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.
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 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.
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.
I managed to get into the craft services truck on the early side today, which meant that I had more options and was therefore undecided about what i wanted to make. I am very indecisive when it comes to food, mostly because I’m generally alright with anything. Luckily, someone recommended Hawaiian bread to me, and thus a starting point was found. The roast beef is usually one of the first things to go, so I figured I would take advantage of it still being there, and obviously, cheddar is the appropriate choice for this sandwich meat.
When I make a sandwich at work, I always give half of it to Tony. This is great for me because he gives me his critique on the sandwich, and great for him because he gets half of an awesome sandwich. Even though (as previously mentioned) I am a big fan of mayo, Tony isn’t, so today I used mustard and no mayo, which meant I had yet another decision to make: what kind of mustard? The Jack Daniels southwest spicy mustard appealed to me because I felt that it went well with not only the roast beef, but also with the Hawaiian bread. This is another advantage of sharing my sandwich: it helps me understand how to make sandwiches that appeal to other people. Knowing that the condiment will be different means that the other sandwich fixings have to be compatible in a different way. On the other hand, I have a very hard time letting go of my other two favorite ingredients, lettuce and cucumber, so those were included as well.
It is this practice of substitution and experimentation that makes sandwiches so intriguing. There are an infinite number of sandwiches possible…and I want all of them.
Bay Cities Italian Deli in Santa Monica, CA makes, without a doubt, the best sandwiches I have ever tasted. Everything about these sandwiches is perfect. They are made meticulously, a quality I value quite highly, with the perfect amount of each ingredient, be it the delicious meats and cheeses, the finely shredded lettuce, or the homemade pepper salads, which is all topped off by the fact that they are made with the most amazing bread EVER. Cripsy and flaky on the outside and warm on the inside, Bay Cities churns out fresh bread all day long. It is also worth noting that these sandwiches are made in a deli that is actually a diverse and well stocked market selling high end products from all over the world. Bay Cities is such an amazing place that from the minute it becomes reasonable to start thinking about lunch until almost dinner time, the market is jam packed. At peak hours, you can wait an hour or more to order a sandwich. Bay Cities is not just a deli or a market…it is an EXPERIENCE. There is no other way to describe it.
The Godmother is the sandwich that Bay Cities is known for, but unfortunately, that post will have to come another day. Today I chose the hot pastrami, with the works (mayo, mustard, onion, pickles, tomatoes, lettuce, italian dressing, hot peppers). This sandwich is melt-in-your-mouth good, with a great kick from the hot peppers. The bread sops up all the great juices from the meat, plus the mustard and mayonnaise, which is great when eaten promptly, but if eating is delayed runs the risk of going soggy, one of the most horrible things that could happen to a sandwich. Even with this peril, the sandwich is amazing and worth taking the chance.