Japanese Fusion Hot Dogs take over Seattle

Gourmet dog Japon
Maki Maruyama whips up Japanese fusion hot dogs in at the cart on 2nd and Pike. (Photo by Sihanouk Mariona).

If you couldn’t make the trip to Tokyo for this week’s Mariners season opener, you could try celebrating here in Seattle with a Japanese twist on a baseball classic:

Gourmet Dog Japon is a network of 3 food carts at 2nd and Pike, Belltown and Westlake Center, serving ‘Japanese Fusion hot dogs’.

The most popular dog is the Matsure – a sausage topped with nori (seaweed), carrots and onion, drizzled with Japanese mayo. Other topping options range from grated radish, wasabi and scallions, to cheese and pepperoni (the pizza dog!) to the more traditional ketchup and mustard.

“People tend to try more Japanese stuff when they’re here,” said Maki Maruyama, who prepares hot dogs at the 2nd and Pike location.

I tried Maruyama’s favorite, the Kabuki, which has fish flakes, a popular Japanese ingredient, as well as cabbage, katsu sauce, red ginger and Japanese mayo.

You might assume this is just the way hot dogs are served in Japan, but in fact the tradition got started right here in the Pacific Northwest.

Vancouver, BC’s Japadog opened in 2005, and has since expanded to four Vancouver stands and a location in New York City.

Japan Seattle fusion
Photo by Sihanouk Mariona.

Shinsuke Nikaido, who goes by Nick, opened the first Gourmet Dog Japon location in Seattle inside the Pike Place Market in July 2010. He thought the food stand would be a fun retirement project: “easy to start and only a small investment.” But the project has turned out to be more work than he expected.

“It was a small investment, but I work every day, on the weekends till 4 or 5am,” he said in a phone interview. “Fortunately I have good people helping me.”

Nikaido recently decided to close the Pike Place Market location–which had to close along with the market at 6pm each night–and move just up the hill to 2nd & Pike. There’s also a Friday and Saturday night Belltown location, and a new stand that opened March 2nd outside of Westlake Center.

Back at 2nd and Pike, Maruyama says Seattle makes it easy to satisfy his cravings for Japanese food, and he likes living here…”when I’m not working outside in the cold.” On a windy Seattle Sunday two weeks ago, his little food cart seemed particularly exposed.  He prepared my hot dog from inside a bundle of earmuffs, gloves, and two heavy jackets. A plastic jar for donations to the tsunami relief efforts rattled every time the wind gusted.

(Photo by Sihanouk Mariona)

But the cold isn’t the hardest part of Maruyama’s job. He sometimes works the Belltown location, which stays open late on Friday and Saturday nights. Serving the bar crowd is good for business–he says the stand sells over 300 hot dogs on a good day–but Maruyama says drinkers can get impatient. He remembers one late-night customer who shouted “you’re mean! you’re mean! you’re mean!” until he could finally soothe her with a fresh hot dog loaded with toppings. He laughed, “they order and then they want it in like ten seconds.”

Eat at Gourmet Dog Japon:

  • Prices: About $5 a dog
  • Food cart: Southeast corner of 2nd and Pike, open 11am-10pm, 7 days
  • Westlake Center: Northwest corner of 5th and Pine, open 10am-8pm, 7 days
  • Belltown: 2nd Ave & Bell St, open 9pm-2am Friday & Saturday