There’s a time to hold on to what’s dear to you, and there’s a time to adapt. do both with homemade cooking.
What’s your ninja trick for life—your go-to habit guaranteed to make the day go well? What makes you feel prepared for anything? Is it a song you pump to get the blood moving or an inspirational quote that seems to justify any action? Or, is your practice more physical in nature, like the caffeine high from a beverage or the relief and release of exercise? Just about any of these can apply for me, from a session jam-dancing to Dragos Tea Din Tei by O-Zone, to a good cup of joe. But, my real ninja trick is being able to make a perfect packed sandwich to take on the go.
Whether you’re embarking on a car or bus trip to another city in Guangdong, taking a ferry ride to Hong Kong or Macau, going to the airport or spending the afternoon in the park or at the pool, sometimes you just need a filling snack or meal at a time when your location offers very little in the way of the kind of food you like eating. Public transportation stations and depots in China tend to have an especially limited offering, unless you’re down to have Western fast food burgers and chicken, dried and pickled snacks or instant noodles. Even if you love all sorts of Chinese food, you’ll probably agree that much of what you can buy in transportation stations is barely “food.”
The tough part of bringing a snack or meal on the go is ensuring that it’s convenient to eat, doesn’t make a mess and can hold up for a while. Have you ever had a bag of greasy potato chips only to realize that you forgot to pack one of those convenient little packets of tissues for wiping your hands? Or carried a takeout Chinese meal only to have it drip out of the box into its bag or leave behind a bulky container you’ve got to hold onto until a waste bin appears?
… much of what you can buy in transportation stations is barely “food.”
Nothing really packs the power of a sandwich, but a poorly made sandwich can be a nemesis for your clean pant legs at the end of the day. The trick to making a sandwich well is not just in the ingredients—it’s in the art of stacking it for the wait. It’s about creating an easy-to-hold layering of fresh ingredients and condiments that can be consumed at any time, whether it be conveniently at a table or while standing in line or sitting in a waiting room. And the most difficult, yet essential element of a great sandwich is non-soggy bread.
The best part about sandwiches are that they can be simple or gourmet; you can literally eat a salad in sandwich form with a veggie-heavy combination, or make a sandwich that mimics other foods, like tacos, pizza or chicken parmesan. They taste good at room temperature, warm from toasting or cold from sitting in a fridge for a few hours. Most of the time, a sandwich will even taste good if you toast it, refrigerate it and then stuff it in your travel bag for a couple of hours before devouring.
The trick to non-soggy bread is crafting the sandwich so condiments or anything remotely wet never touches bread. Using waterproof ingredients as a barrier, you can hold in flavors and keep bread dry. This applies to most sandwiches, even peanut butter and jelly; revolutionize life with peanut butter on both sides of the bread and jelly in the middle.
In case you’re thinking that sandwiches are great and all, but not easy to make routinely, try a couple of these tips. If you have a toaster oven, buy enough bread for how many sandwiches you’d like in a week and freeze it after a day or two to keep it from going stale or molding. When you’re ready to make a sandwich, pull out two slices and toast them on a low heat while still frozen; that will bring them back to life without making them too hard to eat once stacked. And, a toaster ensures that your cheese is nice and blended with bread and meat.
Buy a lot of lettuce in advance, wash and dry it, and then keep it in a zip-lock bag with a dry paper towel; it’ll keep for a few days, and you can pull leaves out each time you need them. Try using my favorite gourmet sandwich boost—avocados—without worrying about waste. You can cut one in half, use the first half and cover the other in plastic wrap, squeezing out all air so it doesn’t brown before you use it one or even a few days later.
If you don’t have a good source of deli meat, grab a can of tuna stored in water, drain it, put it in a bowl, and mix it with a heaping spoonful of mayo and use that instead of meat. Whatever you put in it and wherever you go with it, try making a sandwich next time you want to feel like you can take on the world. You can thank me later.
Robin’s Go-to Gourmet Sandwich
- Two slices bread, preferably whole wheat square toast slices
- Shredded or sliced cheese, preferably cheddar, Monterrey jack, Swiss or a combination
- Meat: cooked chicken breast, thinly sliced; turkey; ham or beef sliced deli meat or 1 can tuna in water
- Whole grain or Dijon mustard
- Salt and pepper
- All (or whatever you’ve got) of: sliced avocado, sliced pickled jalapeños, thinly sliced red onion, sliced pickles, bean sprouts and sliced black olives
- 2-3 thin round slices of a large globe tomato
- 2-4 large leaves iceberg or romaine lettuce or several basil leaves
- Toast bread, with cheese on one slice, until cheese is melted. Be careful not to toast bread until it is hard.
- One top of cheese, add meat. If using tuna, drain it and mix it with one spoonful mayonnaise first.
- Add mayo (if not using tuna) and mustard, spreading evenly over meat.
- Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
- Add whatever you’re using of avocado, jalapeños, pickles, onion, bean sprouts and olives.
- Add tomato slices and then lettuce.
- Top with the other slice of bread, push down on sandwich and slice in half diagonally with a serrated knife.
- Carefully transplant both triangle halves to a precut square of foil. Wrap around sandwich, ensuring that it holds its shape and each ingredients in carefully.
- Store in fridge, bag or a protective box container, lettuce-side down.
Serves: 1 or share with a friend
Serve with: box milk