Sandwiches: the best thing since sliced bread?

The sandwich may be food’s greatest happenstance, yet it holds the power to either ruin or rule your day.

There’s a love/hate relationship with sandwiches. The lunchtime staple of millions, they offer just enough carby sustenance to get you through to dinner. But when you unpack a sandwich on the approach to midday, it’s the tut heard the world over – it feels like an underachievement, like you could have done better. And so a begrudging five minutes ensues, as lunch turns into an underwhelming blah sliding you through to home time.

The sandwich is invention by necessity if the story is to be believed. John Montagu, the fourth Earl of Sandwich, as we all know, supposedly asked for meat between a couple of slices of bread so he could eat one-handed without interrupting his gambling game. Today it’s more a case of pass me a sandwich so I can eat at my desk while the other hand browses the web. But did sandwiches hit their peak in When Harry Met Sally? Say it ain’t so.

Anything larger than a sanger and you’ll fall asleep at your desk around 2pm; something smaller and you find you’re reaching for snacks and filling up on tea for the rest of the day. The damn sandwich is probably the best of both worlds – something meaty or cheesy (or both) cradling between a couple of pieces of bread, laced with condiment and leaves. It’s easy to transport, doesn’t rely on a microwave and is quick to eat. But a good sandwich requires preparation, thought, and care, and sometimes it’s just too much of a bother being that organised before work, beyond all else. On days where the cupboards run bare in lieu of a weekly shop, it’s an opportunity to grab something out. But predictably, any flicker of imagination immediately fizzles (surely that’s the hunger?) So with a shrug of the shoulders I resolve to one of the usual high street cafe suspects, gravitating like a drone.

The packed lunch days of childhood haunt every one of us – sandwich, crisps, and a drink are the acceptable order of things – all reinforced by the modern meal deal. It harks back to the time when sandwich pastes, cheese or corned beef were regular stars inside slices of Milk Loaf, nestled in my Polly Pocket lunchbox beside a packet of French Fries, an apple, and a Penguin. It’s the habit of a lifetime that’s now infiltrating my working life, and surely goes to explain my lack of inspiration (and although leftovers do frequently make it into my lunch hour, I’d rather save it for dinner.)

This luncheon limbo has spawned many rescue attempts from bloggers, food writers and authors, such as co-founder of Food52, Amanda Hesser, who posts daily shots and recipes of her kids’ lunchesThe Little Book of Lunch, which dishes out the subtleties of how to make a good one; or Helen Graves‘ endlessly inspiring 101 Sandwiches from around the world. It’s all enough to put my complaints to shame.

So here’s to breaking free from the monotony of cheese and pickle, and embracing the functional fast food beyond bread packaged in a protective atmosphere. Let us all aspire to that sandwich nirvana, where fellow colleagues will enthusiastically mutter, “I’ll have what she’s having.”

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