I was near a small sandwich stand in an open-air market. It was like many you could see almost anywhere in the world.
A radio was playing a vaguely familiar tune.
Soft drink cans and cigarette packs lined the windows inside the stand where a lady was stuffing soft buns with meats.
There was a paper napkin dispenser advertising “Coca-Cola”.
The sandwich stand happened to be in Florence, Italy.
In my hack Italian I said, “Buon giorno Signora. Due Lamprodette, per favore”.
“We Italians are absolutely crazy about these sandwiches”, my new friend Iano explained.
“It is made from the stomach of the cow”.
Iano had lived in the United States for a number of years before returning to his native land. He had eaten classic New York pastrami sandwiches, barbeque’d Carolina pork, good old All-American cheeseburgers but this cow’s belly on a bun he asked me to join him in consuming is his all-time favorite sandwich. I have to admit, I liked it very much.
That might come as a surprise to one of my former baby sitters. I received an e-mail recently from a girl who used to watch me when I was 5 years old and she was merely 12. She wrote me of a night way back then when she fixed me a “dinner” of Hot Dogs. I howled in protest! She said I refused on the grounds that a sandwich was not a proper dinner. I even “ate standing up unwilling to sit at the table” she went on. My father came home later and consoled the poor girl and even said that I “was unreasonable sometimes about food … and its presentation”.
Hell, I was just warming up!
An Englishman who also held the title of “The Earl of Sandwich” reportedly invented sandwiches. Many people know this by now but if you don’t the knowledge is helpful. Apparently he was an avid card player and wanted a way of conveying the foods of 19th century England to his mouth without greasing up the cards he loved playing so much.
Grouse on Rye with Stilton and Onion, anyone?
My definition of sandwiches has blossomed just as it has around the world. The central rule seems to be portability with a sub-clause calling for bread of some kind. Tacos seem legit in this braver new world! Good Lord, if ‘wraps’ are considered sandwiches the world of tacos must be admitted!
The thrifty, resourceful and non-squeamish good people of Mexico make carnitas tacos that are an equivalent of the Italian’s love of lamprodetta. Carnitas means, ‘little meats’. It foxily doesn’t not confine itself to the usual center cuts but can employ a whole host of parts. The stomach, feet, shoulder, ears, ribs, tongue and rind are all legit. The pig parts are cooked in its their own lard for this. Time is crucial as the goal is to have the pig’s natural collagens expressed as it cooks, and softens these tougher cuts.?)That means an exquisite juiciness and tenderness as one can imagine. Tuck that into a corn tortilla and you have a Mexican sandwich worth it’s salt. And salt is necessary amidst the luxury of the meat and fat.
So is bitter. That is why you often see radishes offered.
So is acidity. That is why there are plates of pickled jalapeños and carrots in small bowls on the counter. And herbs are nice to have in the expanding range of flavors in your carnitas sandwich. In Mexico cilantro is prevalent. But you many not be in Mexico. You may not like cilantro. Try a tad of oregano or wild marjoram. Amazing with pork!
But let’s rejoin our friend Iano back in Italy a moment where I asked him this.
What would “The Earl of Sandwich” have thought of lamprodetta?
Iano looked far over the water as he finished the last bite of his lunch and said,
“He might have loved them.
After all…he was a gambling man
and it is … a gutsy sandwich”.
I’m Norman Van Aken and that’s my Word on Food ©.
© 2014 Norman Van Aken. Photo credit to Penny De Los Santos. (From 'My Key West Kitchen'/Kyle Books). Like this? Check out WLRN.ORG where many more of my shows are posted and listen Live on Saturday Mornings around 8:30 a.m. at 91.3 or 91.5 FM.