“The sandwich was named after John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich, an eighteenth-century English aristocrat. It is said that he ordered his valet to bring him meat tucked between two pieces of bread, and others began to order ‘the same as Sandwich’… Lord Sandwich was fond of this form of food because it allowed him to continue playing cards without using a fork…”
With time the Americans took the sandwich and acculturated it as the most common way of eating. The Americans love any food they can eat with just one hand. Hot dogs and hamburgers, heroes, hoagies, submarines, and sandwiches made of almost anything. They add to the meat, or fish, cheese, lettuce, onion, and tomato, optional mayo, salt and pepper, and the dreadful ketchup. Voila, all the food groups in one meal that may be eaten with one hand, without any preconceptions of the environment. It’s low cost and practical. Ethnic variations invaded the sandwich culture. The Middle Eastern pita bread, with its pocket, accepts almost any type of food. The Mexican burritos, chalupas, and enchiladas are fodder for any lunch, even dinner. The pizza slice, rolled up, may be eaten with one hand.
To sit a citizen at the table with food that needs fork and knife is, for some, maybe the majority, painful. The fork, in the right hand, brings the food to the mouth, while the left hand, without any use after briefly cutting the fare, falls down to the lap. If some piece was not completely cut the fork is then painfully used, like a blunt knife.
In 1986, after six years in the US, I took the family back to visit Portugal. We toured the places that tourists normally did. As a guide to my children, Angela and Ricardo, I brought them to the places that were probably already fuzzy in their memories. The vistas, the sounds, the smells of the city of their upbringing were my old experiences too but, I didn’t realize then, became their new experiences.
I took them for lunch to a well-known place, the Suíça Coffee Shop, in Rossio, a center square of the town, flooded with tourists siting in the café terrace, enjoying the sun and the city bustle. One of my favorite dishes there had always been a small flat steak, drowned in a creamy sauce, with an optional fried egg on top, served in a plate with French fries and a roll on the side.
The waiter brought the steaming dishes. I smiled at the family, foretasting the grub. I picked up the fork and knife and ordered on: “Enjoy”.
We all started cutting and munching the steak, and the French fries bathed in the delicious creamy sauce. Through the corner of my eye I watched everybody’s enjoyment, except for my son Ricardo. He took his knife, opened the bread roll, soaked it on the sauce, forked the stake and tucked it in between the two pieces of bread; secured the sandwich with the right hand and began to savor it, while dropping his left hand on his lap.
I realized then that my son Ricardo was already an acculturated American, a citizen of the sandwich country.
Henrique Gomes (OLLI Member & OLLI Writer’s Group Coordinator)