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.
Snacks are quite an interesting part of our eating culture. We (at least in America) have a very defined eating infrastructure that separates our foods and consumption into four distinct meal categories: breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert. The snack, as defined by Wikipedia, is “a portion of food oftentimes smaller than that of a regular meal, that is generally eaten between meals.” Though snacks are not inherently junk food, they very often are and thus have a reputation for being unhealthy due to their nutritional value (or lack thereof). In addition, the quality of the snack has a lot to do with convenience. Snacks come into play when a person is in between meals and suddenly finds that they are hungry. If you consider the times of day that this happens, its usually not a time that allows you to prepare either a full-blown meal or even a healthy snack. Often, it is much easier to grab a bag of chips and go on with your day.
On the other hand, there is another eating infrastructure that utilizes a six meal plan which incorporates the inevitable snack. This system encourages you to snack, but at the cost of that big fat steak and potatoes dinner you so cherish, as well as the bag of chips that gets you through your 2 o’clock meeting. Instead, it asks you to opt for healthier choices all around, such as snacking on a handful of almonds and following it up with a dinner of chicken and asparagus.
But, you’re probably asking, what does this all have to do with sandwiches??? Interestingly enough, Wikipedia includes sandwiches among its list of snacks (which, by the way, includes both nutritional and junky snacks). But when is a sandwich a meal, and when is it a snack? I’ll use this tuna melt as an example to illustrate the three important things to consider in this meal vs sandwich categorization: the timing, the ingredients, and the mentality.
A sandwich can be a meal if you choose to eat it at a mealtime, or, if you choose (as I did with this tuna melt) to eat it at a “snack time” it can be considered a snack. This tuna melt was made after I got home from a night with friends to sit down on the couch and decompress with some good tv before bed…a classic midnight snack. Had this sandwich been consumed around noon, or even 6pm, I would consider it a meal. However, there is no meal associated with midnight, unless of course you count the Taco Bell Fourth Meal.
This is another facet to the meal vs snack debate: what’s in your sandwich. One of the great things about sandwiches is that they can be made with leftovers. Thanksgiving sandwiches anyone?! Unless the timing is at mealtime, I would say that a sandwich made from leftovers could be considered more of a snack, mostly because if it was a meal, it wouldn’t be in the sandwich form. This tuna melt was made with the leftovers of a tuna salad my dad had made earlier in the day. More importantly, though, is the size of the sandwich. If your sandwich has eight billion ingredients, but the size of these ingredients create a bite-sized sandwich, I’ dont think it’d be hard to argue that it’s a snack. But it’s not always this simple, and I think that more generally, sandwiches with fewer ingredients have a higher probability of being categorized as a snack then those with more layers.
The most important factor in the decision, however, simply comes from how you view the sandwich. When I say mentality, I mean that every part of who you are and how you’re thinking at that moment really determines whether your sandwich is a snack or meal more than anything else. Does your five-layer club sandwich feel more like a snack to you? Then it is. Can your PB & J constitute your lunch meal? Sure. So really then, if it all comes down to how you feel, then what is the point of this debate (Chris kept asking me this as we talked about this post)? The point is that you CAN debate this. The fact is, food is enough a part of our culture (and not just our survival) that I can actually argue with you over the role that a sandwich plays in your day’s eating. Though there are other foods that straddle the line between meal and snack, I think that the sandwich is among the most versatile of foods when it comes to defining its place in the meal system. Some foods are considered breakfast foods, some are considered dinner foods, and some are considered to be just snacks, but there is no way that you can categorize a sandwich that easily. Yet another reason why sandwiches are a great way to examine the way we eat and our relationship with food.
Thus far, this blog has (hopefully) demonstrated my love of sandwiches, and it should be apparent by now that I just love food in general. The one thing that I don’t think is quite so obvious is how much I love to experiment with food; unfortunately, a sandwich blog can’t always illustrate this. Therefore, I give you the first, of hopefully many, posts that involve stranger foods.
The Bazaar is a restaurant that is, well, bizarre. Since this isn’t a restaurant review, but a sandwich blog, I’ll let you do your own research (just go there if you like awesome food in a unique setting). This post is more about my love affair with sea urchin.
Growing up, my mom would always order sea urchin, known as uni, at sushi restaurants, and to be perfectly honest, it freaked me out. I don’t really remember my first uni experience, but once I tried it, I never went back. Now, if anything has sea urchin in it, chances are, I’m ordering it. For me, sea urchin is a food that has more ties to memory and experience than most foods. Most notably, diving for sea urchins in Santorini, then cracking them open on the red sand beach and eating them right then and there. Though most people find sea urchin very off-putting, to me, it evokes the ocean and is unbelievably decadent and delicious.
THIS is why I will order sea urchin everywhere, and why I loved these uni buns so much. Not only was the sea urchin itself awesome, but the combination of Asian flavors combined into a mini sandwich made this dish irresistible to me. The soft doughiness of the brioche, the crunch of the tempura, the heat of the serrano, the hint of ginger, the cool creaminess of the avocado, the melt-in-your-mouth texture and saltiness of the sea urchin…now this is taking a sandwich to a whole new level.
I spent 4th of July weekend at my friend’s house in Welfleet, MA, out almost at the end of Cape Cod. All of my friends from school were there, and let me tell you, it was quite a blast. One of my friends, who was living in the Welfleet house, is currently a student at the Johnson and Wales culinary school in Providence, RI. Needless to say, the girl can cook.
One night, we were getting ready to grill up some burgers when we realized that we were out of propane. Many delays and failures later, Molly offered to make the burgers meatloaf-style. Now I must admit, I was quite hesitant, as I am not the biggest fan of meatloaf. After the first bite, however, I was a convert. This was probably one of the most delicious burgers I have ever eaten. It was juicy and rich in a way that I have never found in a meatloaf, and it was seasoned to perfection.
Now back in California, I recently had some friends over for some BBQing and pool, and once again, one thing led to another and as it got later, the idea of getting the grill going to make burgers was becoming less appealing. I then decided to attempt Molly’s meatloaf-style burgers, since they had been such a success in Cape Cod. Unfortunately, my burgers did not turn out as well as Molly’s but I think the next try will bring much better results. Pictured above is my version of Molly’s burger, made with cheddar cheese, lettuce, and avocado.
Ultimately, this burger is a great example of how to combine cooking techniques to create a new dish. It also illustrates that even the most serious of situations, such as running out of propane, can be remedied with a little outside-the-box thinking.
The Farms is a Mom and Pop grocery store in Santa Monica that my family has been going to since we moved here 18 years ago. It’s one of those places where everyone recognizes you and where all the regulars have house accounts. My brother even worked as a bag boy there for a summer.
This sandwich doesn’t have any crazy ingredients, nor is it an innovation in the world of sandwiches. For me, this sandwich is a throw back to childhood: I probably ate it once a week in elementary school. I have a vague memory of my mom giving me the sandwich for the first time, and thinking that the combination of turkey, cheddar, lettuce, pickles, and mayo was not what I generally wanted out of a sandwich. I also have a fuzzy recollection of loving the sandwich from the first bite.
That nostalgia can play a role in food likes and choices is unsurprising. Many anthropologists choose memory as their topic of study, as it plays a huge role in the nature vs nurture debate. To use this sandwich as an example: my current food likes generally fall into the more unusual realms: I like foods that are different or unknown. I like to be adventurous in my eating, even though my father is a rather picky eater, and my mother has food restrictions of her own. By nature, I should not be quite as bold in my food choices, but I was nurtured into having a love for food, and I believe that my life experiences thus far have created this side in my eating habits.
This sandwich continues to be a meal I choose despite it’s simplicity. Though it is partially because the sandwich is delicious by being straightforward with no frills, a huge part of my enjoyment is due to the subconscious memory of enjoying it time and time again as a child. Though this connection between memory and food choice has been illustrated through this sandwich, it is by no means limited to sandwiches. Any food can induce this experience, which is one of the amazing things about people and their relationship to food.
The wrap. A sandwich variant now considered to be just as good as a sandwich, but with less carbs. This wrap, from Blue Platein Santa Monica, was good, but nothing to write home about. The California wrap was stuffed with chicken breast, avocado, jack cheese, lettuce, tomato, mayo, and buttermilk ranch. This wrap looks good on paper, but in practice was rather boring. I thought about not including this sandwich for that reason, but figured it would be a good introduction to the wrap construct.
As seen before in the last sushi post, the wrap fits legitimately into the sandwich category. Using the California wrap above as an example, it is apparent that all of the sandwich components are present: main meat, fixings such as lettuce, tomatoes, and avocados, the all-important cheese, and condiments. Put all together in a tortilla or other similar casing, the wrap takes the convenience of the sandwich to a whole new level. Wraps can be eaten on the go more easily, as often only one hand is necessary, and there is little fear of ingredients falling apart or out the bottom. Though many Americans choose the wrap for health reasons, eliminating carbs, this “convenience construct” as I will call it from now on, is a truly American value. Our culture esteems convenience and ease, resulting in the etic idea that Americans are lazy (sorry everyone). The wrap, therefore, takes the sandwich and transforms it to embody our culture’s values, while taking the concept to a new level.
For those of you who have been following AOAS, I’m sure that once you saw the tacos you must have been waiting for the sushi post. Well, here it is. My brother, Ethan, is leaving for college tomorrow, so my family went to Nagao for his last family meal. Nagao is a wonderful sushi restaurant in Brentwood owned by sushi chef Nagao. My family has been going there basically since the restaurant opened, so we love to sit in Nagao’s section at the bar.
But the real question is, why does sushi qualify as a sandwich? Using the same logic that applied to the tacos, we can see that sushi can be deemed a conceptual sandwich. Let’s take the TNT roll (photo #2) as an example, since it is the most common form of sushi roll: seaweed and rice wrapped around yellowtail, smelt eggs, green onion, cucumber, and avocado. Immediately, similarities arise: the rice taking the place of the bread, the yellowtail as the main “meat” and the same fixings: cucumber, avocado, and green onion. Basically, a sushi roll is like a wrap. If you’re still skeptical, consider a handroll.
So then, how do the other sushi dishes pictured above fit in to the framework? The soybean paper roll (photo #6) follows the same idea as the TNT. As for the rest, let’s consider sandwiches from a different perspective than just the ingredients. What else makes a sandwich? Much of this answer comes from what a sandwich offers the eater: a meal that can take infinite forms, yet is simple to make and even easier to eat: no utensils required. The ease of eating, or rather, the convenience of being able to eat this type of food with your hands, is a part of why sandwiches are often the most appealing choice for a meal. This idea, that eating with your hands is the right way to eat, can also be seen in sushi. Yes, chopsticks are involved when it comes to sushi, but often, fingers are the way to go. In a similar vein, bread doesn’t always have to be the force holding the sandwich or wrap together, as seen in this post about In N Out. Therefore, photo #3, crab wrapped in tuna and halibut, can be seen as little mini wraps.
Obviously, some of these photos really are a stretch in terms of arguing that sushi is like a sandwich, but they looked so good I just had to include them.
R+D Kitchen in Santa Monica has a relatively small menu, but every item is interesting and delicious. To supplement the menu, they have multiple specials every day, including a sandwich of the day. This tuna burger is a recurring special sandwich and was actually the first thing I ever ate from R + D. It’s practically bigger than my head and almost impossible to eat, which means I generally end up resorting to a fork and knife.
What I like about this sandwich is that it furthers R + D’s style: American dishes at first glance, yet with enough of an interesting twist that the restaurant is always packed. The tuna burger, for example, is constructed much more like a classic American hamburger than the usual Japanese influenced ahi tuna burger. There is no sign of wasabi or anything remotely Asian on this sandwich, just good old-fashioned lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, and a nice mayo. In addition, the tuna was not a rare steak, but instead a patty, served on the rare side. All in all, it almost felt like I was eating a regular hamburger, but with the added bonus that instead of red meat, I was indulging in sashimi grade tuna. It is sandwiches like this, ones that combine familiar flavors into interesting combinations, that continue my love for food.
What you see before you is the sandwich that I have been getting from Bay Cities since freshman year of high school, about 8 years ago. Though the other sandwiches from Bay Cities are phenomenal, this sandwich is my go to when I want something more refreshing, which, in Santa Monica, is very often. Who am I kidding: this sandwich is always my go to. The warmth of the bread combined with the cool crunch of cucumbers and shredded lettuce, added to the sweetness of maple turkey, the savory flavors of the swiss cheese and olives, plus, of course, the all important mayonnaise creates, in my opinion, a perfect sandwich.
Bay Cities Italian Deli has been a part of the Santa Monica food culture since 1925, providing delicious gourmet sandwiches and groceries from all over the world. From their cheese cases to the wine and liquor section, the olive oil aisle to the deli, Bay Cities offers some of the finest foods on the westside, or anywhere for that matter.
The idea of food as a way of creating social boundaries can be seen extremely well in this case: Bay Cities is a place that locals frequent: if you are new in town or visiting, there is little chance that you will find Bay Cities on your own. Thus, the people who eat and shop there are those that form an exclusive, elite group. This is not to say that “the other” (people who don’t know of Bay Cities or have never been there) cannot cross the boundary, but there is a hierarchy within the Bay Cities group based on the commitment of the individual in terms of the frequency of visits and how long they have been going there. Anthropologically, the “cult” of Bay Cities is a very interesting example of food forming an exclusive cultural identity founded in consumption.
When we broke for lunch, I felt like I had to make a second sandwich. I went with a sandwich on a baguette based on salami and pepper jack that was along the lines of what I usually make (cucumbers, lettuce, mayo) but spiced it up a little bit in honor of the earlier sandwich (tabasco, no avocado),.
Making this sandwich was revealing about food on a very different level than anything I have discussed so far. Yes, what you eat can say a lot about who you are. Yes, food helps define social groups and boundaries. But food can be so much more: today, I turned to making a sandwich to help me relax and focus on a difficult decision that I have to make. Everyone has a way to take a step back from their problems, and mine happens to produce sandwiches. So even though my first sandwich of the day gave me the desire for a second one, it was the need for calm and to take my mind off the stress that led me into the crafty truck at lunchtime.