of certain foods. Why else would so many of us find comfort in simple dishes, such as macaroni and cheese, during times of trouble?
Home-style creations likely bring us back--mentally--to the security of childhood (or whichever point in life we find safest). When we consider a trip to the stadium, hot dogs almost automatically come to mind. Same with corn dogs and the state fair.
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What makes this Pavlovian phenomenon so fascinating is the number of folks who, under normal circumstances, scorn the exact same fare. How many times, for instance, do you buy cranberries as a side dish? Or take hot dogs. I loved them at Busch Stadium and other ballparks--using past tense because I stopped watching baseball when they went to the wild card system and started inter-league play. When I'd prepare the exact same brand at home, however, I always ended up regretting it. In the same vein, I know many people who despise cheap hot dogs, fried foods and cornmeal--and especially the three in combination--but crave corn dogs come mid-September.
I guess it's no surprise that habit and association inform our appreciation of certain foods. And maybe, deep down, there's an understanding that we don't really like one thing or another. To wit: corn dogs are easy to make at home: a pack of hot dogs, a dip in some batter, a moment to preheat the Fry Daddy. But we just can't replicate the right feeling.
It's a funny thing. Even though corn dogs fried in your own kitchen are generally better, they're somehow disappointing.
While at the fair, they never disappoint.