It’s time to separate the crostini from the panini!
So begins the first in an ongoing monthly installment of Sandwich Wars!
This blog will pit the best sandwiches in Florence against one another to determine which panino will rule the roost as King of the most portable and affordable of tasty Italian meals.
Why sandwiches, you ask?
Sandwich culture is a crucial facet of Florentine cuisine and of Italian cuisine in general. This food item is a popular lunch go-to for locals and tourists alike (not to mention in cultures all over the world). First, it can pack a punch with just a few carefully selected ingredients. Second, the sandwich format allows you to try some of the more expensive Italian food products (truffles!) on a smaller and more economic scale. And third, you don’t have to pay for table service! All wins in our book.
So, we have taken it upon ourselves (we’re so selfless!) to test the greatest sandwiches available in this fair city so that those of you who are only here for a week or just one day can maximize and eat only the best. Luckily, there are so many potential combinations that chances are you’ll never get sick of them.
Now, before we begin, we need a brief re-introduction to this concept of a “sandwich.” To truly understand the panino, we need to know its fears, life struggles, and, ultimately, its dreams. It is not quite as (cold!) cut and dry as you may expect. (Hardy har har! That’s the only one, I swear. )So, let’s review what we consider to be a sandwich (and by “we” I am referring to Americans, FYI). Sounds like a ridiculous question, right? Well, not so fast. As with all things in the United Sates, the legal system stepped in to help us figure out the obvious. In 2006, a court in Boston, Massachusetts ruled that a “sandwich” must include at least two slices of bread, i.e., tacos, falafel, and wraps need not apply.
Phew! Good thing we checked.In Italia, the word “sandwich” is generally translated into panino. However, the larger “sandwich” category in America would technically also include a variety of other sandwich words in Italy, including tramezzino, piadina, and even to some extent, the crostino.Conveniently, the two-piece bread law rules out some of the above mentioned sandwich alternatives. A piadina, for example, is what we might call a wrap; hence it does not qualify for aforementioned battle. The crostino, a singe piece of bread with spreads and other tasty toppings, is made open face and lacks the essential second piece of bread required to qualify. Dismissed.
Interestingly, in Italy, what defines a sandwich is not that it is between those two pieces of bread, but rather what kind of bread it is. In the case of the panino, we are talking about bread that is NOT sliced. When it is sliced – think Wonder Bread – the resultant food item is known as a tramezzino.The word panino is actually the diminutive of the word pane (bread) and is used to refer to what we would call rolls (i.e. small bread). Panino then went on to refer to those same rolls when they were filled with delicious things. This idea of rolls with toppings also incorporated other kinds of “uncut” bread, including a personal favorite of ours, schiacciata. This delicious bread product is probably closer to what we would call focaccia, only flatter and more salty and oily (perfect for a simple Italian sandwich).
Which brings me to my next topic…the fixins!
According to Wikipedia’s highly entertaining entry on sandwiches (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sandwich), “Sandwiches generally consist of a bread, a spread and a filling. In the most technical sense of the word. Bread serves primary as an edible container for the food inside…The spread serves three main purposes, it prevents the bread from soaking up the filling causing it to become soggy, it adds flavour as well as moisture to the sandwich.”
According to this definition, the bread is really just a tool to access the goodness that lies within. So, what exactly is that goodness?
In Italy you will find that the concept of the Subway ten-topping sandwich does not exist (with the exception of locations intentionally geared towards tourists). The real Italian panino usually has two, maximum three toppings. This includes lettuce (usually arugula) or any “spread” included. Though it should be noted that the many condiments we “relish” in the US (I couldn’t resist!) – like mayonnaise and the roughly six hundred different kinds of mustard – are very rarely found on Italian panini. The “wet” ingredient is typically melted or spreadable cheese or, even more rarely, a splash of balsamic vinegar. This simplicity is found in most traditional Italian cuisine and stems from the fact that the ingredients are so good they need only be present in small quantities to exhibit their full flavor potential.
Ok. Let’s review.
A panino is a sandwich on a roll or other non-sliced bread. It has a limited set of toppings and those toppings are all delicious. We good?
To ensure a fair competition for our Sandwich Wars we have set a few ground rules:
Rule #1: To keep variables to a minimum, we will only eat sandwiches in the panino format.
Rule #2: We will order according to the menu without any modifications.
Rule #3: We will score based on the following three distinct categories only:
1.Taste (Is the bread good? What is going between those two pieces of bread and do we approve?) First category is out of 10 points.
2.Cost (self explanatory). Second category is out of 5 points.
3.Location and general experience (Since most locations will have no tables, the real question is how nice is their particular stretch of sidewalk. Also, how nice are the sandwich makers…if that matters to you.*) Third category is out of 5 points.
*Disclaimer for category #3: we have no real expectations in the “are they nice” classification since (as has been stated in previous posts), contrary to American sensibilities, the ruder the people, the better the food. Enjoy!
Onto the first Battle!
(By the way, if you want the full history of how bread came to be the bearer of such delicious and surprising gifts betwixt its faces, see our friends at wiki. Honestly, check out the gallery. I never realized how many different forms this wonderful food innovation could come in!)