Friday, August 12, 2011

The philosophy of sandwiches

It’s a beautiful August day here in the Czech Republic, cool and glowing with light. Walking home from a meeting, my mind is full of those easy going late summer projects that make life feel as if it will always be so – my latest hunt for jeans that fit James‘ long legs, deadlines for a project launching soon, a new book to read. I stop at our local deli to pick up a few chlebíčky for lunch and think just how right they are for a wonderfully normal day in Prague.

Chlebíčky, in case you haven’t met, are open faced sandwiches made from slices of bread spread with a sauce topped with ham, roastbeef, smoked salmon...imagine your favorite deli food and you’ll find it on a chlebíčka of some sort. I’ve never met one that isn’t then garnished with a slice of tomato, egg, pickle, or (my favorite) a thin slice of lemon. Almost any Czech lahůdky, or deli, offer at least ham and roastbeef. They’re perfect for a quick lunch, for party food or an afternoon snack with the children, and despite their toppings, wrap up well to carry home.

Our neighborhood has several delis that sell chlebíčky but if I’m really hankering for something different, I head to Prima Chlebicek, over on Londynska. Check out their site for its range of sandwiches, and you’ll see that they don’t suffer a lack of selection. The choice is so rich it’s most fun to go when you’ve got several people to buy for so you can try out more than a few.

For a sandwich with a side of history, you can’t go wrong with a visit to Jan Paukert Lahůdkářství, or Jan Paukert’s Deli. One hundred years or so ago Mr. Paukert not only opened the first deli in Prague, but he also invented chlebíčky. Apparently a Czech artist asked for a meal he could easily carry and eat with one hand. Mr. Paukert assembled a small slice of bread spread with mayo, some salami and swiss cheese, and presto, chlebíčky were born. The little sandwiches became the rage at parties, delis opened up all around town, and both the sandwiches and the eateries have been around ever since.

Will asked me once why I liked chlebíčky so much. Besides the obvious tastiness of anything meant for party food, I like sandwiches that focus more on toppings than bread. And I love that something so Czech has not only survived but thrived despite more modern fast food, staying wonderfully normal, perfect for lunch on a late summer’s day.