Nebraska's "Good" Sandwich
By Dennis Kornbluh
I received an email from the publisher of a website called good.is, a trendy eZine that has some great material (OK, I'm a little jealous). They are soliciting opinions about each state's "GOOD" sandwich, which they define as "not just...the most famous sandwich from your state---we're looking for the sandwiches with the most historical or cultural significance, ones that can be assembled from local ingredients, and ones that support local independent businesses".
My first thought was "What a silly question." One sandwich for a state this large and diverse? And historically significant to whom? I don't think Native Americans ate sandwiches, and neither did the pioneers, to my knowledge. Besides, the other states really have a leg up on Nebraska in the sandwich department. Who can compete with New Jersey's submarine sandwiches, Pennsylvania's Philly cheese steaks, or New York's pizza? [I eat my pizza folded in half, so that makes it a sandwich.] Massachusetts has grinders, the Southern states have their "po boys", and on and on.
Being Cornhuskers, shouldn't we have a corn sandwich of some kind? Perhaps the closest thing is a corndog, but it would be a stretch to call food on a stick a sandwich. So the question remains: What does Nebraska have in the way of a historically significant sandwich?
I thought of the Runza sandwich, which is certainly unique, and might be considered emblematic of Nebraska, given that their stores are scattered all across the state. But the focus of this exercise seems to be on small, independent businesses rather than chains, so that's out.
I'm a big fan of Maggie's "Avocado Melt", which is a wrap, and yes, that's also a sandwich, in my book (see definition below). It's made from fresh local ingredients (except the avocadoes, which are fresh, but not local, I presume), and they do support local independent businesses (the farms they buy from). But is it historically significant? I don't see how, but perhaps I can be enlightened.
Then I discovered something quite unexpected: there is evidence that the Reuben sandwich may have been invented in Omaha. There's a plausible alternate theory that it was invented in New York, but New Yorker's already lay claim to so many food inventions, I hope they'll humbly concede this sliver of culinary history to Nebraska.
But I'm not sure that historical significance alone settles the question. How local are the ingredients of a Reuben sandwich likely to be? We could make the necessary corned beef and pastrami here at home, given our many cattle ranches. We could also grow the cabbage to make sauerkraut. But do we make swiss cheese in Nebraska? We have Farmstead First, an artisan cheese maker in Raymond, but I think the odds are much better that swiss cheese would come from Wisconsin or elsewhere. Even so, for lack of a better candidate, let's call the Reuben a plausible choice for the GOOD Nebraska sandwich.
Definition of a Sandwich
The folks at good.is also want to know how we define a "sandwich", so I'll offer an opinion on that electrifying question, as well.
The way I see it, a sandwich must be "finger food", i.e. you must be able to eat it using nothing but your hands and without getting terribly messy. The sandwich probably became popular because of its convenience, especially for the working class, who prefer to avoid utensils while simultaenously eating, driving, and texting.
A sandwich is not a dessert, so an ice cream sandwich really isn't a sandwich, to my way of thinking.
Sandwiches are typically eaten for lunch, but there are breakfast sandwiches (e.g. egg and cheese on a roll), dinner sandwiches (e.g. cheeseburger), and midnight snack sandwiches (all varieties). I realize that this may be controversial, but I think pizza is a kind of sandwich. When you make a pizza, you just happen to be baking the bread along with the other ingredients. A sandwich does not require two slices of bread, or, in fact, any bread at all. You may use a tortilla, pita, pancake or other edible wrap. By this definition, a burrito is a sandwich, as is a spring roll, an egg roll, and a tostada. I would even call Korean Bulgogi (seasoned meat wrapped in lettuce) a sandwich.
I think that should settle the two important questions put to us by our friends at good.is. Feel free to chime in with your two cents.