Tuesday, 7 April 2009

The Sandwich as An Art Form

Monday night, we arrived in Ontario after a long day's journey. We were tired and hungry. Although you eat a lot on a trans-Atlantic journey, there is then an awfully big space of time between the last meal you have on board the plane and breakfast the following day, and unless you want to wake up at an ungodly hour really hungry, you are wise to have a light bite. This is what we were seeking when we wandered into the bar of the Holiday Inn Kitchener Monday night. I ordered a Steak and Cheese Panini. Unfortunately, most British people can't understand why anyone would combine steak and cheese and are reluctant to try it. This is very sad as steak and cheese is one of the most ambrosial combinations I know, particularly if the steak is sliced in thin strips and combined with a light horseradish mayonnaise as it was last night. It was also anything but "just" a sandwich, it was a meal. It reminded me of the wonderful Philadelphia steak sandwiches I have enjoyed on past travels.

I always find this in North America. One thing Canadians and Americans alike do really, really well is the sandwich. If you order a sandwich in England or France, it generally really is "just a sandwich". In Canada or the United States, it is a great deal more than just that.

One of my favourite North American sandwiches is a Reuben, generally made with corned beef, swiss cheese and sauerkraut. I've never had one I didn't like - especially in New York. I particularly like the Reuben sandwich at The Cheesecake Factory in San Jose and San Francisco, made with turkey pastrami and coleslaw. It's supposed to be a lighter version but it is so generous it really isn't. Still it is nice to feel like you are having the lighter option - even if that is not necessarily the case - especially when it is something so delicious! Canadians make good Reuben sandwiches too. I had two wonderful Reuben sandwiches this time - one at "Frederick's" in Kitchener where Stephen Harper, Canada's Prime Minister, has also enjoyed them - and one at The Sarnia Golf and Curling Club.

Even the condiments used on sandwiches in North America are interesting. There are so many different kinds of mustard here! Certainly the British do a great line in chutneys, which taste super on sandwiches, but it's no competition when you line up the different sauces available in North America.

Club sandwiches - a North American favourite, are beautifully prepared with crisp bacon, lean chicken or turkey, lettuce, tomato and sometimes even cheese. Now the Club sandwich is gaining popularity in Europe, and I must admit the Club Ladurée, at the restaurant of the same name on the Champs Elyseés, is quite remarkable. But North American Club sandwiches truly are the best. With the delicious ingredients lovingly sandwiched between lightly toasted slices of bread, they are utterly mouthwatering.

Then there is the Western sandwich, with its onion and pepper omelette enclosed in toasted bread. It's probably the easiest supper on the planet but it is something I have never yet come across in Europe. My Mom used to love them. In fact, she used to make a lot of supper sandwiches - especially steaming hot corned beef on crusty bread. It tasted amazing.

Another great sandwich is the Sloppy Joe - which my friend's mom always called Sloppy Sams in deference to my Dad, whose name was Joe. Ground beef, chopped onion and vegetables with a spicy tomato sauce on a hamburger bun makes a delicious combination. And of course, if you were really in a rush, there was always the tinned Manwich Sauce you could buy in the grocery stores - I'll always remember their jingle - "A sandwich is a sandwich but a Manwich is a meal". Kitsch, but good!

I think it is a shame that sandwiches have yet to cross the pond as a meal of choice, and that they are often thought of as little more than a snack where I live. Of course at home I do my best to replicate the delicious sandwiches we enjoy when we travel in the US and Canada - but people at home still look at me a bit strangely when I tell them we are having sandwiches for supper. So for now, I'll have to content myself with enjoying delicious sandwich meals only when I travel in the US and Canada - and continue to encourage family and friends at home to give these delicious creations a try by making them myself whenever I get the chance!

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