Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Savior in the Little Triangle Box

When a group of 28 students is herded around streets of London for tour after tour after tour, there will of course come a time where they begin to feel hungry.  However, herding 28 people into a restaurant is quite difficult.  So for the first three extraordinarily exhausting days of this trip, we have been living on takeaway sandwiches, therefore, they will be the first honorable food guests on this blog.

The sandwich.  It’s quick, easy to hold, cheap, and let me tell you, very plentiful in this city.  Literally every three shops along the street there's a sandwich cafe of one sort or another.  But it makes sense in this city.  Not only does it provide something fast and nutritious for the working people, but the sandwich also has it rumored roots in England.  Apparently, in the 1700s, John Montagu, the Fourth Earl of Sandwich, was entirely too occupied with his gambling and card playing, so, instead of taking a break, he asked that his roast beef be brought to him between two slices of bread.  From that point on, one of the most widely eaten foods was born, and then sustained for this portability factor.

But, if you've never had a sandwich in London, don’t start thinking that a sandwich is a sandwich and that it doesn’t really count a defining part of this food culture.  Although they are ever-present and the subject of many chain caf├ęs, the sandwiches are unlike and exceedingly better than any I’ve had in the U.S.  Living at JMU, I dreaded every night that I trudged up to Market One for a boring turkey and provolone on a sub, but here in London, I wouldn’t mind living on Pret a Manger (Pret for short) or Eat. for my whole life.  Let’s just say, that compared to the American sandwich, and English sandwich, coincidentally like the people of England, can be defined as subtle with refined minimalism.  They are not in the least bit similar to the “Italian Sub” or B.M.T. monstrosities of the U.S. but generally limited to two or three fillings and tucked inside amazingly moist and tender bread.  My first meal here, from Pret a Manger, was a chicken, avocado, and basil mayonnaise sandwich followed by and grape and Brie concoction from Tea and Tattle.  And then, to mix it up a little, I feasted on a veggie stuffed crepe from a street vendor.  And I can’t wait to try some other varieties I saw on display: crayfish, arugula, and lemon mayo, apple, pork, and sage, and above all, English cheddar and chutney.

And the best part is, the freshness of all the ingredients so apparent.  Every sandwich shop I’ve seen, both chain and not, boasts sandwiches that are preservative-free, made with all-natural ingredients, prepared fresh every day, and many times, organic as well.  They are proudly displayed, facing cut side up in little packages so that we may see the beauty within, not hiding in embarrassment of icky, preservative-filled ingredients.

So whether it’s the originality and newness of the flavor combinations, the minimalist quality that, in turn, further highlights each amazing component, or the quality of ingredients, the sandwich has quickly stood out as distinct in this city, something true to England.  It is sure to be my go-to meal in a time crunch, and a way to efficiently save money, and I thank these lovely sandwiches, or as the English say, “sarnies” for successfully getting me through the three most hectic days of my life. 

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