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.
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.
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!
I semi-recently took a trip to New York to see my brother and my college friends. Now for those of you who have been following along, you will have noticed that I frequent the East Coast, and that I continue my quest for awesome sandwiches on these little vacations. While I did have some great sandwiches on this trip, you’ll have to wait for future blog posts. This post is about a little seafood shack in Connecticut and a fish sandwich that signified the change of the seasons, the beginning and end of the school year, and the promise of fun with great friends.
Though there are two main seafood shacks in New London that have similar traditional menus, Fred’s Shanty is the place you go when you want a fish sandwich. Simple, cheap, and fresh, there really isn’t much that’s better on a crisp fall day that’s reminiscent of summer.
In an earlier post, I touched on the idea of the connection between food and memory. In the same way that a smell or sound can take you back to a previous moment in your life, food can also be associated with memory. Just how I have many good feelings and memories associated with sea urchin, the Fred’s Shanty fish sandwich evokes visions of countless warm fall and spring college days spent outside – on the green, in the arboretum, at the beach – accented by trips to a small seafood shack on the Thames River. And of course, these memories are attached to this sandwich not just because the consumption is recurring, but because of the strength of the emotions that the memories call up. Yes, the fish sandwich from Fred’s Shanty is good, but it doesn’t stand out in a crowd of fish sandwiches. In fact, the main reason to go to Fred’s Shanty instead of Captain Scott’s Lobster Dock (the other sea food shack in New London) is because it’s cheaper, not because the food is better. And though I have similar, and definitely more Lobster Dock memories, they involve a sandwich of a different sort. It is this sandwich, the simple yet delicious fish sandwich, that carries ties to the lush life of college.
I’ve known for a while that I wanted to do a post about Fromin’s because it’s one of those places that is the ultimate Jewish deli. Growing up in Santa Monica, I think I ate Fromin’s almost every Sunday for about five years.
When I went to Fromin’s with Sara, I decided to get the hot pastrami sandwich (on rye of course) which comes with a lovely little bowl of au jus on the side (not pictured). As far as this sandwich goes, I don’t have a whole lot to say – this sandwich was even more simple than my last post and about eight million times better. Perfectly cooked pastrami that juicily melts in your mouth, some swiss cheese, a touch of dijon mustard, and fluffy rye bread. Dip an already great sandwich in au jus, and of course it only gets better. Which all goes to show that if done right, simple can be awesome.
The other interesting thing about Fromin’s is that it is only about four blocks away from another well known Santa Monica Jewish deli called Izzy’s, and the community seems to be loyal to one deli or the other, but not both. This may also stem from the fact that the clientele at each restaurant is very different. Izzy’s is open 24 hours and is the kind of place that has a million pictures of the owner with various celebrities…the demographic here is much more varied and includes tourists, hoodlums, and a spattering of 10-13 year olds from the middle school up the street (in addition to the diner loving Jews of Santa Monica). Fromin’s, on the other hand, has pretty much one type of customer: the elderly Jewish couple. In fact, when Sara and I went, we were the youngest customers by at least 40 years.
Now, you may be thinking, why are you a Fromin’s customer instead of an Izzy’s kind of girl? Wouldn’t you rather be among people who are closer to your peers? Well let me tell you. The Jewish deli is a place that I feel has been robbed of its true nature, especially in Southern California. Instead of feeling like local spots where everyone knows each other and the food is just like grandma used to make, they give off a very commercial vibe. It always seems to me like I’m caught in a tourist trap: welcome to SoCal, the land of the Jews…you must be this tall to ride. Look! Real Jewish grandparents eating knishes and borscht! Fromin’s feels real – no show, no gimmick, just the same people working and eating day after day. THIS is why i love Fromin’s. Every single person seems to have an emotional connection to this deli, whether you grew up having their chicken noodle soup when you were sick, or it’s the place your grandparents took you every Saturday after your soccer game.
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.
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.