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.


marja-leena said...

Welcome back, Julia! I usually think of open-faced sandwiches (not really sandwiched are they?) as particularly Nordic though perhaps fairly common in other European countries, so this is fascinating information... and mouth-watering.

Julia said...

Good to hear from you too ML! I'm heading to Copenhagen in September so I'll definitely do a comparison when I'm there :-).

lizardek said...

Yum! Sound a lot like Danish Smorrebrod. Glad to see you blogging again! You've been missed! And figures you'll be in Copenhagen in September: I'll be in Boston! Rats!

Lucy said...

Welcome back!

Funny that they aren't called Paukerts really, or named for the artist who requested one. Reminds me of the Regency Blackadder where he says something along the lines of
'I'm a bit peckish, I fancy two slices of bread with a bit of meat in the middle', to which Baldrick replies
'Like the Earl of Sandwich had the other night you mean...'

Roderick Robinson said...

For a long time British sandwiches tested the faith of Americans who imagined themselves to be Anglophile. Two slices of Mother's Pride with a 1.5 mm slice of something darker though not necessarily a contrast in taste. You use the word philosophy and surely the American sandwich characterised the whole nation. Viewed from the side the aim became clear: that the depth of the contents should exceed the combined depth of the bready bits. This philosophy was celebrated by Dagwood in the Blondie strip; although exaggerated Dagwood's sandwiches touched on the same problem created by real sandwiches out there in the retail world: how on earth did you get your mouth round them? I always felt that holding these structures together with toothpicks so that tamer individuals could dismantle before eating missed the point; was almost un-American. American sandwiches, undismantled, were a challenge to American can-do society.

Julia said...

Liz, they are a bit like Smorrebrod, except they usually start with a soft baguette bottom. I know you'll have a fabulous time in Boston, but I'm sorry to miss you too!

Lucy, chlebicek means itty bitty bread in Czech. The originals were meant to be eaten in one bite. These days it takes two or three!

BB, the only American sandwich I really love is a BLT. Anything bigger and I (sheepishly) take it apart to eat in portions.

deedee said...

We just got back from Italy and I really like the version of sandwiches we found there. Your chlebicky sure sounds good!