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cemitas and banh mi are now eligible for that pantheon. The flavors and ingredients are all different, but the basic idea of balancing out rich and carb-y elements with crunchy, spicy or tart embellishments is entirely familiar. You’ll find tortas at almost every South Philly taqueria — and because most of the owners in this area come from Puebla, many offer that state’s signature sandwich, the cemita, as well. Typically, you choose a filling from selections that echo the meats you might select for a taco (carnitas, lengua, al pastor) plus things like breaded and fried cutlets, ham, eggs and cheese. In some cases, as with the “Cuban� tortas at 3Z8O`]QV] or Los Gallos, the sandwich comes layered with several of those potential fillings. The toppings, then, are crucial to keeping the sandwiches from veering into overkill territory. And they’re pretty standard: On most tortas around town,


youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ll find layers of lettuce, tomato, onion, avocado, jalapenos, mayo and often a thin layer of refried beans. At :]a5OZZ]a, the mayo is flavored with chipotle, and the jalapenos are pickled. Cemitas, in addition to occupying a different sort of roll, vary a little more in their toppings from place to place, but thereâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s one unifying, defining garnish: papalo. Julia Moskin once described papalo as â&#x20AC;&#x153;a fresh herb with the bite of watercress and the breath of cilantro,â&#x20AC;? and no one has probably done a better job of describing it since. Less articulate types usually just default to describing it as â&#x20AC;&#x153;kind of like cilantro,â&#x20AC;? though with a lack of conviction that suggests that itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s â&#x20AC;&#x153;likeâ&#x20AC;? cilantro in the sense that they are both Mexican herbs. The flavor is distinct, and itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s a crucial component. Just steps off Ninth Street, at <VcG, there are fine examples of Phillyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s other great sandwich, the banh mi. West Philly

spots like 4cEOV are famous for these, even if people do insist on calling them â&#x20AC;&#x153;tofu hoagies.â&#x20AC;? But tofu is just one option: typically, fillings include fatty pork, spiced and charred chicken and rich pate, often with a smear of mayo or butter. Here, the garnishes are really the star of the show, yielding a far lighter sandwich than any other weâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve discussed: julienned or shredded carrots lightly pickled in rice wine vinegar, whole sprigs of cilantro and batons of cucumber and jalapeno. The meats, though typically quite flavorful, function more as a counterpoint to the crunchy salad. Ultimately, all of these examples from across the city serve to illustrate a basic takeaway for enjoying better sandwiches. Consider: What is central to your sandwich? Next: What is its opposite? Add that. Make sure each element tastes good on its own. Otherwise, just go out and let someone else do all the thinking. Ă&#x2021;

Meal Ticket 2014  

The Anatomy of the Sandwich

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