the humble sandwich


“Ask not what you can do for your country.

Ask what’s for lunch.”

Orson Welles

Given the name of my blog, I thought it fitting that my first non-recipe posting would be about a subject close to my own heart – the sandwich.

I’ve always been a bit of a cheap date. When presented with a world of amazing and delicious food, I will often find myself focusing on the bread or the potatoes or the rice. Not sure if it is something in my own family history, or the spectre of the Irish famine still hovering over me. Or maybe I just love bread.

We in the Western world have a terrible reputation. Unlike those Mediterranean countries where everybody stops for two hours at lunchtime, we are known for grabbing a sandwich at our desks without stopping our work.

Sad, it seems. But I don’t know. As somebody who spends most of her waking life obsessed with food, my lunchtime sandwich means a lot to me. It is an oasis of luxury and indulgence in a busy working day. I take my lunchtime sandwiches very seriously, and many of my friends have the same mindset.

So I did a quick poll amongst 55 of my closest friends, to see what they would say about the role of the humble sandwich in their lives. I got 55 clear answers to the question “What is your favourite sandwich?” but it was detail of those answers which told the most interesting tales.

With my analytical hat on, I did what any engineer would do given all this data: I put it all into a spreadsheet.

The most popular sandwich filling was cheese. Almost half of respondents chose cheese, and most people specified very clearly the type of cheese they wanted (cheddar or mature cheddar being the favourite). Next popular filling was bacon, followed closely by chicken.

In terms of additional ingredients, the surprise was that avocado was joint favourite with salad. Avocado is really popular here in Aus, but these responses came from all over the world.

Mayonnaise was by far the most popular condiment, which I guess is no surprise. However a small but vociferous number of people (all UK-based) made impassioned pleas for salad cream over mayonnaise.

Somebody once said “Life is like a sandwich – the more you add to it, the better it becomes.” The highest number of ingredients listed for one sandwich was six (four people had this) and the average was three.

Regional inconsistencies such as vegemite (an Australian living in London) and coronation chicken (UK) were nice to see. UK folks also love their egg mayonnaise. I have to say it is one thing I really miss here: proper egg mayonnaise seasoned with white pepper is divine, and not really seen here at all.

Only two people chose sweet sandwiches: we had peanut butter and honey, and banana. I was raised on banana sandwiches and I have to say they would be up there in my top five fillings, but it is so long now since I saw a banana I can barely remember what it would taste like. It is ironic that I will have to wait until I go home to Ireland to have bananas imported all the way from the West Indies, when I have been living in a country which has banana plants growing outside city buildings and can’t afford bananas. Cyclone Larry has a lot to answer for.

Around a fifth of respondents were very, very specific about their ingredients:

“proper floppy lettuce (none of this iceberg stuff)”
“must be cherry tomatoes”
“bacon and egg from the roadside roach coach washed down with a big cuppa”
“croissant, blue cheese (cambozola or stilton) and granny smith apples thinly sliced”
“egg sandwiches made with Heinz salad cream not mayonnaise”

Only a tiny number specified that they wanted their sandwiches hot or toasted (a surprise, as I love warm sandwiches), or clearly defined what type of bread they required.

The award for the weirdest sandwich goes to Victoria at work, simply because her ingredients wouldn’t be a normal or ubiquitous presence in my fridge:
“Roast lamb, pickled onion, cold sliced roast potato, mayo and salad”

The When Harry Met Sally award for the pickiest sandwich definition was difficult to decide as there were one or two prima donnas, but Katharine Haines won in the end:
“Cold – cheese salad (lettuce, cucumber and tomato) but must be mature cheddar and proper floppy lettuce (non of this iceberg stuff) with salad cream not mayo.”

Finally, the award for traditional sandwich with a twist goes to Marian Barretto with her unique rendition of the glorious chip butty:
“Thick sliced bread, chips, salt and butter with Encona West Indian Hot Chilli Sauce”

The full listing of responses are on a separate page in case you are in the market for new ideas.

Hope this has livened up your tastebuds a little, and given you some inspiration for your next lunchtime treat!

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