my mum used to make me elaborate sandwiches for lunch in primary school. multigrain rye with lettuce, alfalfa, cucumber, avocado and pickled relish. i would always throw it away because: 1. everyone else had sandwiches with spread only and would make fun of my lunch (now i know they were just basic bitches with basic sandwiches), 2. the cucumber would always get the bread soggy and 3. i was a dumbass kid who didn’t understand the value of food. fast forward to now, having been forced into controlling the contents of my own sandwiches since those childhood days—i have come to grow, respect, and appreciate this labour of love and symbol of life.
as we grow up we explore the world of sandwiches. in gansu, china, many are partial to roujiamo (肉夹馍), where a wheat-based flatbread in the shape of a disc called bing, is sliced up and stuffed with chopped or minced lamb, coriander and pepper. bing dates back to the qin dynasty (221 bc to 206 bc), making roujiamo a candidate for the world’s oldest sandwich. in australia, kids (myself included) all grow up big (5’10) and strong (i can do half a push up) thanks to vegemite, a spread made from left over brewer’s yeast. it’s often eaten on toasted bread above a layer of butter or margarine. how the vegemite fails many outside of australia--is because y’all spread this pungent and salty concoction like nutella. it’s not. it’s freaking leftover brewer’s yeast. i don’t know much about leftover brewer’s yeast you would eat but i would go easy on it. vegemite with avocado or tomato and pepper makes regular appearances in teacher’s lounges and on the morning tea plates of those between 15 to 85. through travelling and exploring, i’ve met the chip butty in england, the francesigna in portugal, the doner kebab on every street corner at 3 a.m., a katsu-sando in japan, the banh mi in vietnam and arepas in the US, because i have yet to go to venezuela. through terrain, ocean, and all forces of culture and nature, a sandwich is something almost all of us have in common, unless you’re low carb paleo, also known as: please check yourself.
people live sandwiches too. they make a living out of this and what a living it is. in new york city, my favorite food truck is the cinnamon snail. their sandwich flavors extend to lemongrass five spice, maple custard, korean bbq, thai bbq, creole, and i’m only scratching the sourdough surface. adam sobel, the owner, has been spreading his sandwich love for five years now. what started as a place for ‘the craziest architecturally looking entrees’ has since turned into a lunch staple for those working on the busy island. ‘it soon became evident that people weren’t going to eat crazy entrees, especially not on a paper plate on their lap on a park bench.’ adam muses while flipping tempeh on the grill, ‘it was also difficult creating crazy food within most people’s lunch budgets.’ a cinnamon snail sandwich sets you back $9, but the ethos of the business makes it a standout.
another thing that made sense in a particular moment that i have since come to question, was my quest to make the FIRSTLOVE sandwich—a combination of the most popular ingredients by my peers and fellow contributors (except for daniel because he once called me a food snob). of the twenty people i questioned on their sandwich preferences, i realised 1. i don’t know them at all and 2. did I ever know them? my favorite sandwich is sweet potato and arugula. my must-have in any sandwich is the bitter greens, something to kick you in the face, keep you on your toes. everyone else? four people favoured grilled cheese, another four declared their love for ‘turkey sandwiches’—i didn’t even know people consumed turkey outside of forced family gatherings, and two seattleites chose banh mi as the ultimate dream. other favorites were caprese, gherkin, mustard, BLT, steak, roast beef, ‘i prefer bagels’, a cuban sandwich and chicken pesto. a number of people just sound like they are putting last night’s dinner between two slices of bread (my favorite dinner-in-bread is ‘last night’s spaghetti’), but that’s what sandwiches are all about, right? everybody is able to make one.
of all the sandwich responses, queen of beauty and burgers anna mishke, and fashion designer enoch ho’s devotedness to the vietnamese banh mi sandwich really stood out to me which made me think the banh mi is a pretty damn sophisticated sandwich and punching way above the others.
the chewiness of the bread is essential. banh mi has a freshness to it, the pickled vegetables and grilled meat or pâté lend such a different flavor than any other type of sandwich. maybe i have some appreciation for it in my blood because i’m part vietnamese, but there’s really nothing better than tucking into a slightly tangy, savory sandwich that ends up leaving a literal breadcrumb trail.
the baguette, crispy at the shell but immediately soft, fluffily nestling the fillings. the pâté, strong and flavorful, followed by several layers of meat in different textures and chewiness. you’d think the sandwich is dry, but the buttery mayo sauce keeps the whole bite moist and aromatic. just when you think it’s too heavy, you feel the cucumbers, daikon, coriander and spring onions cutting in for a clean finish. there’s not a single more complex but well-balanced food on earth, with so many different flavors and textures that blend so well together into a salivating journey. now that i have tried pushing the banh mi as the deserved 1st place for sandwiches in a totally unbiased way, what are the must-have ingredients then? six people’s must-have is cheese, five people reasoned the important of a baguette, two chose bacon, two chose mayonnaise, and one each for salmon (bagel girl), lettuce, tomato, pickles, salt and pepper.
and now, let me present to you the ultimate FIRSTLOVE sandwich:
note: in hindsight please don't make that *right now* or delay its production for as long as you can because it sounds like your basic cardiac arrest recipe *insert very distraught face* and i want y'all to live to see equality. please learn about the meat and dairy industry before you consume them.