How aptly named. I enter an establishment, order a sandwich, and I’m served some sort of bread pontoon boat ferrying around a pile of ingredients. The troll. I try to be charitable in my definition of a sandwich. Two pieces of bread, something between then, stacked and intended to be eaten on a horizontal axis. I see this as a definition as expansive as possible without being meaningless, but the boosters of lobster-rolls-as-sandwiches and other similar nonsense have seen it as pedantic, or restricting. But I didn’t settle on this definition just for the sport of it, I settled on it because it’s what fits my idea of what sandwiches are, in their ideal form. The horizontal nature of it is crucial, and the above calamity illustrates why.
The idea behind a sandwich is to bring many things together. This is why we do not set out on a plate a bit of bread, a bit of ham and a bit of cheese and take turns eating each. We put them together because they taste exceptionally good together, and they become more than the sum of their parts. But the togetherness of them, the this-thing-plus-that-thing, in every bite, that’s why horizontal matters. I can close the above not-sandwich. I did close the above not-sandwich, I folded it up and I ate it. It was tasty. Ground turkey, eggplant parm, marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese, it’s a good lineup and the ground turkey is a nice textural contrast. But it didn’t fold cleanly in half, lining up ingredients with the cheese in the middle. It collapsed on itself, leaving a sort of gradient of ingredients not stacked but laid side by side, with bites to one side favoring cheese, to the other turkey, and somewhere in the middle the eggplant. This is no sandwich at all, but instead a slapdash collection, robbing me of the togetherness that defines the sandwich experience.
This happens far more often than I’d like, where someone doesn’t slice the roll all the way through and doesn’t stack so much as stuff, leaving an assemblage that runs contrary to the very point of sandwiches. For the sake of discussion, I try to forgive this, sometimes opening a sandwich and rearranging, sometimes just shrugging because it’s almost good enough. (The Mousa is a recent example of something that could be better.) But this need not be, friends. This need not be. I do not ask that everyone’s sandwich be exotic, complicated, or anything other than what they want it to be. I simply ask that it be assembled with care and with an eye towards the ideal sandwich experience. And that, friends, means stacking.
I run into this same problem with burritos. I want a little bit of everything in each bite, but too often it’s all rice or all meat/beans. The all rice ones are the worst. Nothing worse than poor filling distribution.
Burritos are beyond the purview of my commentary, but I don’t disagree one bit. Far too many burritos have had lazy distribution to the detriment of the experience.
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