Double-dipped lamb sandwich at Philippe’s The Original
The French dip sandwich is to L.A. what the cheesesteak is to Philly, and what the poutine is to Quebec – a trashy, iconic local specialty that seems less inspiring than it is.
What is it? Basically it’s a soggy meat sandwich. You can get it with roast beef, roast pork, leg of lamb, turkey or ham. It is served in a nice crispy bread roll and – here’s the gimmick – dipped in natural roast gravy. You can order it single-dip, double-dip or wet, corresponding to the amount of gravy you want on the bread. “Wet” is probably the way to go. And yes, it’s tastier than it looks.
Why do they call it a “French” dip? This is a good question, especially as roasts are traditionally very British. It bears no ressemblance to anything I have seen in France, nor to the roast beef sandwiches sold in Quebec. It does bear a slight resemblance to the traditional Quebecois Hot Chicken (pronounced “ott-shi-keuhn”), but no direct link. Its Frenchness comes from supposed inventor Philippe Mathieu, a Frenchman who migrated to L.A., where he apparently came up with the idea for the sandwich around 1918.
Although the south has done little to advance progressive thought in the United States, they were progressive on at least one front: hash browns. Southerners were combining potatoes, cheese and gravy long before Quebec even thought about poutine. Although the result is nothing like poutine, hash browns are fantastic nonetheless. Keep in mind that the stuff you get down south tastes nothing like the deep-fried potato croquettes that pass for hash browns back home.
“My country has three main exports: street gangs, cheap labour, and pupusas,” explained my Salvadoran friend. “I used to think pupusas were the only good export until I went back to El Salvador for a year and gained 30 pounds.”
A few weeks ago I was excited for a show by The Charlatans in Montreal. Then it was been cancelled because drummer Jon Brookes had passed out and stopped breathing during their show in Philadelphia the night before. He was recovering in a hospital. Having recently been to Philly, my immediate thought was “cheesesteak.”
Cheesesteaks are notoriously unhealthy. This may explain why Philadelphia has the highest obesity rate in the United States. Imagine the greasiest cuts of beef fried with onions in oil and drizzled with fatty cheese in a large bun. And I’m talking large. Most cheesesteaks can feed three people but are typically eaten by one person.
Cheesesteaks were invented in the early 20th century. They are credited to Pat and Harry Olivieri, who opened Pat’s King of Steaks in 1930. In 1966, Geno’s Steaks set up competition across the street. The rivalry continues to this day, with locals queueing up at the South Philly grease purveyor of their choice.
Which one did I go for? Neither. I avoided the hype and followed the advice of a food critic for Philadelphia magazine who tried 50 cheesesteaks in 36 days. He was horrified by the meat at Geno’s, “riddled with pockets and veins of fat” and “a rainbow of colors from brown to gray.” The description of Pat’s sounded equally vile. So off I went off to try the “damn good sandwich” at Cosmi’s Deli.
Gurko Tavern, Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria
On a recent trip to Bulgaria, I was astonished to see many people eating a snack that seemed like a distant Slavic relative of poutine. It appears on the menu of most taverns and restaurants as “Fries with cheese (ПЪРЖЕНИ КАРТОФИ СЪС СИРЕНЕ),” a generic appellation that makes up for its lack of poetry by telling it like it is.
It’s tastier than it looks. The fries I had in Bulgaria were good. The cheese topping is usually grated сирене, which tastes like Greek feta only milder and not quite as crumbly. However, adding more cheese and some sauce to bind it all together would make it oh-so-much better.
Many countries have a poutine equivalent, a simple filling fast food dish that tastes better than it looks and is typically eaten after a night of drinking. In Australia (and New Zealand), this is the meat pie. Continue reading
Many countries have a poutine equivalent, a simple filling fast food dish with a bizarre combination of ingredients that tastes better than it looks. In Egypt they call it Koshary.
Koshary begins with a layer of rice, macaroni, and chopped spaghetti noodles. This is topped by crunchy brown lentils and chickpeas. Then comes a vinegary tomato sauce. And, last but not least, a light sprinkling of crispy caramelized fried onions.