It is my intention to celebrate the sandwich this year by finding as many tasty examples as possible, with a special emphasis on fringe styles, but also presenting sandwiches that were considered more normal 30 years ago that now seem quaint. I will do this weekly and periodically present round-ups of the ones I consider best.
The sandwiches of the European mainland are often simple affairs: Italy has its panino, which might be a single slice of porchetta on a roll known as a panino; while the French have their lunchtime ham and cheese baguette, which has no dressing but a smear of high-fat butter. Similarly, the Germans have butterbrot, once again referring to butter as the primary lubrication for a slice of bread, which is then improved with a modest heap of toppings that run to cheese, meat, tomatoes, and pickles. These are nothing like the overstuffed sandwiches we often consume in New York City.
Travel to the edge of Newark’s Ironbound to find the Portuguese counterpart of the Italian panino. In a small strip shopping center near U.S. Highway 9 (the free route to Newark International Airport) find No Pão. The name means “on bread,” and it is the rare shop in Ironbound that specializes in sandwiches, rather than pastries, grilled meats, seafood, or barbecued chickens. The sandwich menu offers 26 choices, with fillings that include chicken breast, bacon, mushrooms, smoked salmon, tuna salad, blood sausage, and presunto (Portuguese cured pork). One sandwich seemingly aimed at Brazilians has potato sticks, corn, and spicy mayo inside, in addition to pulled chicken.
But Portugal’s signature sandwich, bifana, stands at the top of the queue. Like the panino, it is exceedingly simple. A pork cutlet is soaked in a marinade made with wine, garlic, and pimento paste. It’s then cooked in that marinade, which forms a sauce as it concentrates. The cutlet with its cooking juices is then put on a modest-sized roll called a papo seco. The version at No Pão is really wonderful, with a cutlet that flops over the sides of the roll, a strong meaty flavor, and a rich orange sauce that leaves a slight burn on the lips. Best of all, it’s only $5 and includes a cup of french fries. 108 Jabez St., between Wilson and New York avenues, Newark, NJ