A Lengthy Reboot

By Richard Hsu
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A sandwich is the ultimate food designed for convenience. It doesn’t need any cooking or heating (unless you grill it). It doesn’t need any skill or tool to make. You can eat it on-the-go. There are many recipes, and it tastes great.

A typical sandwich has two slices of bread and something between.

The top slice of bread (or bun)

The top slice of bread (or bun) of a sandwich is its public face. It gives the eater the first impression of what the sandwich is. The shape of the bread, grilled or not, crust or not3, brown or white, flat, or curved...

Even when you have a side view of the sandwich with all layers, you still tend to judge it from the top slice.

Sometimes, they decorate it with something to tell it apart. A piece of tin foil, or pieces of coriander, or sesame (I hate it), or a short toothpick with a coloured plastic wrapping.

The special thing in the middle

The thing in the middle gives the sandwich its name (Ham, Turkey, Beyond Meat, Vegetable4). It's what we are eating the sandwich for. It's the biggest deal.

The middle something is also where all the creativity and variety exists.

At Subways, you get white or brown bread, two choices, but for the middle, there are so many choices it boggles the mind. If you aren't a seasoned Subways eater, you might as well go with the Sub Of The Day to spare yourself from the stare of the Subway guy and the next customer breathing down the back of your neck (pre-pandemic).

The middle something is also critical for vegetarians1. When Beyond Meat was introduced, I thought it was for meat-eaters, as a way to occasionally or gradually eat vegetarian. Then I talked to my vegetarian colleague about it, and I learnt something interesting.

Plant-based meat substitutes like Beyond Meat are a good thing for her family, giving them something to eat at burger restaurants in Montreal or when they are travelling to the US (you get tired of cheese pizza and fries). Even at home, she is now able to make meals with a recipe for meats. That is the beauty of a drop-in substitute like Beyond Meat in contrast to things like soya chunks that isn't a like-for-like substitute.

So we covered proteins in a sandwich. If we are eating the sandwich for lunch or dinner, it will also include some vegetable and tomato2, and other things like mushrooms, cheese, and condiments.

The bottom slice of bread (or bun)

The bottom is typically made of the same ingredient as the top slice but it is not the same. It is shaped for holding up the entire thing and tends to be flat on both sides. Besides bearing the full weight of the sandwich, and being the least visible, it is also the least appreciated. Sounds familiar?!

It might not be the one that the sandwich is judged on or the one that the sandwich is desired for but without the bottom, there is no sandwich.

It is also the one that gets the ugly (but very important) thumbs of the eater instead of the tender grips of the slender and more coveted index and ring fingers.

So what are you?

Just like a sandwich, in a family, siblings think of themselves as different parts of a sandwich. At work, in a team, some will get more attention than others, but everyone is required to make the teamwork, even the bottom slice.

Unlike the sandwich, in life, we get to switch roles: we may start as the lowly bottom slice, carrying all the weight and soaking up all the grease, and itself being sandwiched between the special middle and the cold plate. With time, effort, and luck, we can become the top slice or even the special middle.

Or does it matter at all? Whether you are an important part of the sandwich or not, ultimately your job is to get eaten. Would you rather be the eater instead?

  1. Vegans are a subset of vegetarians. 

  2. Tomato is a fruit that gets used as a vegetable 

  3. I prefer bread without crusts but it is wasteful, and because I have to model good habits for my kids, I pretend otherwise. In the New Market (Kolkata), there is a street vendor that makes tasty crustless sandwiches filled with sliced potato, tomato, and Amul cheese. 

  4. I ate a lot of vegetable sandwiches on the street near Lalbazar (Kolkata). The filling was mainly spicy potato and it was grilled in a folding iron plate with a mould that gave the sandwich a nice triangle shape