I have to say…I love Passover. I may be a horrible Jew who blogs about bagels during a holiday that restricts your leavened bread intake, and who doesn’t even post a Passover blog until after Passover, but it’s true. Whether it’s the story of Moses freeing the Jews from slavery in Egypt, or the delicious meal my mom always makes, I have always loved this holiday. Now, the one thing about Passover is this food restriction. For eight days, you can’t eat all the wonderful flour products that you normally enjoy, but you can have matzo. Many people, especially non-Jews, are horrified by this flat, simple, dry cracker, and rightfully so. There is very little that is redeeming about matzo (flavor-wise, that is)…except that it can be transformed into matzo pizza.
I’ve already argued why pizza should be considered relevant for a sandwich blog, so we don’t need to talk about that. But matzo has a ton of cultural and religious significance, so let’s learn about that!
Passover is our starting point: I’m sure most people are familiar with the story of the jews being enslaved in Egypt, Moses and the burning bush, and the ten plagues. But what’s relevant for us right now is what happened after the tenth plague. Throughout the course of the plagues, the Pharaoh had tried to compromise with the demand that all Jews be set free, and had even allowed them to go, but changed his mind immediately. Therefore, after the first born son of each Egyptian family had died, and the Pharaoh freed the Jews, they set off very quickly, since this precedent had already been set. So instead of slowly packing their belongings, and taking their time to get out of Egypt, the Jews threw everything on their backs, and booked it out of there! Of course, this meant that their bread, which usually was given time to rise, ended up in their belongings they were taking with them, and were baked as they went into crackers. These crackers, named matzo, became a symbol for salvation and freedom, as well as a reminder of our enslavement.
Now here’s the interesting thing. Before the tenth plague happens, God explains to Moses and Aaron what is about to happen, and tells them that they’re going to have to replicate this ceremony every year to remember how God passed over (get it???) the Jews’ first borns. Not only that, but he also explains the rules that prohibit eating unleavened bread for Passover for eight days. Then, Moses goes and tells the Jews this, and they follow this service while the first born sons of the Egyptians are being killed. But then…they rush out of Egypt so fast that they don’t have the time to let their dough rise! Now, many young Jews are taught that we eat matzo on Passover because of the matzo that was accidentally made as we hurried out of Egypt, but actually, we were told to eat matzo for this new holiday called Passover before any of it even happened. Talk about a miracle.
Let’s fast forward a bit. I could talk about the kinds of matzo, that is, the difference between the matzo us Reform Jews eat and the serious matzo, shmurah or guarded matzo, that Orthodox Jews eat, which is made from grain that has been watched over from the time of harvest to make sure it hasn’t fermented at all, and therefore risen. I could also talk about the first matzo factory which opened in Cincinnati in 1888. I could even talk about the fact that Passover is such an important holiday, and matzo its most important symbol, that the Last Supper was actually a Passover seder that definitely featured matzo. But really, I just want to talk about matzo pizza.
Growing up, Passover presented a bit of an emotional challenge: while I loved the holiday and the food, I did not love only eating matzo. Never was I forced to keep Passover kosher and abstain from leavened foods, but I always felt like if I loved the holiday so much, I should go all the way. The only thing that allowed me to ever refrain from eating bread was matzo pizza. I’m pretty sure my brother and I made it multiple times a day, and I’m also fairly certain it was one of the first things I cooked on my own. As a person who loves New York pizza in all its thin-crust glory, making matzo pizza felt like I was beating the system. During the week of Passover, I usually ate all my sandwiches on matzo, and enjoyed it, but there was something about the pizza that really made me love Passover even more.
The pictures above are from Fresh Brothers, a southern California pizza chain. They (brilliantly, I might add) decided three years ago to make matzo pizza for all the suffering Jews of the Los Angeles area. My mom and I decided that we needed to check this out, so met one day for lunch, and let me tell you…it was awesome. Of course, nothing beats sharing a matzo pizza with your little brother right out of the oven when you’re just old enough to cook for yourself, but having a pizza shop make it, was a game changer. The veggie pizza was enough to make me wish it was always Passover. And to make me wish I had thought of it.
Alright, so I know it’s a bit weird to blog about one of Judaism’s most famous leavened breads during Passover (which, for all the non-jews out there, is a holiday where you abstain from leavened bread), but I’m not the best Jew, so this isn’t entirely out of character.
There are a few origin stories for the bagel. One, a myth that has since been debunked, tells the tale of a baker in Vienna in 1683, who created a bread shaped like a stirrup, in honor of King John III Sobieski of Poland, who prevented the Turks from taking over the city. This story even claims that the word bagel comes from the German word for stirrup, bugel. Though this story held sway for many years, we now know that it is totally false, since the Yiddish word beygl can be found in a 1610 document of rules for a Jewish community in Krakow. The rules state that bagels were to be given to women in childbirth as a gift. It’s believed that the bagel actually originated in South Germany, where it was named beugel, or bracelet. It then moved into Poland, where, some sources say, it was used as an alternative to the obwarzanek, a very similar bread, that was associated with Lent. Whether or not this is true, the bagel has quite a history in Poland. In the shtetls, hawkers sold bagels out of baskets or on long sticks, and were required to have a license. Even the illegal selling of bagels occurred, mostly by children with widowed mothers, though if they were caught, the police would often beat them and take away their goods.
However the bagel originated, with the diaspora of the Jews, it spread to Western Europe and the east coast of America, where it found a stronghold. Many Jews found employment selling bagels in their new cities. These days, the bagel is one of the more well known Jewish foods, and is intensely associated with New York. In fact, New Yorkers claim that they actually make the very best bagels, thanks to the high quality of the water. They even call their plain bagels “water bagels.” Another variety of bagels is the Montreal bagel, which is made with malt and is blanched in water with honey.
Bagels, in addition to being a famed Jew-food, also hold a lot of significance in Jewish culture. The shape of bagels symbolizes the circle of life; the loop of a bagel has no beginning and no end. Even more, they were considered to be a good luck token and it was thought they could fend off the evil eye. For this reason, it has held meaning in ceremonies that are life cycle events, like circumcisions, during childbirth (as mentioned above), and funerals. And as much of Jewish humor revolves around food, you can bet there are bagel jokes…namely “a bagel is a donut with rigor mortis.”
But really, while all of this bagel history is interesting, what is more interesting is how delicious they are. Bagels are made from an enriched dough with flour, water and yeast, though these days many people add eggs as well. The dough is then rolled out and shaped into the familiar rings, and are left to rise briefly. In order to get the fantastic crusty outside with the delightfully chewy center, the dough rings are blanched quickly in boiling water, and, after being drained, are then baked to bagel-y perfection. Of course, bagels don’t retain their freshness for very long, which is where that rigor mortis joke comes in!
But what really makes bagels so great are their ability to make delicious sandwiches. While much of bagel cuisine revolves around cream cheese and smoked salmon, the bagel is truly a versatile bread. Really, you could throw anything between a halved bagel, and chances are, it’d be awesome. Even better, is that the bagel is a very sturdy bread, so you can easily make open face sandwiches! Of the photos above, the sandwich ones are from Tompkins Square Bagels in New York City, which was around the corner from where my brother used to live, and was a place that necessitated at least two visits per trip to New York. The first open face bagel is a homemade sandwich, with lox from Zabar’s, and the second two are from The Wood in Los Angeles, a cute restaurant, and this, in my opinion, is the star of their menu.
But however you eat your bagel, (or for that matter, whether you’re a Jew or not!), bagels are definitely a part of both the sandwich and the breakfast culture of America. You can get a bagel with cream cheese at almost any grab and go breakfast place, and even many lunch places: Dunkin Donuts will put any of their sandwiches on a bagel for you. And these days, you can get just about any flavor of bagel you want, from plain to blueberry, to pumpernickel. Which really just gives you more options for your sandwiches.
As soon as I tried onigiri for the first time, I knew I had to eventually post something about it on Anatomy of a Sandwich. I had thought that, like many other posts I’ve done, I’d have to spend most of my time justifying how onigiri fit into a sandwich blog. But then I opened up a book by Shizuo Tsuji called Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art. This book is widely considered to be the first translation of Japanese cuisine into Western understanding, not to mention the foremost encyclopedia on traditional Japanese foods. So needless to say, I was thrilled to find this sentence leading the description of onigiri: “Japan’s traditional sandwich equivalent.”
This means, fortunately, that instead of validating onigiri’s inclusion here, I get to talk about the fun stuff!!!
Onigiri, also called omusubi, are delicious balls of rice stuffed with vegetable, meat, or seafood fillings, then wrapped in seaweed (called nori). Though the word “onigiri” has the same root as “nigiri”, a form of sushi, rice balls actually fall into a different category of Japanese cuisine. The relation here has to do with the etymology of “nigiri”, which means “clenched” or “gripped”. If you’ve ever seen a sushi chef make nigiri, then you know what I’m talking about. Onigiri are also clenched, as the rice must be pressed hard enough to stick together, without squishing the rice grains, which makes them harden. In fact, it is said that, since cooking was traditionally done by women, the clenching of onigiri was a sign of a mother’s love gripping the rice together. Onigiri are usually triangular in shape, but can also be tubular or round.
On the other hand, there is a very big difference between nigiri and onigiri: the rice. While sushi rice is made with vinegar and sugar, onigiri rice is simply steamed. Furthermore, when making nigiri, you simply wet your hands so the rice sticks together, but not to your hands. With onigiri, wetting your hands is followed by salting your hands, so that as you press the ball together, you are also seasoning it. The reason behind this actually has to do with the original reason each dish was created. Sushi was created as a way to preserve fish: the fish was put between layers of this vinegared rice in order to preserve the fish. Alternatively, onigiri is salted because it originated as a method to preserve rice, not the filling inside. To this end, traditional fillings for onigiri are usually preserved in and of themselves, like umeboshi (pickled plum), salted salmon, and tarako (salted cod roe). Onigiri is also on the larger side, meant to be handheld, you know, like a sandwich!!! Furthermore, onigiri is often thought to be Japan’s oldest food, possibly originating before the widespread use of chopsticks, since it takes rice, a difficult food to eat with your hands, and makes it more accessible. Archaeologists have even found a lump of carbonized rice from around 300 BC that showed evidence of being held by human hands!
Today, onigiri holds a very similar place in Japanese cuisine as sandwiches do in Western cuisine. Found everywhere from onigiri shops to gas stations and convenience stores, modern technology has had a large part in making onigiri as widespread as it is. While traditionally, the emotional associations and precision needed to make onigiri made it impossible to mass produce, these days we’ve figured out how to have machines grip the rice properly, stuff the ball with filling, and package the ball with nori in a way that prevents the seaweed from going soggy. It is a truly portable meal that is eaten in the same context as sandwiches, and is considered one of the best platforms for highlighting local flavors and trends. They are also used to explore other cuisines, as now you can find the traditionally English filling of tuna mayo, or even Italian-style, with tomato sauce and cheese. In LA, we have two great onigiri spots: Sunny Blue (in Santa Monica, with a new location in Culver City) and Kawaba Rice Ball in Hollywood. Both offer a great combination of traditional and modern fillings, as you can see in the photos. And both are unbelievably delicious and reasonably priced, so are great for a snack or a full meal, which means if you pass one of these places, you have no excuse not to go!
Well, it’s been quite a hiatus, but I’m back, and starting up again with one of my favorite sandwiches…the lobster roll.
Let’s begin with a bit of lobster history! There are actually quite a few species of lobster, but culinarily speaking, there are two that really matter. Lobsters are actually found all over the world, but the two we eat most are from each side of the Atlantic Ocean: the American lobster, and the European lobster. In fact, lobsters have been a part of the human diet as far back as the Greeks and Romans! For our purposes, let’s stick with the lobster we all know and love, from the westside of the Atlantic.
When the Americas began to be populated, lobsters were overwhelmingly plentiful, and not considered a delicacy. As it became a part of our diet, it was actually seen as the opposite: only the poor, prisoners, and indentured servants ate lobster…and they weren’t happy about it! But by the mid 1800s, eaters in Boston and New York had begun to pick up on the deliciousness, and technology advanced to a point where lobsters could be fished more easily for mass consumption.
The problem is, lobsters inherently lend themselves to being a luxury. They live alone, on the sea bed, in rocky outcrops, and reproduce very slowly….it can take up to two years to produce fertilized eggs, and then another six to eight years for the lobsters to become large enough to legally fish. Furthermore, lobsters are caught in traps, not with huge nets, and have been known to engage in cannibalism when in captivity. So in terms of price, female lobsters are the way to go…not only are they generally bigger, but the eggs, or coral, can also be used in sauces, and many gourmands believe that they taste better anyway.
In America, Maine is known for their lobster, and lobster is associated more than anything else with Maine. And it’s true, a lot of lobster comes from Maine. But actually, there’s a whole lot more in Canada, Maine just has a better PR company.
But let’s move on to lobster rolls. Lobster rolls come in two forms: hot and cold. The original lobster roll, unsurprisingly, comes from Maine, and is cold. The Maine version usually has a bit of mayo and some seasoning tossed with the lobster meat. Elsewhere in New England, the meat is usually mixed with mayo, celery, and a bit of seasoning…it’s actually a bit similar to a tuna salad, just overwhelmingly better (because it’s lobster). The hot lobster roll is credited to Harry Perry of Milford, CT, and is a simpler affair: hot chunks of lobster meat, drenched in drawn butter. But where the hot and cold join in the Venn diagram of lobster rolls is the bread: a toasted hot dog bun (or similar shape) cut down from the top instead of horizontally. I think the wonderfulness that is the lobster roll is best summed up by Susan Russo in her book The Encyclopedia of Sandwiches: “it’s ironic that lobster, one of the world’s most luxurious foods, is also the featured ingredient in this, one of New England’s least pretentious sandwiches.”
I think anyone who has had a lobster roll in New England can agree. The photos above are from Captain Scott’s Lobster Dock in New London, CT, where I went to college. The afternoons I spent there, eating lobster rolls (always hot of course…I may be a sucker for mayo, but there’s nothing better than hot lobster and drawn butter), are recalled with casual vibes and feelings of relaxation, not of white tablecloths and fine wines. It was about sitting outside at wooden picnic benches with friends and a cold beer, watching the boats come in and out of the harbor, chowing down on delicious food.
When it comes to a cheap, quick meal, most people think of fast food. However, not only does fast food have generally little to no nutritional value, but it is also seriously lacking in culture. Now, it is easy to argue that everything has some sort of culture, but I’m talking about a meaningful history, and an idea represented through consumption that eaters want to be a part of.
The po boy, on the other hand, combines history and culture with an inexpensive sandwich option. As with many culturally important and region-specific sandwiches, there are lots of stories about how the po boy was created. Generally, though, this sandwich’s early beginnings are agreed upon. During a streetcar strike in 1929, the Martin brothers, Bennie and Clovis, both former streetcar workers, vowed to feed every man involved. They partnered with John Gendusa to create a larger, yet inexpensive sandwich. Gendusa’s bread was bigger than the usual sandwich bread, and came to define the New Orleans-style French bread. The Martins served spare bits of roast beef and gravy on this bread, and after supplying enough of them to the “poor boys” that came to eat, the name stuck to the sandwich.
Today, roast beef is still one of the most popular and common po boys, along with the fried seafood varieties, available thanks to New Orleans’s location. Po boys are served “dressed” with shredded lettuce, tomato, pickles and mayo. They are also generally the cheapest sandwich on any menu, from restaurants to delis to convenience stores. This creates and interesting situation. The po boy was born out of the need for inexpensive food, so it is almost comforting to see that it has not left this part of its identity behind in the growing foodie culture of America. On the other hand, this position does not encourage much quality control. After all, very few people will complain if the cheapest sandwich doesn’t quite live up to their expectations. To counteract this laziness and to uphold and honor the po boy’s history, some establishments take great pride in their sandwiches and make a point of it, too. Furthermore, the New Orleans Po Boy Preservation Festival was created to keep the sandwich and its place in the city’s culture alive.
Sadly, the po boy pictured in this post is not from one of the places that puts emphasis on creating an exceptional sandwich. I discovered this sandwich in a po boy joint that supposedly had the best in the neighborhood. Unfortunately, this was apparently not a neighborhood that has remarkably high food standards, instead continuing the po boy’s history as a meal for those who might otherwise be unable to afford one. I got the classic roast beef, dressed. Though the sandwich was tasty, it was good in the way that cheap food is. It was very obvious that customers frequenting this establishment were not foodies. And while the sandwich itself was not spectacular, I definitely had a po boy experience reminiscent of its early days.
When I found out the bus was going to New Orleans, I was over the moon as the city is home to a very special sandwich: the muffuletta. Not only does the muffuletta originate in New Orleans, but its creation is also specific to one grocery store, which is still open. In the early 1900s, Central Grocery was a market that catered to the Sicilian farmers that worked nearby. In traditional Sicilian fashion, the farmers would buy meats, cheese, and bread, and eat it all separately. Now considering that the farmers weren’t having nice, sit-down lunches, but instead attempted balance all of these ingredients on their laps, the meal was a bit perilous. Luckily, the owner of Central Grocery, Salvatore Lupo, noticed these lunchtime difficulties, and figured out that the whole meal could be combined into one, easy to eat sandwich. This sandwich, a phenomenal composition of capicola, salami, pepperoni, ham, swiss, provolone, and marinated olive salad, gets its name from the round muffuletta loaf that its served on. And though the bread plays a defining role, it is actually the olive salad that truly makes a muffuletta. In fact, this is so much a part of the muffuletta that Central Grocery sells it by the jar, for your own sandwich making adventures.
As a person who loves food more than almost anything, and who will try pretty much everything, there is nothing better than finding great local foods. If there is a defining food of a culture, I want to be eating it. When eating with a local, I generally use the “I’ll have what she’s having” approach. This gives me the opportunity to branch out and try new and exciting things, in addition to getting to truly experience the culture. The muffuletta is one of these foods, an embodiment of New Orleans culture. It is also an interesting example because much of this culture is heavily influenced by its French history. This sandwich, on the other hand, is a key part of the New Orleans food culture, but finds its roots in Sicilian tradition.
Now, I’m a big fan of the “italian sub.” I love the combination of meats, and the fact that while it is a pretty common sandwich, many establishments manage to make it their own. And though the muffuletta could easily fit into this category due to its origins and ingredients, it really is in a class of its own. Yes, it has components that you won’t find in any other italian sub, and its own bread, but what truly sets the muffuletta apart is its place in New Orleans culture, as well as in the sandwich culture in America. Search online for the best muffuletta in New Orleans, and you’ll find heated battles between die-hard fans. Everyone has their favorite muffuletta joint, and there are quite a few places around New Orleans that specialize in this unique sandwich. Furthermore, the muffuletta left the Crescent City and can now be found in sandwich shops all over the country.
And let me tell you, this sandwich is amazing. The bread is soft, but dense enough to soak up most of the oil from the olive salad. The addition of swiss takes away a bit of the sharpness of the provolone, creating a cheesy, but balanced platform on which the meats can shine. And the olive salad…brilliant. Made from the classic giardiniera (pickled celery, cauliflower, and carrot) with the added bonus of olives, oregano, garlic, and lots of olive oil, it’s tangy and savory with a bit of a bite, matching it perfectly with every other ingredient in this sandwich.
Essentially, what I’m trying to say is that if you find yourself in New Orleans, you must try a muffuletta. You’ll get a great taste of New Orleans culture. At the risk of offending any muffuletta-heads, I highly recommend going to Central Grocery. After all, it is where the sandwich was originally created, and they still make excellent sandwiches today.
The club sandwich. Be it diner, deli, or cafe, chances are there’s a club sandwich on the menu. Though the classic club is characterized by three layers of bread with sliced chicken, bacon, tomato, lettuce, and mayo, cut into triangles and held together by toothpicks, there are now an endless number of variations. Just as the sandwich category is held together by a few specific guidelines, so is the club sandwich: as long as it has at least three layers of bread and has a need for toothpick security, you’re good. This allows for a lot of creativity in the fillings, and a lot of great sandwiches.
Supposedly, the club sandwich made its debut at the Saratoga Gentlemen’s Club (get it?) at the end of the 19th century. What is generally agreed upon is that it mimicked the double decker train cars that came into use in America around that time.
The sandwich pictured on its side is the Mickey Mouse Club from Peggy Sue’s that Corey ordered (turns out, he’s a big fan of club sandwiches). This one had oven baked turkey, ham, bacon, tomato, lettuce, and american cheese. Since I’ve already blogged about Peggy Sue’s, I won’t say any more, but I wanted to give an example of a club variation.
The second sandwich, from Sweet Marley’s in Fredericksburg, TX, was great and interesting for a couple of reasons. First, the shop itself: Sweet Marley’s began when Marley was born. Marley has an extremely rare disease, called Rhizomelic Chondrodysplasia Punctata, or RCDP. There are currently less than 100 children living with the disorder, and most of them won’t make it past their second birthday. Marley has broken every rule of RCDP, and is now two and a half years old. Marley’s parents use the shop to pay for most of Marley’s medical bills, and also donate a percentage to other children with the disease. What’s great is that most mornings, you can find Marley having breakfast in the cafe, and can see what an amazing little girl she is. But on to the sandwich…
The Texas Club at Sweet Marley’s is quite a sandwich: three slices of texas toast, black forest ham, roasted turkey, cheddar, pepper jack, bacon, spring mix, tomato, and jalapeno mayo. Now, I’ve had a good number of club variations, but this one was awesome. For me, aside from the buttery texas toast and the sweetness of the ham, it was the pepper jack and jalapeno mayo that did it. The contrast between savory and a little bit of spice was exactly what I wanted from this sandwich.
So as you can see, the club sandwich is pretty pervasive throughout the sandwich world, and could even have its own blog, considering all of the tweaks and personalizations you can do to it. Keep an eye out for more clubs in the future.
When it comes to barbeque, the real question is, where to begin? Barbeque as a cuisine is very personal: it has so many varieties that each region, state, county, city, restaurant, and family has its own barbeque, and they know for a fact that theirs is the best. From Tennessee and the Carolinas, to the Midwest, to the state that is infamous for it, Texas, barbeque is pervasive throughout the United States. Now, luckily, as a sandwich lover, I got to eat some great barbeque in Texas, the state that gives you sliced white bread along with all that delicious slow-cooked meat.
Barbeque’s history stems from cooking methods in the Caribbean and Florida area. Originating from the word barabicu, the Spanish adapted it to barbacoa. This referenced a wooden framework on which meat could be cooked. Eventually, during colonial times, barbeque came to have the meaning it has today, with the added connotations of gathering with many people around large, slow-cooked meals.
Since doing one blog post about the entire culture of barbeque would be both overwhelming and way too long, I’ll stick with Texas since their way(s) of barbeque do fit into the sandwich category. Along with the tender barbeque they serve, restaurants will give you a nice helping of sliced white bread to use instead of (or in addition to) utensils. Now where this idea came from, I’m not quite sure, though one person in a online forum noted that it’s great for sopping up all the delicious juices. Though many people outside the barbeque culture seem to hate on the commercial white bread phenomenon, I think it’s pretty fantastic. Granted, white bread isn’t the healthiest, but what part of barbeque is? The second photo in the blog comes from Rudy’s in Austin. Seth and I decided to share since neither of us could decide what to get. The great thing about Rudy’s is that they’ll let you try pretty much anything you want until you decide. After a bout of sampling, we chose the moist brisket (you can also get lean, but why bother?), the smoked turkey, and a half rack of baby backs. I decided to make half sandwiches, and above you can see my brisket sandwich. Now, I could go on and on about how amazing all the meats were, but let me just say one thing…this brisket was more than moist. It was so delicious and tender that even after I thought I couldn’t fit one more bite, I kept eating it. The other meats were good too, but this brisket was pretty much out of this world.
Another thing about barbeque is the sauce. Again, doing an overview of all the different kinds of barbeque sauce would take a book in and of itself. Everyone makes their own sauce, and everyone thinks theirs is the best. Now Rudy’s sauce was good, but it had nothing on the sauce from Live Oak in Austin. I really wanted to take a picture of the sandwiches I made here, but after the first picture of the box of meats (photo #1), I dove in headfirst and didn’t come up for air or pictures until I was stuffed. The meats at Live Oak were some of the best I’ve ever had. We got a little bit of everything, from brisket, to pork steak, to ribs, to sausage. And as amazing as all of that was, it was the sauce that blew me away. Black, thick, and with a flavor that I couldn’t pin down, I asked the owner what was in it, and surprisingly, he actually shared the ingredients. For the most part, it contained all the usual suspects, and then he uttered one magical word: coffee. As a barista in my professional life, I just about died and went to heaven. I don’t think I’ve ever used that much sauce on anything in my life.
So ultimately, though we only hit two barbeque joints in Texas, I think I get the relationship between phenomenally cooked meat and mass produced white bread. It’s hearty, it’s starchy, it sops everything up perfectly, and most importantly, it’s damn tasty.
Frybread is inescapable in the American Southwest. If you had to pick one food that would represent Native American culture, this would be it. Frybread is essentially a pancake of fried dough that can be served alone as a snack or made into two different types of sandwiches: a Navajo (or Indian) taco, or a meat pocket-type thing.
Frybread originated on the “Long Walk” that the Navajo were forced to make during their relocation from Arizona to New Mexico in 1864. Luckily for them, the US government was kind enough to provide them with flour, salt, sugar, and lard (yes, that was just a tad bit sarcastic). Thus, frybread was born: a food with a very contradictory identity. Though frybread is a symbol of the painful past that the Native Americans have shared, it is also a way for tribes to connect over this history. Furthermore, frybread is central to powwows (gatherings among tribes), but is also credited with many of the health issues among Native Americans today.
But how does all of this relate to sandwiches? Frybread is the base of many dishes…both as a convenient way to eat your mutton and sheep intestines (pictures #2 and #3), and in Navajo tacos (picture #1). A Navajo taco consists of frybread, ground beef, chili beans, lettuce, tomatoes, and cheese. The first picture is a Navajo taco from Charly’s in Flagstaff, AZ. Sadly, we found out once we actually got to the Navajo reservation in Gallup, NM that we had Americanized tacos, which was disappointing, but kind of predictable. I’m sure that by this point, I don’t have to argue the fact that the Navajo taco is a sandwich, even if it is easier to eat with a fork and knife.
Fortunately for us, we have a friend living in Gallup, and so we got to experience the real Navajo culture…and real frybread. We went to the Navajo flea market, and aside from buying really cool jewelry, we ate a whole lot. The second picture is roast mutton…meat, tomatoes, lettuce, onion, all wrapped in frybread. Now, this definitely fits into the sandwich category, as you can pick it up and munch. The mutton, coincidentally, was also fantastic (I think I thanked the Navajo woman about twelve times). The third picture doesn’t appear to qualify as a sandwich, considering that there are three kinds of meat (including a rib and sheep intestines), a potato, a corn cob, all on top of frybread. A great way to eat this dish, however, is to break off a little bit of fry bread and a little bit of meat and eat with your hands. This meal was really fun because I got the boys to try the sheep intestines.
So though I didn’t really talk about sandwiches on this blog, I thought it was important to talk about a different kind of bread, especially one with such a cultural importance. Plus, everything with frybread is phenomenally delicious.
Peggy Sue’s is hard to miss. Leading up to the diner on I-15 are more signs than you can count. We took this as a sign and decided to get lunch. Now, Peggy Sue’s is a tourist trap. There are just no two buts about it. Stocked to the brim with old movie memorabilia (the owners used to work in the industry as well as at Knott’s Berry Farm), a 5 and dime store, and a diner-saur park, this diner is most definitely a place to stop if you need to stretch your legs.
Now, apparently I had neglected to mention to the Love, the Bus boys that I was taking my blog on the road…or for that matter, that I write a sandwich blog to begin with. So, they were rather excited when I started snapping pictures (some of their sandwiches will also be featured in due time). For this first meal, I decided to get a patty melt.
I am a big fan of patty melts. For me, they are the ultimate diner and truck stop sandwich. A few years ago I was driving from Santa Cruz to LA with a friend and we stopped at a truck stop for lunch. I ordered a patty melt, and it was most definitely one of the most flavorful, cheesy, meaty, greasily awesome sandwiches I’ve ever had. Ever since then, patty melts have been my go to sandwich at any greasy spoon spot. What better sandwich to start the road trip off with?
Supposedly, the patty melt appeared around the 1940s as a new incarnation of the cheeseburger. And really, the patty melt takes pretty much everything great about a cheeseburger, removes all the healthy stuff (do you really need lettuce and tomato?), and adds caramelized onions and buttered rye bread, all fried up. Though traditionally served with swiss cheese, Peggy Sue’s decides to do a combo with american cheese as well…which, of course, only makes it more fatty and delicious. An interesting aspect of the patty melt is that unlike other sandwiches, it is served without any condiments. I like to dip my patty melts in ketchup, but I do think that this sandwich can stand alone just fine. Patty melts can also be made open faced with the use of a broiler.
Furthermore, patty melts are not the only melts out there. I’ve featured a tuna melt before, though not in the context of melts, and crab melts are also popular. Are there any other melts that you like? Let me know and I’ll go search one out!