Yesterday evening, I had the pleasure of experiencing my first lobster roll (Connecticut-style, appropriately enough). The setting couldn’t have been more perfect – a cheerfully grungy shack overlooking the beach – and the roll itself was fantastic. They took a New England-style hot dog bun, grilled it on both sides in butter, filled it with plentiful hot lobster meat, drizzled it with more melted butter, and served it with a lemon wedge for spritzing. I’m sure that cold lobster salad rolls taste nice, but this setting allowed the fresh lobster meat to shine, nestled in crisp buttery goodness. At almost $10 at their cheapest, they’re not exactly an everyday food for starving grad students, but I’ll be treating myself to another as soon as I can justify the money and the 50-minute round-trip bike ride.
My meal started me thinking about a genre of food that, for lack of a better term, I’ll call “street sandwiches.” The premise is simple: take a time-tested form of delicious protein, add condiments for nutrition and optimal flavor, then wrap it in some form of bread for utensil-free consumption. The platonic street sandwich is cheap, local, and freshly-made. (If it could last for hours in a lunchbox, after all, why buy it in the street?)
A half-dozen examples come to mind: Israeli falafel, Chicago hot dogs, Mexican taco stands, Vietnamese bahn mi, French crepes, and the oft-mocked American fast-food hamburger. Honestly, it’s the cheap, satisfying street food that I find myself missing most about places. My gourmet dinner overlooking a Mediterranean sunset may have been delicious, but I really miss the crisp mouthfeel of falafel in fluffy pita, drizzled with tahini and nestled against pickled vegetables. Out of all the glorious variety of Houston food, it’s Cali’s perfect tofu bahn mi sandwiches that make me most nostalgic. I even reminisce about the Scottish fish and chip shops that sold deep-fried anything, hot greasy nourishment against the gray wind.
A year ago, I spent a month in Cincinnati, and I fell in love with their food culture. From coneys and five-ways to double-deckers and goetta, it embraced an ethic of cooking that valued full frontal fat-and-sodium assault over delicate balance, and I adored it. I’m looking forward to getting to know my new home’s culinary vices.