The Sandwich Century – #6: The Bologna Sandwich
Note: due to some ingredient acquisition issues, the Sandwich Century project is going to go off-book as far as alphabetic order for a week or so. We’ll try and set things right by the next entry.
There are certain things that come to possess an iconic status not because of any inherent superior qualities they possess, but because they just seem right. Their form, function or whatever seems to us to contain the elements that the ding of which it is a sich is supposed to have, and thus it becomes more than a specific example of whatever thing is under discussion: it becomes a Platonic ideal. It becomes a shorthand symbol for an idealized icon. The martini (or more specifically, the cocktail glass into which it is poured) is our ideal of ‘alcoholic drink’; the floppy disc is a universal symbol of computing, even if it’s no longer used as a storage medium. The sandwich is the symbol of food. And the bologna sandwich is the symbol of the sandwich.
It’s so basic that it’s almost invisible, but it’s truly an iconic symbol of sandwichosity, the perfect expression of what the Earl of Sandwich was trying to do when he stuck some meat and cheese between two slices of bread so he could carry on being a degenerate gambler. It’s the meal that launched a billion lunchtimes. That hard-hat sitting on a beam with the Manhattan skyline behind him, pulling his lunch out of a metal pail in a thousand New Yorker cartoons? He’s about to eat a bologna sandwich. It’s what’s stuck under the sound board in the opening credits of the early seasons of SCTV, proving its international appeal. It’s cheap and simple, but in a working-class, all-American way: if you’re impoverished and jobless, the stereotype has you eating ramen noodles. But if you’re just a working stiff doing an honest day’s work, you eat a bologna sandwich. And you do it with pride.
THE SANDWICH: Bologna. Cheese. Some kind of dressing. What do you want, a road map? It’s a sandwich you can make in under a minute, with two and a half kids clamoring at your feet as the yellow school bus pulls up to the curb. Some people get all fancy and cut off the crusts, but if any sandwich resists all attempts to glamorize it, it’s the bumoney-and-cheese. It’s more than just comfort food; it’s food, period.
THE INGREDIENTS: Two slices of white bread, one slice of cheddar (my one gesture towards gourmanity; it’s probably more apt to use the chemical abnormality known as ‘American’ cheese, but I think of that as being more of a building material than a food, as we will explore in later entries), and, depending on how hungry you are, three to five slices of bologna. (Replacing the bologna with mortadella or the like is a sure sign that one is approaching this sandwich with entirely the wrong spirit.) No toasting, no baking, no prep. I layer the cheese at an angle to the bread for aesthetic reasons, but this is just frippery on my part. Most times, this sandwich would call for mayonnaise, but I opted instead for Woeber’s Sandwich Pal, a venerable spread not unlike McDonald’s ‘secret sauce’. It’s a tad more flavorful without being pretentious, and come on: Sandwich Pal. It just wants to be friends.
THE TASTE TEST: Okay, well, here’s where we have to turn off the faucet to all the grandiose talk of patriotism and Aristotelian ideals. It’s just a fucking baloney sandwich, folks, it’s not going to win any James Beard awards. I’m sure it would seem like manna if you’ve just returned from the Bataan Death March, but otherwise, this is functionality with a capital funk. Even if you use quality ingredients, it reduces lunch to an extremely utilitarian exercise. It tastes…practical. There’s a reason that nobody has ever founded a successful fast food restaurant franchise based on the bologna sandwich. Its charms lie in its simplicity, its serviceability, and its ease of use, but ask around and see when was the last time one of your friends craved one.