Ben Daitz, one of the founders of Num Pang, home of some of the most interesting sandwiches around, knows a thing or two about what to put between slices of bread. Read on for sandwich inspiration, and feel free in the comments to make some sandwich suggestions of your own.
What makes a sandwich officially a sandwich? This question comes as a result of an experience I had in college, when I was a vegetarian. I would make these elaborate sandwiches where the protein was cheese, and my male friends said that it was a salad on bread, which is not the same thing as a sandwich. Since you make sandwiches in a serious capacity, do you agree with that?
I disagree. Anything encapsulated on both sides by a bread product would qualify as a sandwich. We don’t do salads wrapped in bread, but we do have several vegetarian options that could very easily be derived from a salad bar. Does that make you feel better about your college experience?
Well, it was a long time ago, and I just chose not to agree. What are three ingredients a sandwich must possess in order to be a sandwich?
- There definitely needs to be bread, and that’s a huge component of the sandwich. You’re getting a big textural component with that. It’s very important.
- There’s got to be what I call the star of the show, which could be a protein or a vegetable, but the sandwich can’t be confused. The diva needs to be in there somewhere.
- Then there needs to be a diva’s dress—what’s dressing her up.
On the red carpet of the bread, if you will.
Correct. You see where I’m going with this?
It’s a very apt metaphor. What would be an example of a confused diva—a Lindsay Lohan of sandwiches?
Well, if you have too many stars on the carpet, everything gets bungled up, you know? I come from a fine dining background, and you want a certain interplay in between the ingredients. We’re not trying to be fine dining per se, but when we think about creating our sandwiches there’s definitely interplay between the components. One of them usually shines, and another is usually a supporting act.
What’s the best sandwich you’ve ever had?
You’re not going to get that from me, sorry. (Laughs.)
I enjoy variety in all aspects of my life, and I also have commitment issues. I can’t commit to the best.
Okay, fine. Maybe that’s extreme. Could you tell us one story about an amazing sandwich that you had, and what made the experience so great?
I grew up on the Upper West Side in a Jewish household, but we weren’t practicing or anything. The food that I grew up with was much more European. When I started hanging out with friends in college, they brought me to Jewish delis. I remember first getting into real pastrami on rye with heavy mustard and stuff like that. That was somewhat life-changing.