Monday, April 26, 2010

You Ate What!?: Uncommon Foods & the Beauty of the Sandwich

I must confess that there was a time in my childhood where I ate plain butter on occasion. To be totally honest, it wasn't butter. It was actually I Can't Believe It's Not Butter! Yikes. That was a dark period in my life.

I find it fascinating to hear the different things people enjoy consuming that elicit the response: "You eat what!?," which comes about most often in cultural exchange. I was a bit surprised when I first encountered the popular Mexican street food called elotes, or roasted corn on the cob smeared with mayonnaise, hot sauce, sour cream, cheese, lemon juice, salt, butter or any combination of the above. As it turns out, that's delicious! By contrast, I found it far more difficult to enjoy several Thai snacks including deep-fried crickets and sticky rice, bees, and live shrimp. It just doesn't seem comfortable to put something that's still moving into one's mouth. However, I do recognize that those are all totally legitimate forms of protein, and I think, given more time, I could grow to appreciate a good deep-fried cricket.

But there's no need to go abroad; there's no shortage of unusual foods being consumed by our very neighbors. I've recently gathered some information on this topic, and I'd like to throw out a few under-appreciated food combinations I've come across in my research and personal life:
-(Vanilla) ice cream with slices of cucumber and sunflower seeds (Qiqi Puranchenkova)
-Apparently, dipping bread in maple syrup or honey mixed with peanut butter is a Southern treat. One might also enjoy dipping honey in pretzels (Caleb Kennedy, Shira Kresch)
-Potatoes and nutmeg
-My immediately family has always enjoyed graham crackers dipped or crushed in milk and banana with peanut butter, respectively

One of the foods that has most wowed me in the course of my life is a Southern-style cake. I've yet to actually experience one, but it is on my list of things to eat before death. To give you a sense for their wow factor, one woman trained in the tradition reported that "three or four [layers] weren't nothing to brag about." A really well-made cake might have up to thirteen layers! But, don't let your imagination run too wild; the layers are more like pancakes than the layers us Yankees are used to. You can read about and watch the art of making these cakes and get the recipe here. I'm still on the hunt for someone with enough chutzpah to try making this with me.

While we're on this topic of things edible, I must share a new fascination of mine: the sandwich. So taken for granted. I only recently learned that the sandwich is named after an 18th century aristocrat named John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich (a town in Kent, England). He would often order his valet to bring him meat in between two slices of bread, and others who started to enjoy it would order, saying: "the same as Sandwich!" He reportedly liked the food because it allowed him to eat and play cards at the same time, without getting his fingers greasy like eating meat plain. Once my fascination with sandwiches took hold, I discovered the most amazing website: Insanewiches, which highlights highly creative and bizarre sandwiches (see: "best insanewiches" in the right hand column). Inspired, I'm working on creating my own signature sandwich, to be appropriately called: The Julie. The genius behind The Julie, is not the same sort of creativity as seen in the Insanewiches, but rather it is that the majority of the contents are made into a paste, so you don't have to deal with the frustration of whole tomato slices, avocado slices, etc. falling out of your sandwich. It's very stressful and it ruins everything. So, the basic recipe for The Julie recommends the following layers between two slices of whole wheat bread (Arnold's is a quality, yet cheap brand): hummus, signature guacamole (half of an avocado, minced tomato/mushroom/jalapeno pepper/garlic/onion to taste), cucumber embedded into the hummus and guacamole to ensure nothing falls out, and spinach. It's still a work in progress and I'm toying with the radical concept of fruit on sandwiches, especially with dried berries and thin slices of apple. All input and constructive criticism is welcome; I have big dreams for The Julie.

Postscript: I am very interested in learning about more under-appreciated food combinations from anyone who knows of any.


  1. Highly amusing topic! Have you heard of the fluffernutter? Apparently it is a New England treat consisting of white bread, Marshmallow Fluff (the brand here being very important), and peanut butter (I think it should be creamy, but I'm not sure). I have had it, but it was on wheat bread with crunchy peanut butter. I will admit, I enjoyed it. One of my favorite sandwich combos is grilled cheese dipped in maple syrup. Highest quality cheddar and maple syrup available, please. It is a winner. Oh and for all you grilled cheese lovers, this website will amaze:

    I am fascinated by the mushroom in the guacamole. I've never had this before. I may have to whip myself up a batch and have The Julie!

  2. Your sandwich sounds delicious. I love hummus and avocado together. I would be proud for that sandwich to also bear MY name ;)

  3. Nikki, that fluffernutter is definitely something I'll need to investigate. I've never heard of it. And that Grilled Cheese website is AMAZING. The possibilities are endless. I should also note that I've never eaten the signature guac with mushroom NOT on the sandwich. I only decided to add it into the mix because I did NOT want mushrooms (which I wanted in the sandwich) falling out as I was eating it. But I think it has the potential to work as a dip! We'll have to fin out.

    Julie, there is no one else I would rather share a name (and sandwich) with. :)

  4. And one last note... I want to make a special shout out to both Marissa and Shira Kresch. Marissa told me about a very unique food combination pioneered by a friend of hers that I forgot to include in this entry: tortilla chip accompanied by a hunk of red onion and a hunk or dark chocolate. If that's not a strange food combination, I don't know what is! And Shira introduced me to a more widely embraced (but still a little foreign to most) food combination: ginger and chocolate. It is surprisingly delicious and can even be found at your local Trader Joe's.

  5. Julie, I would definitely be up for baking a 13-layer cake with you! Consider it "game on."

  6. This comment is really late, but because I am about all things sandwich, I just had to read this post. And now to share a sandwich of my own. My dad recently started making them just a little while ago, and if I'm not mistaken, the first one he made for me was out of rump roast. But I imagine you can really make them out of any meat- preferably cow meat- beef- thats it. Anyway, the night after we had this rump roast my dad took out this old fashioned meat grinder he had found at the St. Helena rummage sale and took the meat to it. Combined with a little mayo, salt, pepper and onions, it made an amazing sandwich paste. I would highly recommend olives or pickles or really any sandwich topper on top of it, too. I will have more on sandwiches some time in the future.