The sandwich kingdom

Moving to Brussels, one of the first things you are introduced to is the … sandwich lunch. Everyone here has a sandwich for lunch. And there is enough choice to get you through the month with one different sandwich every day.

I am not talking about the triangle sandwiches, skinny and small, with one slice of cheese, one slice of ham, and maybe a sad salad leaf. No, I am talking about mini-caloric-bombs.In the area where I work in Brussels there are at least 5 different sandwich shops. Usually closed over the weekend, they are the main attraction during lunch time when everyone is there, debating and deciding what they’ll have today. There are different types of bread to chose from, different toppings, different extra toppings, hot or cold.

To give you a better idea, here is a short overview of what I consider a small sandwich shop. When I forget my home-cooked lunch, I tend to go there … and start the painful decision time.

Bread: I have a choice of white baguette, brown baguette, white ciabatta, nutty ciabatta, sandwich bread, pita bread or (lately) a Polar bread which I think wants to imitate the Danish rye bread.

This choice made, by adding 50cents more to each other choice than the white baguette, I move on to the toppings.

Toppings: I think a page will not cover all the choices available or the combinations possible. But you can divide Belgian sandwich styles in ‘with’ or ‘without’ mayonnaise topping. All the creamy spreads (called for one odd reason or another, ‘salade’) contain mayonnaise. So you can have tuna, and variations of – spicy tuna (I do like this on), Provencal tuna, Portuguese tuna, chicken ‘salade’ and variations of, with the chicken curry the most popular, there is crab, shrimp, and some unidentified ones where you have to use a lot of imagination.

The ‘without’ category is based on personal taste, where combinations are possible. The toppings available are 5 different types of salami (with chorizo the usually sold-out one), mozzarella, Gouda, and brie, Parma ham and cooked ham, américain (raw meat, but I’ll come to this one later) and paté.

Extra toppings: tomatoes, salad, grilled aubergines, grilled zucchinis, cucumbers, pickles, spring onions and olives (both green and black) … and I honestly think this is about it.

You can of course add to your sandwich some more mayonnaise, mustard or olive oil, and ask for it to be grilled (works usually with the ham and cheese one).

The sandwich du jour: white baguette, mozzarella, grilled zucchini and grilled aubergines, tomatoes, cucumbers, and spring onions, with a dash of olive oil.

The whole process can take anywhere between 5min to 30min, depending on how much thought you put into your sandwich before going to the shop. But with such a choice, who can resist?

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