I eat a lot of sandwiches in Chile. It’s not because I have a great love for sandwiches, or even bread really, it’s just that since I don’t eat meat, and in many places pizza is an abomination before Italy, well, that sandwich, “es lo que hay” (it’s what we got).
I have a sandwich hierarchy of sorts, where baguette is the best bread, and “pan de molde” which is always this fluffy white wonderbreadesque confection which has had the crust sawed off the entire loaf, leaving the whole loaf looking very much like a foam block I saw once at the physical therapy place, well that bread is way at the bottom. Close to baguettes, and maybe even as good is the Chilean version of french bread, called marraqueta, which is four little lumps of frenchbreadish dough baked together like dinnerrolls in the 70’s.
Then there’s the filling situation. Plain cheese is boring, cheese with oregano is slightly better. The discovery of lettuce on my sandwich is noteworthy, and palmitos (hearts of palms) are a lovely addition, though they do have a tendency to fall out of the sandwich as you are eating it. Avocado is practically a national sport and something no sandwich should ever be without. Arugula or watercress are cause for celebration, and why they don’t know about onions on a sandwich is a mystery. I know a couple of places that serve their sandwiches with dipping/spreadable sauce. This is a great addition. Posh little cafés that serve sandwiches in Bellas Artes and Lastarria pretty much end the excitement there. But if you go to a traditional sandwichery (ooh, that’s fun to say!) and ask for something vegetarian they will build you a sandwich out of toppings. You’ll eat at least half of an avocado, maybe more. Then come the prepeeled tomatoes, the jello of cheese, called “queso fresco” and stringbean slaw.
Stringbean slaw is an oversalted overcooked mash of french-sliced stringbeans that arrives on your sandwich like a haystack and harkens back to a period in my childhood when I used to snack on waxbeans out of the can, with a fork. I was no gourmand then, and to be honest, the stringbean slaw doesn’t so much taste bad as it offends my sensibilities on several levels. First, stringbeans are not a sandwich food. Second, what’s the matter with whole stringbeans? Why must they be shredded? Lastly, and most importantly, why do they have to be so very overcooked?
But sandwiches are what’s available routinely, and more importantly, they were what was on the menu last night when I met up with some friends after a deadly day of high-pressure translating with some very hyped up documentarians. My sandwich was on french bread, toasty, with a dusting of oregano on the plate. It had the jello cheese and avocado, the prepeeled tomatoes and palmitos. They gave us all forks and knives to eat with, and to a one, we picked up our masterpieces with our hands and chowed down. And look mom! No stringbean slaw. And it was good.