Man and Sandwich: A Sacred Relationship (Part 1)

To a man, it's never "just" a sandwich.

To a man, it’s never “just” a sandwich.

Recently a woman approached me at a local watering hole. She introduced herself, and asked me if I could give her some advice because she was having “man trouble.” Seems she had the hots for some guy, and wondered if I could give her some ideas about how to attract him.

I looked around for a moment, wondering if she was mistaking me for someone else. I mean, my most successful tactic used to be faking a heart attack near the object of my desire so she would give me CPR and I could jam my tongue down her throat. But I didn’t think that’s what this woman needed to hear. I considered suggesting something she could put behind her ears, like her ankles, but nixed that idea too.

I shrugged. “Make him a good sandwich.”

One of my friends was standing nearby, and agreed. “Yeah,” he nodded. “A good sandwich. On good bread.” Our discussion soon drew a half dozen people of both sexes, and I found it difficult to explain to the women why the sandwich held such a special place in the hearts of men.

 

The thing is, for men, a sandwich is much more than just two pieces of bread with some stuff between them. The appreciation and esteem we hold for the sandwich seems to be peculiar to our gender, like a weakness for the Three Stooges. Our relationship with the sandwich is a deep and committed one, not to be taken lightly. If it were up to us, instead of that portrait of JFK or large crucifix on the living room wall, most of us would have a large painting of the Earl of Sandwich.

More than anything else we shove into our mouths, the sandwich holds a special appeal and great promise. Ask one of your guy friends if he’d be willing to come over and help you clean out your moldy storage shed some Sunday afternoon. You’ll probably get a lukewarm response, if not an outright rejection. But tell him you’ll have sandwiches and coffee, and he’ll be there before you hang up the phone. If we are getting sandwiches and coffee, that elevates the stature of any event, turning it into a Project or a Job. Sandwiches paired with coffee is some no-nonsense sustenance, baby. Man fuel.

So what is it, exactly, about the sandwich that so stirs a man’s soul? First, it is the sheer variety. There is almost no limit to the different combinations of things you can put between two pieces of bread. Take the lowly PB&J, for instance. The peanut butter alone can be creamy or chunky, you can use almond butter, soy butter, or any number of weird schmears typically found at hippie food stores. I recently ran across something called Nutella, which I originally thought was some kind of scrotum unguent. But there it was in the jelly aisle.

But a PB&J is kid’s stuff. A real, grown-up, red-blooded, boner-inducing, man-grabbing sandwich can be broken down into four components: Protein, Vegetable, Bread, and Condiments.

(Side Note: I once received a party invitation from Severt Philleo, Missoula’s long-lost Prince of the Gay Raconteurs. The invite boasted that “Condiments Will Be Served.” Classic Severt. I miss that guy.)

On the protein side, a real sandwich is going to contain meat, preferably more than one kind. You can have anything from an inch-thick slab of leftover meatloaf to a wafer of prosciutto sliced so thin you can read a subpoena through it. Be it bovine, porcine, ovine, cooked in white wine or killed with a clothesline, any meat will work if it can be whittled down to workable dimensions.

Mouth feel is a very important part of the sandwich experience, so it’s important even how you stack your meat. I do not mean that metaphorically unless you think this is a good time for a break. When you put meat on your sandwich, you can lay it out flat, or bunch it up like a dirty sheet in a cheap motel.

Cheese is an equally important, and widely variable element to the man-worthy sandwich. My personal favorite is Alpine Lace, a low-fat Swiss cheese I like sliced to about the thickness of a toenail clipping. Cheese is a highly personal choice, so just about anything goes, even those hideous Kraft singles, which are so utterly tasteless I don’t even bother to remove the plastic when I put them on my kids’ sandwiches.

No sandwich is complete without a generous helping of veggies. Lettuce, sprouts, peppers, cucumber, tomatoes, pickles, man, the list just goes on an on. The veggies supply part of the moistness, and all of the crispness to the sandwich (unless you’re using unwrapped Kraft singles). In lieu of vegetables, potato chips and Fritos have been known to provide the crunch, although most guys eschew (sorry) this practice as somewhat juvenile, even for a man.

The order in which you layer the stuff also will determine the efficacy of a successfully built sandwich. Do you like the lettuce or sprouts on the top, like a garnish? Or on the bottom, like a foundation? And what about the sliced pickle? If you put it right next to the tomato, the whole top half of the sandwich will slide off. There is some serious epicurean engineering involved with sandwich-making. You can’t just rush in there and start throwing things together like you’re building a Bangladesh clothing factory.

This is a lot to ponder, I realize, so I will leave you now and take this up next time with the most vital—and the most controversial—ingredient to the sandwich: the condiments. I’ll also tell you about the best sandwich I ever had, and I’ll share some important sandwich-making tips and rules.

‘Til then, do you have any Grey Poupon?

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