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.
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.
It really is quite embarrassing that I haven’t posted about this burger yet. Aside from the fact that the Office Burger is touted as being one of the best burgers in Los Angeles (if not the best), I am about as regular as you can get at this bar. Between the awesome selection of beers and the amazing menu, Father’s Office is definitely a great place to be.
Though the bar has been around for decades, it didn’t quite become the phenomenon it is today until Chef Sang Yoon bought it in 2000. With Father’s Office, he pioneered the idea of “no substitutions, no modifications.” Everything comes as is, and if there’s something in a dish you can’t eat, too bad, order something else. And most importantly, don’t ask for ketchup. There isn’t any and you’ll be given a look like you just walked out of the loony bin in only a jockstrap and fedora (seriously). These days, a lot of places have started to adopt this mentality…after all, it is their job to know how to do what they do better than the average joe customer. And let me tell you, Sang Yoon really does know what he’s doing.
One bite of this burger will change you. The next will convert you. Pretty soon, you’re out of bites and all you want is one more. Though this burger has a lot of hype surrounding it, I can promise you that it will be one you remember. Sadly, great dishes that are touted as being the best are often a let down when you finally get around to trying them, because how can the reality ever live up to the praise? But the Office Burger breaks this cycle. Of the countless friends I have take to Father’s Office to try this burger, not one of them left without a) being blown away, and b) finishing every last bite.
From the French baguette bun to the dry-aged beef patty, the maytag and gruyere combination, fresh arugula, and the amazing gooey mixture of caramelized onions and applewood smoked bacon compote, I start salivating just thinking about it. In fact, I’m salivating right now and thinking about running out and getting one. Though there is a lot to say about the Office Burger, and believe me, I could talk forever about it, this is just one of those times that I must tell you…just go try it. You’ll understand.
This is, I believe, only the second negative post I have done so far. In fact, I would hesitate to call this a sandwich, instead opting for a much more accurate term: the BLANDWICH.
Now, to give Sweet Lady Jane a little credit, they are known for their cakes much, much more than they are for their lunch. Yet I’d heard great things about their non-dessert offerings, especially this turkey sandwich. What appealed to me about this sandwich was its simplicity: each sandwich from Sweet Lady Jane comes with lettuce, tomato, dijon mustard, and mayo. The roast turkey is “baked with our own blend of spices, fresh in our ovens.” The most complicated thing about this sandwich is deciding what kind of bread you want (I went with sourdough). With a sandwich this simple, what could go wrong?
Apparently a lot. The turkey looked great – thick cut slices with spice-reddened edges. Unfortunately, the actual taste of the turkey did not live up to the description. It was dry and had very little taste at all. The lettuce and tomato were were good quality, but if your meat is no good, there’s very little that veggies can do. Mayo and mustard were nothing special but also nothing awful. The biggest problem (aside from the turkey) was what this sandwich was lacking: CHEESE. Now, I’m not saying that any sandwich without cheese is incomplete – I’m just definitely a cheese person. In this situation, I’m not sure if cheese would have made up for any lost ground, but its absence was made more clear by the subpar-ness of the rest of the sandwich.
This sandwich was so disappointing that not even the company made this lunch better. My roommate Sara had just gotten back from India, and we went to Sweet Lady Jane with our moms to welcome her back. While Sara was sharing stories and pictures from her three week trip, all I could think about was how much I hated the sandwich in front of me. People often comment on the power of “good company” – the people who you eat with have a very significant impact on how you experience your meal. Good company can make great food better, and bad company can make bad food worse. In this case, the company was fantastic, but even that didn’t help.
Basically, I ended up going to have a second lunch after this because I really needed to counteract the disappointment. If youre looking for a great cake, go to Sweet Lady Jane…if you’re looking for a great sandwich, go somewhere else.
In the blossoming world of gourmet food trucks, the Nom Nom Truck is one of the most famous. After a great showing on the Food Network’s The Great Food Truck Race, the Nom Nom Truck now has a super dedicated, almost obsessive, fan base.
What’s so interesting about the Nom Nom Truck is that they serve banh mi, which are vietnamese sandwiches. Traditionally, banh mi is made with ingredients that most Americans would cringe at: pâté and headcheese. And yet, the Nom Nom Truck has a following that defies all cultural logic. You can get a traditional banh mi from Nom Nom…it’s called “the deli special.” But the more popular options are the grilled pork (pictured), the lemongrass chicken, or the tofu. In addition to the meat, each banh mi has cilantro, jalepeños, mayo, a tangy relish of carrots and daikon radish called do chua, and, my favorite, cucumbers.
Banh mi is a great sandwich to look at in terms of culture for two reasons. First of all, banh mi originates in the French colonialism of Vietnam. The sandwich demonstrates how the co-mingling of cultures creates new, hybrid ideas. In banh mi, the French contribution can be seen in the baguette and the pâté, combined with classic Vietnamese ingredients like the daikon radish. Nn fact, food is one of the best ways to track the movement of culture: by identifying food traits unique to a culture and finding them in other places, you will often find other cultural constructs have moved as well.
Banh mi is also interesting in terms of popular culture. It seems to have become the new, hip thing in the food world, with fans of all types. The best way I can illustrate this is through an episode of The Great Food Truck Race. The trucks found themselves in a small town in the South. It seemed as though the Nom Nom Truck’s winning streak had come to an end; everyone expected the burger truck to win. The Nom Nom Truck pulled out a huge victory, even in a place where most of the people had never heard of banh mi. For whatever reason, this Vietnamese sandwich appeals to everyone. The New York Times has done an article about banh mi, and in it, lists the top ten banh mi spots in the country (coincidentally, a commenter adds Num Pang to the list). When the Nom Nom Truck shows up at a gathering of food trucks, a line forms immediately, and the other trucks lose business fast. Whether it’s the sandwich in and of itself, or the prestige of the Nom Nom Truck or both, right now, banh mi is a force to be reckoned with.
I went to FarmShop one afternoon with my mom and my aunt. At this point, they hadn’t yet started full meal service, and were just serving coffee, pastries, and three tartines (they now serve breakfast and lunch and will be opening their market in the spring).
My mom and my aunt had tried all three of the tartines, and recommended that I try the fresh and smoked salmon. I have to say, it was fantastic. The combination of the two different types of salmon created an interesting texture, and of course creme fraiche is just always great. The best part, though, were the caper berries. I had never seen or heard of caper berries before, and they blew my mind. I’m not generally one to seek out capers, but the caper berries were something else. The pink color on the inside visually complemented the salmon, and though caper berries are bigger than their more common counterpart, I thought the flavor was milder and less overwhelming.
This tartine was fabulous, but also very expensive. In fact, the whole of FarmShop is pretty overpriced, so be wary if you’re not looking to spend an entire paycheck on a meal.
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.
For those of you who have been following along, you may remember my friend Molly from her delicious meatloaf-style burgers. On my trip back to Connecticut, Molly once again busted out her serious cooking chops and whipped up an amazing Eggs Benedict breakfast for us.
Now, even I think Eggs Benedict pushes the sandwich envelope a little bit, mostly because there is no easy way to eat this dish, and using your hands is out of the question (at least in civilized company). This issue disqualifies Eggs Benedict from the category based on lack of convenience. On the other hand, the ingredients and composition fit in perfectly with the concept of the open-face sandwich: bread on bottom, meat, condiment, plus additional fixings layered in the order of any breakfast sandwich, minus the bread on top. I think the aspects of Eggs Benedict that qualify it are more important than those that don’t, and so in my eyes (and mouth and stomach) that makes it enough of a sandwich to put it in this blog.
The more important question is, what makes Molly’s Eggs Benedict so utterly awesome? Let’s start at the bottom: instead of using the classic English muffin as a base, Molly made biscuits from scratch, which were everything a biscuit should be: fluffy, yet dense, buttery, and just plain delicious. The Canadian bacon was pretty generic, but, let’s be honest, fry anything in butter and it will be tasty. Poached eggs are tricky (also my favorite preparation of eggs), and, in my opinion, are generally overcooked. As you can see from the second photo above, Molly poached the eggs PERFECTLY and is therefore my egg hero. Top it all off with a tangy, thick, homemade hollandaise, and I dare you to tell me this breakfast wasn’t awesome.
Eggs Benedict is a classic breakfast dish, made more famous by the fact that there are so many variations available, such as Eggs Florentine, Artichoke Benedict, Smoked Salmon Benedict, and dozens others. There are a few origin stories of this delicious egg meal, all involving someone named Benedict asking for this combination of ingredients. Today, Eggs Benedict can be found on almost all breakfast menus, and back when the New York Times wrote about it in 1967, it was noted that “Eggs Benedict is conceivably the most sophisticated dish ever created in America.” Even though Eggs Benedict is often one of the most expensive breakfast items on a menu these days, I’m not sure that most people would agree with this statement any more. So while this dish is very questionably a sandwich, and has obviously moved down a few spots on the elegant foods list, it still has a history that places it solidly in American food culture.