One Sandwich To Rule Them All -The Toast

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mmmmm "chicken"Originally read at the 3-Minute Sandwich Stories event hosted by Vol. 1 Brooklyn. If you read it aloud it will take you exactly 3 minutes. I timed it.

Growing up in New York City, there was no dearth of good sandwiches. I was 10 blocks from Katz’s, 5 from David’s bagels before they moved further uptown, and a block from an Italian goods store that’d make you any hero you wanted if you asked nicely. Any of these sandwiches could have been the sandwich, my sandwich. But they weren’t. Instead, it was Subway’s Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki.

The first time I tried the Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki was at the Subway up on Houston Street. I’m not sure when it was, or why, though I vaguely remember some friend suggesting that I’d like it, like that friend who eggs you on the first time you smoke pot and is telling you if you just hold the smoke in a little longer it’ll start working. They were right, the sandwich worked. The sweet onion teriyaki sauce was the first time I understood the transformative power of food. It was like that scene in Ratatouille where he puts two flavors together and fireworks happen. Had I ever enjoyed red onions before? Had I ever craved lettuce? And of course I was powerless to the Subway bread smell, and remain a little angry that all other breads don’t smell that way. I usually ordered it on the asiago bread, because I’m a monster.

Let’s remember that I was still a child and not immune to fast food. I always thought the best part about visiting my grandparents in Jersey wasn’t my grandmother’s Indian food, but the treat of going to Pizza Hut, and once in high school I left a friend’s birthday party at a vegan restaurant to get fries at McDonald’s. However, I was also of the age where I was starting to understand being a “New Yorker” as not just an adjective, but a weighted concept. New Yorkers did things certain ways. They had opinions about food and transportation and real estate. A place like Subway, from Connecticut no less, would never stand up next to even the crappiest deli. At least they would put more than a slice and a half of cheese on your hero. Anyway, if I wanted to be a real New Yorker, which, seeing as I was a native New Yorker I certainly thought I should be, I knew my secret love had to stay a secret.

It was easy to swing in the other direction and loudly judge anyone who’d listen for expressing even the slightest sympathy toward Subway. It was trash food and had no place in a city with such exacting standards, I’d say. If you ate there you were the type of person who wants Manhattan to be like more like your hometown, because invariably you were not from here, and I had no time for you. I was that New Yorker. But there I was, sneaking Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyakis on my lunch breaks, convincing myself it was only because it was nextdoor to where I was waitressing, and I was sick of the staff meals.

I like to think I am no longer that New Yorker, though on many days I am. I still think you can get a better sandwich at any deli, and it still breaks my heart when a Subway, or a Starbucks, or a Trader Joe’s, or a Chipotle shows up and makes the city look a little more like everywhere else. I have not had a Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki in a few years, and a subway ad I saw in Paris that pointed out their grilled chicken strips were only “mostly” chicken makes me think I won’t be eating one anytime soon. But for a while it was my favorite, and it reminded me that everywhere else isn’t so bad.

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