Here’s a secret: I love to Google unprepossessing foods. I do it frequently enough that it counts as a bona fide hobby. Recent search box stars include Celery, Grits, Cauliflower, and Beans on Toast; you would be correct to speculate that I find this hobby most engaging right before mealtimes.
There is a dark side to my little obsession. Such relentless pursuit of knowledge comes at a price. For example: today I learned there is such a thing as a Crisp Sandwich. This is not a sandwich on crisp bread, or even a sandwich with a crispy fried filling; this is a British affair, which follows the linguistic algebra of “crisp = chip.” That’s right, comrades. This is a Chip Sandwich we’re talking about. Some bright spark decided to put potato chips between two slices of bread and call it delicious. I’m still trying to decide if “bright spark” means “person with a brilliant response to desperate times” or “person with a disastrous disregard for taste, self respect, and the health of nations.”
This new intelligence does not exactly upend the traditional reputation of the sceptered isle’s food. British Cuisine is widely held to be an oxymoron. However, I am not unfair. Rather than unthinkingly accept the consensus of the international community and the evidence of my own eyes1, let us consider a staunch voice for the Opposition in the form of George Orwell’s 1945 essay, “In Defence of British Cooking.”
Mr. Orwell begins by noting:
“…there is a whole host of delicacies which it is quite impossible to obtain outside the English-speaking countries.”
Perhaps with good reason? But the arguments are convincing enough: he name-checks kippers and Yorkshire pudding before going on to mention “Christmas pudding, treacle tart and apple dumplings.” The next two paragraphs concern themselves with the joys of the English way with potatoes and sauces, respectively. I feel a twinge of regret; I have been hasty in my bias. I shall concede Britain its Crisp Sandwiches, an anomaly in the midst of this generous still life of puddings, potatoes and cranberry sauce2.
Ah, the eighth paragraph, Lucky Number Eight. Orwell continues:
“Outside these islands I have never seen a haggis, except one that came out of a tin…”
My dear sir, the beautiful thing about haggis in a tin3 is that it needs never to emerge from that tin. Please put it back immediately. Cover it with a kilt in a show of decency, and step away as if in mourning for good taste. Furthermore – aren’t haggises (haggi?) Scottish?
Clearly, by 1945 Mr. Orwell was losing both his sense of taste and his observational prowess. Or perhaps this essay was an intentional illustration of the seductive power of doublethink.
Bereft of Orwell’s guidance, old habits return. I open Wikipedia and search for British Cuisine. The article contains a list, by date of introduction to Britain, of various non-native foods which have nonetheless played a role in the island’s quintessential foodstuffs. The list begins with “bread 4 .” Presumably, since crisps had yet to be introduced, this was used for early Bread Sandwiches consisting of bread between … wait for it… more bread. The last item on the list? Sliced bread. At this point, British cuisine comes full circle, bread to bread and dust to dust. You see, sliced bread is the foundation of what I now can vouch is the most memorable of British culinary contributions: the Crisp Sandwich.
1 With no censoring whatsoever, the Guardian article in question actually contains a full-color picture of a Crisp Sandwich. I can’t tell if these pains in my chest are from shock at such shamelessly graphic food obscenity, or the meta-caloric load of looking at a sandwich made of potato chips.
2 Pronounced in the manner of John Lennon at the end of Strawberry Fields Forever: “Croooown – berrrrrryyyyyyyy – sowwwce.”
3 But really – in a tin?! Where was he visiting “outside of these islands,” Hell?!?
4 The same list also includes “dog”. Just saying.