The Yanks, the Brits and their Sandwiches
This week's guest blogger is Dylan A Brit Out of Water "One Man's Struggle in a Foreign Land." During his 580 (and counting) days in exile, he has found much to comment on, today he gives us his views on The Sandwich.
When people ask me what is different about Britain and I tell them, “everything,” they think I’m exaggerating. But when something as simple and ubiquitous as a sandwich can cause confusion, you know you are dealing with decidedly disparate cultures.
First of all, the British have no concept of the Peanut butter and Jelly Sandwich. That’s right, PB&J does not exist here, and when you explain what it is, the idea leaves them slightly horrified. And when you get to my next point, you’ll see why.
To a Brit, making a sandwich involves these three steps, from which they rarely waver: 1) take two slices of bread, 2) butter both of them, 3) put something between them. The culture is so steeped in this “bread and butter” routine that they appear unable to break it. I once ordered a chicken sandwich at a deli and asked the lady if I could have mayonnaise on it. “Of course,” she said, then proceeded to butter my bread and then put mayonnaise on it. So you can appreciate how the idea of peanut butter and jelly might be a bit disturbing; frankly, it disturbs me in that context.
The upside is, what they put between the slices, is good, imaginative and tasty. And, if like me, you are partial to butter, the odd fixation they have with this dairy-based spread, while jarring at first, does not detract from the overall effect. Branson Pickle, a sort of heavy relish, is commonly used as a compliment to the filling in sandwiches, or as the filling itself. Cucumber sandwiches are tasty, as are bacon butties and fish finger sandwiches (these are fish sticks, for you easily-startled Americans).
But my all time favourite (for bizarreness, not tastiness) is the chip buttie. This is, quite simply, a French fry sandwich, with buttered bread, naturally. They’re quite popular with the pub crowd, though not as popular at the kebab. This is only Sandwiches 101, however, so we’re not going to mention them
If it wasn’t for the presence of Marmite coupled with the total absence of the Reuben Sandwich on this island, I would have declared Britain the clear winner in this round. As it is, I’ll call it just slightly in favour of the UK.
As Mike so rightly says, the biggest difference between sandwiches in the US and the UK is the use of mayonnaise or butter. However, given that the UK is the original home of the sandwich, I’ll just say that the British are right and let the matter rest.
The problem with buying a sandwich in the US is that, with very rare exceptions, sandwiches don’t come pre-packaged. Having spent twenty years buying boxes of sarnies freshly made that morning, I’d got used to lunch being a minimal human contact event in which you made your selection, paid your money and waltzed out of the shop free to chomp on your cheese and pickle sandwich to your heart’s content.
In New York, however, buying a sandwich involves the kind of rapid fire questioning that you would expect if you were, say, in the final round of a gameshow attempting to win the grand prize. Ask for something simple like a chicken sandwich, and you’ll have at least thirteen queries thrown at you in the space of three seconds, including (but not limited to) ‘what kind of bread?’, ‘do you want mustard?’, ‘lettuce and onion?’ and ‘what is the capital of Ecuador?’ You’re only allowed to pass on one question, else they send you to the back of the line to desperately swot up your answers in an attempt to get served.
Of course, being a Brit in America doesn’t exactly help when it comes to getting your hands on everyone’s favourite bread-based snack product. Ask for a tuna sandwich and you’ll get chicken unless you deliberately pronounce it ‘toona’. An appeal for tom-ah-toes will automatically result in death stares.
Still, you can’t argue with the value offered by American sandwiches. My Little Sis has been to the States just once, and when I texted her to ask what she thought, her only response was “Huge sandwiches!”. And she’s right. As everyone knows, size matters in America – and never more so than with the sandwich. I can only assume that some arcane law decrees that there must be precisely seventeen times as much filling as bread in all American sandwiches, such is the amount of stuff that’s piled into them.
Don’t get too excited though – the only two things allowed in American sandwiches are turkey and cheese. You may think you occasionally see other ingredients, such as lettuce or onion, but be aware that every single one has been industrially manufactured from either turkey or cheese. Sometimes from both.
Is it any wonder that so many people eat bagels with cream cheese instead?
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