What's the biggest food challenge a sandwich fan can take on? Two years ago, Chicago-based systems engineer Jim Behymer and his group of sandwich-loving friends on Twitter were ruing the very idea when Behymer shot out a random suggestion on the social networking site: Let’s pig out on all the sandwiches mentioned on the Wikipedia list.
The idea met immediate approval from his Twitter companions Josh Augustine and Thom Robinson — both self-proclaimed foodies. Just that, they had over 185 sandwiches to dig into. “And we were just three,” he says. The trio decided to take it really slow, making it their “five-year mission” to cover everything on the list. That’s how the Sandwich Tribunal — a blog dedicated to world sandwiches — was born. “We are currently in the 22nd month of working the list, and at three sandwiches a month, we have covered 66 sandwiches till date,” says Behymer, in an email interview. With five more writers joining this sandwich-eating trio’s exercise in gluttony, this mission couldn’t have been more fun, he adds.
Jim Behymer eating a Barros Luco
From the hamburger variants, and the Middle-Eastern Falafel, to Choripan of South America, the Chilean Barros Jarpa and the cucumber sandwiches made famous by the Brits — everything gets a mention on Sandwich Tribunal after it is tried, tested and reviewed by the bloggers.
Behymer's take on Bombay Sandwich
Most of the sandwiches, says Behymer, are made by the team members after skimming through recipes available on the Internet; the rest are procured from eateries in their neighbourhood. “A formula for judging sandwiches is consistency,” explains Behymer. “To me, a good sandwich is all about balance. So, if you have a lot of fat, you need to add something pungent, and if you have a softer and melty inside, you need crisper bread.”
His fellow writer, Drew Necci (40) from Virginia, US, likes her sandwiches to be “messy”. “Messy is good, but if you can’t pick it up without it disintegrating, you’ve overdone it. A perfect sandwich is one that is not too bready or bland. I like lots of ingredients in mine, though two or three ingredients in right proportions can be beautiful too,” says Necci, a freelance writer.
Not all sandwiches usually win admiration from the writers. Only recently Behymer had not-so-very good things to say about the Chip Butty, a British staple, on his blog. The Chip Butty is made with buttered bread roll and fried potatoes, and layered with tomato or brown sauce. “It’s a carb-on-carb monstrosity,” he tells us. “I’m not sure why fries in a sandwich needs to be a thing at all — it seems more like a stunt than a good sandwich filling,” Beyhmer further wrote on his blog. The British cucumber sandwiches wouldn’t have won a fan-following on the Tribunal either, had it not been for its Indian variant — the Bombay sandwich.
Currently, the Wikipedia list only mentions one Indian sandwich, the ‘vada pav’ — described as a potato fritter coated in chickpea flour in a bun — on its roll. “We are going alphabetically so we haven’t reached there yet,” says Behymer. But, nothing is stopping him from munching on Indian sandwiches, including the calorie-laden samosa pav. In fact, the ‘Bombay (cucumber) sandwich’ that Behymer prepared at home after exchanging notes with an Indian friend and restaurant, surprised him because of its simplicity. Beyhmer even shared a video of him putting together the sandwich, on his site. For the recipe, he used “buttered bread, green chutney, sliced boiled potato, tomato, onion, salted cucumber slices, salt and a sprinkle of chaat masala”. “After two bites of this sandwich, I pronounced it amazing...another triumphant vegetarian sandwich for the Tribunal,” he writes.
Behymer’s all-time favourite, however, is the slightly-modified Italian sub, made at Chicago-based eatery, J P Graziano. “I have them add prosciutto, a spicy condiment called giardiniera and a stronger-tasting cheese than normal,” he says.
What started out as a “social media stunt” has now become a full-blown obsession with everything sliced between bread rolls, says fellow Tribunal member Augustine. “It is the sort of food where different flavours come together in a single bite, and a person can enjoy each of those (flavours) at their own leisure.”
Necci gives sandwiches a more fitting tribute. “It’s pretty much the best compact, portable, edible food delivery system we’ve created as a culture.”