SINGAPORE, SINGAPORE – The first sandwiches (not yet known as such) were probably made by Hillel the elder in Neolithic times. Some lamb between a few pieces of matzo. Jews still enjoy the "Hillel sandwich" each year at Passover. The more well-known origin of our "lunch on the run" standard comes from John Montegu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich. Montegu asked for some meat to be placed between two pieces of bread so he could eat and play cribbage without getting the cards all greasy. It caught on and folks started asking for "the same as Sandwich" and ultimately just "sandwich."
Fast forward to 2011 and the sandwich is omnipresent. From the England to the U.S. to Asia, everyone eats them at some point, some more than others. In tiny Singapore the Subway chain (bad example of globalization) has more than 80 outlets. We also now have Quiznos as well, with its own unique sandwich the"Roti John" (roti being the Indian word for bread, double roti is the name given to the sandwich there during colonial times).
For me there is nothing like a corn beef on rye at Benjie's or Jakes. Nice fresh rye and a huge pile of fresh, hot corned beef. Or maybe a really nice big sandwich from Glorioso's loaded with Italian meats and peppers.
As much as I love the local food in Asia, on occasion I want something between two slices of bread. The first time I ordered a sandwich in Singapore was soon after I arrived in 2006. I almost broke out laughing when my ham and cheese came with one thin slice of ham and one slice of American cheese. I wrote it off to being in the wrong place for a real sandwich.
As time went on I realized that this "slimwich" IS what people allow to be called a sandwich here. From high-end places like Cedele to my favorite coffee shop Toast Box, the sandwiches are all appallingly tiny. Cedele makes a chicken, avocado and brie sandwich where, I swear, one avocado can last them the entire week and there is less brie on it than a mouse would get excited about. The Toast Box sandwich does literally come with one slice of ham and one (and I'm being generous here) slice of cheese.
The funny thing is, as much as I dream of that high stacked corned beef, Italian cold cuts or cheese steak, I have learned to like the skinny little local things too. Help me, I have been away too long!