Tom Doorley: Sangers
Sandwiches were very functional in my youth; from the banana ones that went brown, slimy and rather pungent in your school bag to the ham ones, with the crusts trimmed off, that were served as part of ‘afternoon tea’ in fading hotels. The toasted sandwich was impossibly glamorous, of course, and I only encountered when I was elevated to the status of university student.
I lived through an era when Dualit toasters were not trendy and could be bought only from vendors of catering equipment. I remember when toasted sandwiches contained either plastic cheese, plastic ham, or both. They were placed in cellophane bags, as if to underline their very remote connection with actual food, and placed under the grill.
Meanwhile, your pint was settling.
There was nothing wrong with the Lincoln Inn when I was at Trinity. It did a fine pint, it was a kind of extension of the junior common room in Regent House and its maitre d' (who went on to own the Blue Light in Barnacullia) was a fine host. But it was not noted for its food.
The soup was reminiscent of school (and I wonder if that phrase has ever been used in a good way) while the toasted sandwiches were constructed and cooked, if that's the word, on the lines which I have outlined above.
More elaborate establishments attempted to raise the bar for the toasted sandwich in the cellophane bag. The collective genius of Irish publicans came up with the ‘toasted special’ - and here I would urge younger readers, if there are any, to bear in mind that the word ‘special’ had a much broader meaning when I was, allegedly, undergoing third level education.
The toasted special involved, if you like, the baseline ingredients of plastic cheese (we are talking the essence of Easi-Single here) and the kind of ham that is so shiny you could use a slice as a shaving mirror. To this were added slices of onion; white onion of course, there was no such thing as red onion in those days. Red onion? I ask you! What will they make up next?
The onions would, of course, be matured so as to extract the maximums sulphurous fumes. In some establishments this would take place on a chopping board somewhere towards the back of the premises; in more thorough places, maturation was concluded within the actual sandwich itself, a process which imparted a distinctive tang to the finished product. A tang that could, in certain circumstances, bring a tear to the eye - rather like pulling your own nasal hair very hard.
The final ingredient, the coup de grace (or cup of grease) was the addition of sliced, carefully unripened tomatoes which, once again, had been given time to relax.
Such sangers had a function. Their function was largely the buffering of pints and they did the trick up to a point. But they did not evoke a love of toasted sandwiches, even in a nostalgic way (although I have to say that Morrissey's of Abbeyleix produce a ‘toasted special’ that is, relatively speaking, of Michelin quality. And I don't mean rubbery).
I looked askance at the toasted sandwich until I was introduced to a remarkable version by a TCD contemporary which involved garlic, salami, cheddar cheese and a great deal of Heinz tomato ketchup.
I think we can be sure that a sandwich made of white sliced pan, generously anointed with soft butter, with cheese and onion crisps, was not invented by a nutritionist. Nor would it find a place amongst those dishes recommended by the late Dr Atkins. But there's no doubt about it. It's a terrific combination and no matter how long it is since you have had one, I bet you want one now.
WEBSITE OF THE WEEK:
Lord Sandwich is still making them...