There’s a passage from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn that popped into my head yesterday morning, almost as soon as I woke up and inspected the contents of my fridge.
“There were times though, especially towards the end of a long cold dark winter, when, no matter how hungry Francie was, nothing tasted good. That was big pickle time…The pickle lasted all day. Francie sucked and nibbled on it. She didn’t exactly eat it. She just had it. When they had just bread and potatoes too many times at home, Francie’s thoughts went to dripping sour pickles. She didn’t know why, but after a day of the pickle, the bread and potatoes tasted good again. Yes, pickle day was something to look forward to.”
That was yesterday. Except for me it wasn’t a pickle. When I looked into my fridge and saw one-and-a-half eggplants and a box of tomato soup, my thoughts turned immediately to my favorite ham sandwich ever, from Pierre Oteiza.
Paris is famous for sandwiches, quite rightly, since the bread hereabouts is pretty spectacular. But I do find that sometimes bakeries, in making their sandwiches, assume that because the bread is so good (well, almost always so good), they don’t have to put good stuff ON the bread. It makes me disproportionately angry to get a sandwich consisting of a baguette, one slice of pale packaged ham and one slice of sad packaged cheese.
So when I finally went into Pierre Oteiza, which is a small boutique specializing in products from the Basque country, I was thrilled to discover that while their sandwiches are on lovely ciabatta, the focus is on the quality of the meat inside.
Maybe it’s my kosher upbringing, but I don’t think ham will ever stop being a novelty to me. It’s strange to me to actually buy it and keep it in my house, but for a treat, a Pierre Oteiza ham sandwich is the perfect thing. Plus it’s always a rewarding experience to go into the store, because the people who work there are incredibly friendly. It helps that it’s not a huge chain store like Paul next door or Pomme du Pain; the employees know and care about the products they’re selling. And sometimes they give you free samples of sausage when you’re kind enough to pay with coins. Yum.
My favorite thing about this sandwich is when I take a bite and half of the ham comes sliding right out. Or maybe it’s just that, basking as I am in the glow of sandwich love, it doesn’t bother me, as long as the contents of the sandwich don’t end up on the ground.
Yesterday after I bought my sandwich, I started walking, and I walked past a crowd of teenaged tourists eating sandwiches from Paul (which I don’t mean to unfairly malign, as they do very good work there). I felt like an insider with my Pierre Oteiza ham sandwich.
It’s fun to not feel like a tourist.
Zou bisou bisou bisou (to quote the new episode of Mad Men after a hiatus of 17 MONTHS),