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John Prine: The Free Weird Mustard I Keep in My Bag Is Just For Hot Dogs

John Prine was interviewed about the things he can’t travel without for the New York Times today, which brought to light (among many other things) an inspiring routine the singer-songwriter indulges in when dining out. When it comes to food, Prine has talked most extensively in his career about two particular passions: meat loaf and hot dogs. When discussing the making of his album of this year, The Tree of Forgiveness, during a recent Tiny Desk concert, Prine claimed that he recorded the album entirely on Tuesdays, because that’s the best day for meatloaf specials in Nashville. In his recent video for album highlight “Knockin’ On Your Screen Door,” Prine is shown eating meatloaf at one of his favorite local establishments, Arnold’s Country Kitchen.

Additionally, Prine sometimes posts online in honor of National Hot Dog Day. Last year, he wrote on Facebook: “Read an article one time that said hot dogs aren’t good for you, bad stuff in them. I don’t know about you, but I don’t care what’s in my hot dog, I care what’s ON my hot dog.” (Research turns up a similar tweet from 2014). John Prine’s online store offers a children’s T-shirt featuring a hot dog with a bottle of mustard reading “John Prine” on it. On “We Are The Lonely” from Prine’s 1995 underrated LP Lost Dogs + Mixed Blessings, he also refers to someone (possibly euphemistically) as a “lonely little hot dog bun.” And let’s not forget the irreverent line that closes the first song on his debut album: “Well done, hot dog bun, my sister’s a nun.”

In today’s Times, Prine opened up even more candidly about his food routine:

I take my own syrup, ketchup and mustard, just in case of emergencies, in my suitcase. Whatever I can steal from the hotels. It’s usually Heinz ketchup and they give you a weird mustard. You don’t get French’s or anything; you get some sort of Dijon or some mustard. That’s just for hot dogs. I don’t use mustard for anything else.

The syrup is slightly puzzling simply because (at least as far as I could find) Prine has not gone on the record professing his love of pancakes and waffles. However, maple syrup is a fairly common ingredient in meatloaf recipes (as are ketchup and mustard, despite the fact that Prine insists he only uses it on hot dogs). It’s often used as a part of a topping in those recipes, so perhaps Prine uses the syrup, at least some of the time, on a piece of fine Nashville ‘loaf.

Today’s Times expose is not the first time Prine’s commitment to traveling with his condiments has been commented upon. In a 2016 Bitter Southerner piece about Prine, singer-songwriter Todd Snider drew attention to this routine, and mentioned condiments Prine did not bring up with the NYT. Here’s Snider:

He’s been on the road for 50 years, so when he travels, he travels with everything. And when I say everything, I mean all of his things. And he doesn’t have less things than most people, he just travels with all of his clothes and all of his shoes and not quite all of his condiments and these types of things, but pretty much. He brings his salt and pepper, and he brings his syrup. He travels with just about everything that he might use during the day, and I always thought that was really cool.

It is really cool, Todd.

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