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Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Earl

I just went outside and asked my neighbor, two teenagers and a drifter the following question:

Do you love sandwiches?

The response? Overwhelming: 100% yes.

So what if the kids flipped me off, and the vagrant answered my question with a question (yeah, I had a quarter). Just riddle me this: how could one food-thing be so appealing to so many, so unambiguously? What is it about the sandwich that tantalizes and captivates, that seduces like lotion, whipped cream and scented mayonnaise combined? Why does it flat-out yell “eat me”? And why is it so often delicious?

I had a made-up story in mind that answered every one of these questions and then some. It involved a swami, a duck, and some piping hot naan. It took place in India, in a time long ago. It rivaled the Rigvedic hymns for sheer drama and holiness, but wasn’t so high and mighty that the average Joe couldn’t relate. It made liberal use of 36 “kama sutra” positions, but not in a way that might offend the chaste. And it starred that delightful couple that everyone loves.

But then I realized the story made no sense and had nothing to do with sandwiches. Why stretch a truth so near and, quite probably, dear? For you kind reader, and to address our nagging questions in earnest, The Porkchop Express headed to the library. Only then did we discover that like many good things in life the sandwich owes its name to an Earl. Who came from England. Sandwich, England.

Game Recognize Game
From L-R:
Julia Child, Snoop Dogg,
LeBron James,
The 4th Earl of Sandwich


John Montagu (1718-1792), the Fourth Earl of Sandwich, was a man of loose morals and sharp contradictions: Cambridge graduate, Lord of the Admiralty, and member of the notorious Hellfire Club; corrupt and incompetent, but never short for work. Some say Montagu's bumbling tenure with the British navy helped America win its independence. Others called him “Jeremy Twitcher” for selling a friend down the river. And many took his retirement from public life as cause for a day-long celebration. So why do we now celebrate his name?

Let's blame it on an enthusiastic Frenchman. After spending a year in London in 1765, Pierre Jean Grosley acquired a taste for a marvellous new dish: the sandwich. In his 1770 travelogue Londres, he alerted the world to this TONY snack and its curious origin. The story went as follows:

Montagu, Earl of Sandwich loved loafing and gambling. Sometimes he did both at the same time. During one 24-hour card bender, his stomach raised a fuss. Assuming he had made arrangements to relieve himself, the conversation must have gone something like this:

Stomach: John boy, old gaffer... what gives. I’m dyin’ here. It’s literally been a day since you’ve gotten up, innit. Great googly, old chum, can’t you hear me grumbling?

The Earl: Alright, you bloody whinger. Keep schtum and quit grizzling, old chap. (aside) Servant, fetch me some meat! Do we have any cheese? Not even the cheddar? But I told you—ah bollocks, never mind. No, I said never mind. Just put a bumf of that roast beef betwixt some toast. And bring me a pickle!

And thus the sandwich was born.

Quite frankly, genius can be tasty even when it isn’t pretty. Take Montagu's shining moment. Slob or no, in this one flash of compelling and infinite wisdom he pioneered something wonderful: a dish of remarkable adaptability and staying power. The Earl was not the first to stuff savory between wheat–credit should go to the Jewish sage Hillel some 2 millennia prior. But there's a simple reason why we eat sandwiches and not hillels: the wise one's combo (Passover lamb and bitter herbs on matzoh) never quite hit like roast beef.

What Montagu did may not have been original (in the strictest sense), but it was pretty damn sweet. I think the Earl of Sandwich website puts it best:

From then on it did not matter if you were fighting a great sea-battle or laying down a Royal Flush, you could eat great food without too much fuss.

Preach on. If The Porkchop Express is about anything, it’s about precisely that: bringing great food to people without too much fuss. We noted from the start that this would be a journey, faithful readers—a quest for delicious. And we believe one sure route is via the sandwich.

Sandwiches are like the wolverines of the culinary world: modest in stature, often overlooked, but pound for pound nothing can beat them. I’d put a sandwich up against Mike Tyson or Margaret Thatcher in their primes, and bet you two slices and some filling will come out first. I’ll fight this point to the death.

From peanut butter & jelly to fried clam rolls, roast turkey clubs to golden grilled cheese, Reubens and falafels to Cubans and shawarmas… the sandwich can match me mood-for-mood and whim-for-whim. I never tire of her, because she takes on so many forms with flair and... relish.


Also, the possibilities are nearly limitless. Marshmellow fluff-stuffed banana bread? Why not, you’ve already had your vegetables. Prime rib on an olive roll? Go nuts, Mr. Fancy Pants. Leg of donkey on rye? Whatever floats your boat, champ... it’s America!

Seriously, if there's a more democratic meal I’d like to know. Anyone with a few bucks and a clean hand or hook can always eat well… so long as they call upon The Earl. Which brings us to our point.

For the past few weeks, The Porkchop Express has shared good food and folks with you, hungry reader. We are now proud to unveil a new section of The Express long in the making: a Quest for the Best Sandwich in New York, a/k/a The Earl.

NYC has a vibrant sandwich culture, and there probably aren't many places in the world that do so many different types so well. We will try our best to taste a few and spread the good word. Before heading on this road we hereby pledge the following:

  1. To search for the best sandwiches in New York City and beyond
  2. To neither post in vain nor accept a bribe
  3. To represent Delicious to the fullest
With that said, check back in one week for our very first installment…

Note to readers
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the sandwich is “An article of food for a light meal or snack, blah blah blah two slices of bread, blah blah with a filling. Occasionally with only one slice blah blah blah blah open-faced sandwich, biscuits, buns, cake, etc.”

But The Porkchop Express was more confused than ever, so we rounded up the Braintrust to debate the relative sandwich-ness of foodstuffs that may or may not be sandwiches, like “knuckle” and “spring roll” and “yakisoba on white.” Is a calzone a sandwich? What about a "wrap"?

This great debate is far from over. We want to hear from anyone from anywhere who cares even the slightest. Have you ever made culinary love to a sandwich? Is there one you're curious about? Just email us or post a suggestion, and we'll take it from there...

Til Tuesday,

–J. Slab


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4 Comments:

Blogger happy happy som said...

I did not ask for a quarter!

2:12 PM  
Blogger Eumaios the Swineherd said...

Slab,
You know my vote: the eggplant parm at Catene deli, 4th Ave and 9th St in Brooklyn. I haven't found anything remotely close in L.A. I went to a Dodger game last weekend and I had an overwhelming craving to get an eggplant parm takeout from Catene. I ended up bringing in homemade spaghetti instead, I just couldn't bear to face the inevitable disappointment.

At least I got to boo that bum, Barry Bonds.

1:05 PM  
Blogger lettuce said...

Great blog, I love your writing. I knew about the Earl of Sandwich (didn't know he was a member of the Hellfire club) (or that he said bollocks)(but then, he was a Brit).

I'd have said sandwiches have to be bread - not baguettes, pittas, tortillas.... Any type of bread, but bread - in slices. I love calzones (great place in greenwich does them) - but they are definately not sandwiches.

One of the best would have to be fried egg and chilli chutney - as per Red Dwarf. It works - it shouldn't, but it does.

1:17 PM  
Blogger Rikki said...

Wow, that's some hardcore sandwich post.

6:03 AM  

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