Today , Nov. 3 is the birthday of Lord John Montague, the Fourth Earl of Sandwich and, reputedly, the inventor of the sandwich. In point of fact, sandwiches were likely invented the day after bread was invented, nevertheless there is a good chance that Montague is the namesake of the portable delight we’ve all enjoyed at one time or another.
The story goes that the earl was gambling and to avoid having to stop and eat he ordered that he be brought a slice of meat between two slices of bread. His fellow aristocrats were impressed with his dedication to losing farthings and the Sandwich idea quickly spread among the upper-crust before trickling down to the masses – thus proving Ronald Regan’s economic thesis when it comes to mustard.
As a sandwich-lover from way back, I always celebrate the earl’s birthday with a carefully planned sandwich, but this year I thought it might be fun to consider what sort of sandwich the presidential candidates might choose. The easy one and first to occur to me was Sarah Palin, the “real” American. I suspect it would be a grilled cheese sandwich consisting of margarine, a Kraft Single, and Wonder bread demonstrating a complete lack of sophistication, experience, and judgment in food as in other matters. This is not to put down the grilled cheese sandwich, which can be extraordinary when made well using, er, real ingredients.
Palin’s running mate provided a greater challenge. Arizona is far better known for it’s Southwestern cuisine than for sandwiches. I’ve spent a good deal of time in Phoenix and never had a sandwich there worth remembering. But Sen. John McCain is a conservative and, at one time, the conservative motivation was more about preserving the past (or, at least, slowing and controlling change) than about promoting fundamentalist Christian teachings or giving tax cuts to the wealthy. Since in the past, Arizona was part of Mexico I elected to be generous and define the fajita as a sandwich – after all, it is a filling wrapped in bread. So what if the bread is flat?
Moving on to Sen. Joe Biden, as best I could determine Scranton, Pennsylvania – unlike Philadelphia with its cheese-steak – doesn’t have a unique sandwich. So I called Biden’s office in Wilmington, Del. Odd thing, politics. I knew Biden was from Scranton, I knew his political reputation and a fair bit of his history in the Senate, but somehow it had never registered on me that he represented Delaware and not Pennsylvania. Anyway, the person I talked to (who wished to remain anonymous when discussing the Senator’s sandwich proclivities) dug up his schedule, called the campaign, and reported that Joe’s favorite sandwich is a “turkey and Swiss with tomato on wheat.” I asked about his position on condiments, specifically raising the issue of mustard and mayonnaise, but she claimed she didn’t know. Cover-up? You be the judge.
Barack Obama posed the biggest problem because of the cultural wealth of his background: Indonesia, Kansas, Hawaii, and Chicago. For instance, I found a couple of Indonesian sandwiches, the Nama Nama and the Variasi, but I couldn’t find English descriptions of them. Kansas took me the Palin direction and, having already been there, I didn’t want to return. Hawaii: James Cook the first European to find the Hawaiian Islands named them the Sandwich Islands and they were, in fact, named in honor of John Montague – this could hardly be a coincidence! But again, there was a dearth of sandwichs associated with the islands and so I was left with Chicago.
Chicago loves sandwiches and is famous for it’s hot dogs. These are distinguished from other dogs by being a steamed or boiled all-beef tube on a poppy seed bun. The dog is topped with mustard, onion, sweet pickle relish, a dill pickle spear, tomato slices or wedges, peppers, and a dash of celery salt. Ketchup is prohibited. Chicago also serves other sausage-based sandwiches, but perhaps it’s greatest claim to sandwich fame – at least according to my friends – is the Italian Beef sandwich.
This is made of thinly-sliced, seasoned roast beef that’s then kept warm au jus. The meat is spooned onto a hoagie-style bun (often the bun is briefly dipped in the jus) and topped with giardiniera or sauteed sweet bell peppers. It’s one of those sandwiches that requires “assuming the stance” (standing, legs spread, leaning forward from the hips, elbows akimbo) to eat without spilling everything down the front of your clothes.
It sounds like an excellent sandwich and I’m sure Obama has eaten many of these while organizing communities. Hell, I’d organize a community for one.