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‘Wichcraft April 27, 2010

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Ramblings.
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Is it just me, or is it becoming harder and harder to find a good sandwich these days?

I’m not referring to sandwiches that taste good. Surely there are any number of places where you can find a sandwich that simply tastes sublime.

No: what I’m referring to are sandwiches that can actually be eaten well.

It seems to me that sandwich joints and delis are more and more concerned with putting together sandwiches without thinking about how their customers are supposed to eat them. Like the burger whose patty is so big you’d need flexible mandibles to make the first bite. Or the panini whose ingredients gradually spill out as you eat because it’s packed with all manner of good stuff. Or the sandwich that’s just so damn messy to eat that when whatever condiment its dressed with drips on you, you create an even bigger mess cleaning it up since you’re hands are just as soiled.

You know what I mean.

What strikes me as funny about this is that the regime of uneatable (but not inedible) sandwiches is taking place at a time when, in theory, sandwich-making can be approached with cookie-cutter ease. On the one hand, the equipment and ingredients to make sandwiches have never before been available on such a large scale. On the other, restaurants that offer sandwiches as their main fare thrive by streamlining processes for putting sandwiches together en masse, so you’d think they’d have an incentive to at least get it right. Yet they don’t. Frequently.

I submit the problem is misplaced priorities. Compared to full-blown meals, sandwiches are “fast food”; and the trouble is precisely that a premium is placed more on the “fast” and less on the “food”. And why not? The underlying assumption is that the ingredients are fresh and the overall recipe will taste good; thus all that’s left is a race to put it all together and get the sandwich into the diner’s hands. Yet nary a thought is given to how that person is supposed to eat it. Thus, the cycle of overlarge, mightily sloppy and downright messy sandwiches claims another victim.

Which is a pity. Dining is an experience — whether it’s a long drawn-out dinner or a quick bite in between meetings — whose enjoyment is as much about the aromas and flavors and presentation of the dish as it is affected by whether one had an easy enough time eating it. Yes, I know: when all is said and done nothing stops you from taking out a plate and utensils. But as far as I’m concerned, something in my head switches off at the thought of having to eat a hamburger sandwich on a plate with a fork and knife, regardless of whether the beef came from some place in Japan where the cows drink beer.

You don’t need to be an architect to design a good sandwich (though it stands to reason that it would help). It just takes some common sense, or at least enough to evaluate whether the sandwich one serves can be eaten easily and whether or not it will make a mess.

Coupled with a great recipe, that would be real magic.

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