Shelf Life

Dissecting the art of the sandwich

Kai Ryssdal Nov 23, 2011

Kai Ryssdal: Yeah, I know it’s the day before Thanksgiving. But let’s do a little time travel to the day after tomorrow. The day of leftover turkey, cranberry sauce and stuffing. Add some bread and you’ve got the fixin’s for a yummy sandwich.

That’s exactly the topic of Jon Chonko’s new book, with a twist. It’s called “Scanwiches.” Jon, welcome to the program.

Jon Chonko: It’s good to be here.

Ryssdal: So let’s explain what this is: You go out, you get — well, you tell people.

Chonko: It’s called “Scanwiches,” and it’s basically what it sounds like. I go out and I get a sandwich, or I make a sandwich, and I put it on a flatbed scanner — just like a normal photo scanner, the kind most people have in their office or their home. And I scan it.

Ryssdal: It’s important to point out here: You cut it in half, and then you put the cut side down on the scanner?

Chonko: Yeah. So I scan the sandwiches and I let people know what’s in the sandwich, and I let people know where I got it. Scanwiches’ official motto, that started on the blog, is “For education and for delight.” And I just want to celebrate the sandwich, and make it look the best it can and get people excited about the way sandwiches are made and how cool sandwiches can actually be when you take them out of context.

Ryssdal: So explore that a little bit, because you do seem to be abnormally attached to sandwiches. What is it about them?

Chonko: Oh man. I think that, yes.

Ryssdal: And I say that not pejoratively, it’s just, you know, it’s kind of unusual.

Chonko: I’m kind of a history buff, and there’s one way I like to think about sandwiches, which is as these objects of history. These pieces of culinary tradition that have sort of evolved and grown, and actually tell these really awesome stories about people and culture and locations and cuisines. And the other thing I find really fascinating about sandwiches is everybody sort of has an opinion on sandwiches; people know they don’t want mustard on a sandwich or they have a favorite sandwich. And that’s not true of a lot of other types of food. I think sandwiches moreso than anything else generate those kinds of feelings.

Ryssdal: This is a little bit like asking somebody to pick their favorite kid, but do you have a favorite sandwich in this book?

Chonko: Oh man. The sandwich that was the most fun to make was the Dagwood.

Ryssdal: Oh yeah.

Chonko: Because it was really ambitious of me, I don’t think I would have attempted to make a sandwich like this.

Ryssdal: That is the classic, I mean, from the cartoon right? It’s the 19-layer, foot-and-a-half-high…

Chonko: Yeah, Dagwood Bumstead, “Blondie.” He goes to the fridge in the middle of the night and he pulls out whatever’s sitting inside of the icebox and makes a sandwich out of it. It’s kind of like the quintessential midnight snack, piece of gluttony.

Ryssdal: Oh my god, I’m flipping through it as we talk, and you’ve got a Marmite sandwich in there.

Chonko: Oh yeah, oh yeah.

Ryssdal: Which is not a delectable, tasty treat, I would say. But that’s just me.

Chonko: Well, I spent six months in London in 2005, and I tried Marmite for the first time and was absolutely grossed out by it.

Ryssdal: Yeah, let’s tell people what it is and sort of what it tastes like.

Chonko: OK, so for those who aren’t aware, Marmite is the stuff that’s left over from beer brewing. This is the stuff that most of the time they throw away.

Ryssdal: Yeah, you know why they throw it away? They throw it away because it’s gross. But anyway, go ahead.

Chonko: When I made the Marmite sandwich for the book, I tasted Marmite for the first time again in five years, and I was like, ‘Wow, I actually like this.’ I now eat Marmite fairly regularly.

Ryssdal: And now that’s actually on tape, and it will live forever. I’m not seeing any — and this is just my own personal predilection at the moment — I’m really into open-faced sandwiches at the moment, and I’m not seeing any of those. Tough to scan, I imagine.

Chonko: Tough to scan. Open-faced sandwiches are sort of, I consider them kind of a niche in the sandwich world. To me, a sandwich is ingredients held between bread. It has to be one of those things that if you held it up to somebody and said, ‘What is this?’ they would say, ‘That’s a sandwich.’ You just kind of know it. You know what a sandwich is. And if you have to debate it, then it’s probably not a sandwich.

Ryssdal: Jon Chonko, his new book is called “Scanwiches.” You can take a look at some of the sandwiches he’s got in that book in the slideshow above. Hey Jon, thanks a lot.

Chonko: Thank you.

There’s a lot happening in the world.  Through it all, Marketplace is here for you. 

You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible. 

Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.