We all know them, those oddly uniformly looking triangular pieces of bread with some indistinguishable filling and – if you’re lucky – a few green bits (1 of your 5 a day!). Every shop has them, ranging from the humble cheese and pickle to the more flamboyant chèvre, pear and walnut or the feistier ones with names reminiscent of 80s’ cowboy films. The quality varies hugely, but those that are mass-produced tend to be a dreary affair.
Thick slices of flavourless, sweaty cheese accompanied by pickles that manage to be both too sweet and too acidic has its, erm, charm – and so do the stringy, mayonnaise-laden chewy bits presented as chicken. The pre-packed bacon buttie is another chapter, yet the allure of bacon doesn’t seem to be hindered by the reality of what this process does to it. When cooked fresh, bacon is savoury, meaty and flowing with delicious juices. The bacon in a pre packed sandwich is limp, flavourless and reminiscent mostly of cardboard in texture. However appealing by name and description, our beloved lunch-time sandwiches are rarely something to write home about. Yet the chains selling them make millions.
Many people buy these sandwiches every day, despite the continuous ranting about the boring al-desko culture. Al-desko is commonly defined as ‘lunch eaten at your desk, often whilst still working, paying minimal attention to the contents of the triangular box next to you’.
’We want more options!’, they rage. “We want proper food”, they insist. “Sandwiches are ruining our health!”, some say. The voices behind these despairing outbursts are many and varied. Swanky suit-clad men, swanky suit-clad women in 6-inch heels, hip-as-they-come entrepreneurs, laid-back YoPros*, stingy students and high flying execs with pockets deep as the sea.
Their common ground is their choice of lunch spot. They all scurry through the first accessible fridge in their trusted chain supermarket. They want food they know, which is easily accessible and doesn’t break the bank. Many rely solely on said fridge counter to supply them with adequate alternatives, yet they grunt and complain of quality and choice. What they don’t do, is explore their options.
What they don’t seem to realise, is this. Around the corner, off the main road, or perhaps in the opposite direction to where they normally go, is a little local deli shop. In this deli shop they have a fresh food counter bursting with sandwiches, all made fresh daily. You might struggle to find your usual limp and pale triangle – instead there are breads with crusts and flavour.
Rather than merely functioning as a vessel for the filling, they have taste and texture. And the fillings are fresh too – there is no questioning that the piece of meat is indeed from an animal, or that the red bit in there is a slice of tomato. The mayo is nicely spread out – not just in a blob – and the cheese is deliciously flavourful. The ham is cooked to perfection, set off nicely with a smear of mustard, perhaps layered with some nice, plump vegetables.
The British breads and sandwiches have a less than desirable reputation for a reason. The big companies mass produce limp food-like items, put them in bright cardboard boxes, price them accordingly and shove them in consumers’ faces. And it works – consumers here love it. Elsewhere they are puzzled at what the British call lunch.
If you are tired of ‘bread’, filled with mayo, plastic cheese and limp lettuce, we urge you to explore. It needn’t take much – a stroll around the block should do, as these small independents are popping up everywhere.
Swap your airy triangle for something more substantial and vastly more flavourful, and you’ll be doing that shop a massive favour. And yourself, too, in the form of a delicious lunch. Yes, it might be the opposite direction to where all your colleagues go, but the queue is shorter, the staff are friendlier, and the quality of the produce probably infinitely better. And you can still eat it Al-desko.
*A YoPro is the shortened form of Young Professional – Loosely defined as a recent graduate who is finally earning money and burning most of it on booze and entertaining.