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.
Now before I begin, I want to note that it has been quite some time since I’ve posted. Sorry.
Secondly, and much more pertinent to this post, I am not a pizza expert. On the other hand, I very much know what exactly I like and don’t like when it comes to pizza. Quite honestly, that deep-dish, thick crust stuff just doesn’t do it for me. That is why I always make sure to eat pizza as much as I can when in New York.
I hope that by now, I won’t have to argue too strongly as to why pizza fits into the sandwich category. It very much resembles an open-face sandwich and, furthermore, is most often eaten with your hands (unless of course, you are one of THOSE people who eat their pizza with a fork and knife, and probably pat off all the grease as well).
What is really interesting about pizza, in my opinion, is how many different cultures have laid claim to it. Its origins in Naples make it inherently Italian, yet America has adopted it into its food culture as well. Going further, Chicago has made the pizza its own, as has New York, and any college student could tell you that pizza is one of their most eaten foods. For me, this is the beauty of food — its universality allows all sorts of people to eat the same food while meaning very different things to each person.
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.
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.
Another interesting thing about In N Out is their secret menu, or as they call it, their “not so secret menu”. This figures in to the idea I brought up in my last post about food defining social groups. As you can see, my double double has no bun. Instead it is “protein style”: wrapped in lettuce with no bread. In N Out also offers to make the items on the menu “animal style,” or with extra spread, pickles, and grilled onions. Furthermore, if the two patties and two cheese of the double double isn’t enough for you, In N Out offers a 3×3 or a 4×4. In fact, when I was in high school, I witnessed a friend take down a 20×20. That’s right, 20 meat and 20 cheese, and they had to serve it lying down in two to-go boxes.
What is interesting, however, is what In N Out has to say about their secret menu:
In N Out acknowledges the fact that the concept of a secret menu leads to exclusion, and chooses to negate the whole idea. Thus, there becomes a contradiction between what the customer wants, being a part of an exclusive group that knows the secret, and what In N Out wants, for everyone to feel like they are a part of the exclusive group, making it the exact opposite of exclusive. This contradiction, however, does not alienate customers; instead, it makes In N Out accessible to more people, while still making the individual feel special.
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.
On my trip to Santa Cruz a couple of weekends ago, Jess, Alex, and I decided to make a trip to The Counter, a burger restaurant founded in Santa Monica. Jess actually worked at the original Counter, before it was a chain, so it’s always fun to go with her because she’s tried everything on the menu. The menu itself is fun, as it is simply a clipboard with a checklist. Pick your meat, your bun (or lack thereof: the burger bowl), your toppings, your sauce…The Counter serves a seriously customizable burger.
Even though this burger is in a bowl, it still qualifies as a sandwich because the hamburger is probably among the most American of sandwiches. America is often criticized or demeaned for its lack of a national cuisine, but the hamburger as we know it has become a very American foodstuff. Thus, the hamburger is one of the most important sandwiches America has to offer, and it is almost impossible to find a burger outside of the States that could compete. Furthermore, The Counter is an embodiment of a very American eating characterization: customization. Outside of the US, changing a dish is very uncommon. Rarely does one hear “can you add cucumbers?” or “without mushrooms” or “can I have the sauce on the side?” Making a dish suited to the individual is something not often found in other countries, and so The Counter bases itself on one of the most American ideals.
Now I’m sure you’re probably thinking, “what are tacos doing on a sandwich blog?!” Well my friends, this is where I’m going to stretch the sandwich concept a bit. But first, the real question is, “what exactly is a sandwich?” According to Wikipedia,
“A sandwich is a food item, often consisting of two or more slices of bread with one or more fillings between them, or one slice of bread with a topping or toppings, commonly called an open sandwich…they generally contain a combination of salad vegetables, meat, cheese, and a variety of sauces. The bread can be used as it is, or it can be coated with any condiments to enhance flavor and texture.”
From this definition, I think it is easy to see why tacos are making their first appearance on AOAS. Let’s classify the taco under the category of open sandwich, since the tortilla (bread) is on the bottom, but not the top. In addition, we find all of the other components of a sandwich: meat (carne asada), cheese, condiment (salsa), as well as other toppings. Though these tacos did not include what Wikipedia would qualify as “salad vegetables” such as lettuce, tomato, etc, many do, further illustrating that the taco is, in fact, a sandwich.