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Food Porn

I've always taken the simple sandwich for granted. Even those gourmet sandwiches, the ones with inspired names and ingredients recognizable only to gastronomes, have always had a 'been there, done that' appeal. To me, the sandwich has always been a 'last resort' meal, when I was too broke or rushed to order anything more exciting. But for some reason, as I've been traveling through India, the sandwich has become the star in my episodes of food porn.

And it's not just any sandwich. My cravings are firmly anchored on the submarine variety, a genre based on simple form and a straightforward plot of belt busting proportions. It's not one of those ordinary sandwiches, in which a few things are squashed together between two boring squares of bread. No, the submarine is a proud sandwich, big and bountiful, plump and full.

It's the image of shredded lettuce, dripping with oil and vinegar, that's been tormenting me lately. It's become one of the leading players in my fixation, despite the fact that, under normal conditions, I've never given lettuce a second thought. Lettuce is like the wallflower at a dance, eager but overlooked. In the credits of a movie, lettuce would be at the bottom of the list, with a generic name like 'sandwich topping #4'. Not anymore . Its crisp texture and fresh, moisture rich slivers send shivers down my spine. Shredded lettuce is like happy, wet confetti, bursting from the seams and folds of my toasted, crispy bread. There's always a bit left over at the end, too. Ragged scraps ensnared in drippings of rich, creamy mayonnaise. Some might call them 'sloppy seconds', but I like to think of them as 'round two'.

But there's much more to a well-endowed sub than the lettuce. I haven't forgotten the fragrant allure of thinly sliced onions and the soft, delicate flesh of tomatoes... and the condiments, oh yes! Mayonnaise, mustard, and vinaigrette, all working together like a well chosen cast of extras who do their job well for the sheer love of the work, rather than pursuit of the spotlight or public acclaim. Condiments are the unsung heroes of the sandwich. They put the 'OOH' in ooze and the 'AAH' in 'I'll have more'.

Let's not forget about the cheese, as those of us who count calories often shamefully do... I like cheese of all colors - orange, yellow, or white. I don't discriminate; as long as my cheese is firm and has a bite... sharp, tangy, or tart... it matters not. I'm talking about the real deal; the kind of cheese created with milk squeezed from a teat, the kind with 'chemistry'... not the processed, counterfeit cheese found in tin cans all over India. That stuff will clog you up, and there's no worse crime than 'faking it' where cheese is concerned.

I've saved the best for last, of course, and that's the meat: succulent, tender morsels of animal flesh that beckon to the carnivore within me.   There, I've said it: animal flesh, and I'll make no apologies to the vegetarians out there for having uttered those two, magnificent words. In the fevered trappings of fantasies, the meat on my submarine sandwich has taken on a rather primitive appeal. Like a naughty girl sent off to a nunnery, I have become a prisoner in the pro vegetable country of India; I have been deprived.

Sure, it's possible to find chicken in a lot of places, but chicken is boring, even at home where I only have it every now and then. It's just easier and safer to be an herbivore in India, which only fuels my desires for meat all the more. I'm talking about big, bold flavored meat with brawny, hard-to-pronounce Italian names. I'd spell them out here if only I could say them in the first place. Benjamin, my boyfriend, says I sometimes call them out at night in fitful sleep. But he claims that he can't remember what they are. I think he's just jealous... and a little tired of waking up each morning with bite marks on his shoulder.

So it was to my great joy, today, to discover a Subway sandwich shop in Delhi. Of all places in the world to find a good, meat-laden sandwich, I thought Delhi, in name alone, should be it. Not that a Subway sandwich could measure up to my submarine fantasy. Subway, in fact, gets a 'G' rating in comparison to the sandwich of my submarine dreams.

But it was better than nothing.

I clapped my hands when I looked at the menu board. I was hoping for a 'BMT' and there it was, in all its three-lettered-glory. Those of you who know Subway know of the 'BMT', all but the vegetarians I should say... and they probably stopped reading after all that talk of animal flesh. The 'BMT' is a sandwich based on the sound principle that all sandwiches should have no less than three types of meat. If you ask me, this is the sort of rule that should have been carved onto one of those tablets Moses carried down from Mt Sinai. It would come after the commandment that says, 'Thou shall not covet thy neighbor's wife (unless she's holding a submarine sandwich)'. I've never known what 'BMT' actually stands for. But true meaning aside, to me the 'BMT' means 'By-God, Meat's The-way-to-go'.

Gazing at the sandwich fillings, protected like priceless pieces of jewelry behind a wall of glass (in this case, a Plexiglas sneeze-guard), I was dismayed to see that the lettuce was not shredded. It was halfheartedly torn into bite-sized pieces instead. I suppose the addition of salads to Subway's bill of fare has done away with the shredded lettuce I'd been dreaming about for so long. I was disappointed, to be sure, but it was soon forgotten as I laid my eyes on all of the other items to be stuffed into the embrace of my warm sourdough buns: the meat (3 kinds!), cheese, green peppers, jalapenos, olives, onions, tomatoes... And of course, the swingin' condiment family was there at the end of the line, eagerly waiting its turn to join in the fun.

My intention was to go easy on myself and get the 6-inch sub... As Indian food has become tiring after 2 months and the Western-style fare is mediocre at best, my appetite has almost disappeared... But as soon as I heard Benjamin say, "Gimme all twelve inches," my decision was made. "I shall get the 12-incher, too!" I cried out in euphoric greed. My eyes said, "No," but my lips said, "Yes, Yes, Yes!"

Our moment of love was nothing but a sham. That is to say, the sandwich was a big disappointment. There were no 'oohs' and 'aahs' about it. I finished the first 6 inches, but that was because I was dedicated to my cause and well, yes... a little hungry. But I couldn't face the full brunt of the second half, despite the fact that when I ordered it, I was determined to stuff myself full until I couldn't walk. The sub just wasn't good enough to warrant the requisite unbuttoning of the pants that would result had I stayed true to my mission of gluttony. My expectations were rather low to begin with, especially on sight of the torn lettuce. And even as depraved as I was at the onset of the whole adventure, the sub just didn't 'do it' for me.

For one thing, the mayo was too sweet. Forgetting its role as an 'extra', the mayo was all I could taste; it stole the show from the leading star, which was, of course, the meat (3 kinds!). And the revelation that the ham was actually made of chicken and the salami was made of lamb was a big let down. The whole point of ham is to escape the doldrums of chicken in the first place. Ham comes from a hog; chicken is fowl. Where is the confusion in that? And as for the pepperoni, a sweet, innocent lamb just doesn't have the stamina to carry the weight of that spicy title. I say there should be a ban on 'Cham' and 'Lambami' in sandwiches all around the world, even in those pro vegetable countries. In fact, there should be a commandment, above all others, that states, 'Thou shall not claim one meat as another.'

And I thought the worst crime of all was 'faking it' with cheese.


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© 2005, Cheryn Flanagan