I started the New York Sandwich Project in January of 2014 with four major goals. These were the first two (the primary goals):
1.) Force myself to explore the city that may indeed be the cultural, financial, and ethnic epicenter of the world.
2.) Eat a stupid amount of sandwiches.
To this extent, I was extremely successful. My days were saturated with adventure, both cultural and culinary. One day, I would be in the Bronx, watching a Yankees game and crushing Italian heroes in Arthur Avenue, the next, I'd be at some trust hipster fund kid's art expo in Williamsburg, consuming tortas from a food truck and road sodas from my pocket, and the third day, I'd be sampling steak-grade prime rib sandwiches before an outdoor movie and overpriced cocktails on a rooftop lounge in Midtown. I owe these glorious days and sloppy nights, in large part, to The Project.
However, I would be remiss to neglect my friends and readers for the unrelenting support via ideas, connections, and sandwich adventure partnerships. You allowed me to experience so much more than I ever would have otherwise, and intake superfluous amounts of fun in the process. For that, I am eternally grateful.
The other two goals were secondary and slightly more esoteric, though nonetheless important to me. Here they are:
1.) Achieve some fame via The Project.
2.) Understand the City of New York.
For the former, I would have only considered myself successful if I had a coffee table book deal lined up involving sandwiches. Yes, I was lucky enough to be featured on some restaurant websites and Facebook pages, talk my way into a few free sandwiches, and connect with other sandwich connoisseurs and bloggers along the way (including one who was insistent on the necessity of heirloom tomatoes in a BLT, and rightfully so). I'm not necessarily ready to throw in the towel on the prospect of a book deal, but I can accept the fact that fame and success are often relative and fickle things.
As for understanding the city of New York, this was more of a writer's goal, a task that became increasingly impossible the more I explored this behemoth metropolis. Movies and television try to brand NYC as glamorous, dark, broke, inspiring, crime-ridden, hilarious, stylish, soulless, soulful, coy, lonely, a cesspool of sex, and a thousand other things. It IS all of these, and at the same time none of them. The problem with defining a city as diverse and grand as New York is that you can't do it; you are attempting to quantify the unquantifiable, reduce the irreducible. New York is simply New York.
If I were, however, asked to find a single idea that resonated throughout the entire city, from the farthest reaches of the Bronx out to Coney Island and everything in the middle, it would be hunger. I am not referring to food (despite the fact New York has the gnarliest grub on earth), but hunger for the intangibles. New Yorkers are hungry to leave their mark, they are hungry for money, hungry for success, hungry to create, to prosper. New Yorkers are hungry to win, to thrive, to love, to loathe, to experience. If there existed a sin in this city, it would be sloth. Laziness is unbecoming of a New Yorker, and such lackadaisical denizens are cast aside, into the fires of Jersey, where there is much wailing and gnashing of teeth.
Here, pride is a virtue. This is not necessarily in the sense of selfishness (though it commonly is), but in the sense of self-interest. We are all trying to make something of ourselves, of our lives. We are trying to make something.
That is how I made my choice for the final sandwich of The Project. It's known as a PBLT, or a pork belly, lettuce, and tomato. Marinated in hoisin sauce and sprinkled with sea salt and black pepper, this fatty grilled pork belly sits between two slices of fresh baked rye bread, one spread with avocado, one with a sriracha mayo. Combined with arugula, heirloom tomatoes, and organic cucumbers, the PBLT was a crisp, hearty, dirty sandwich experience.
But more than that, it was mine.
I made it, with my own two hands. It grew from my life's collective culinary experiences, beginning in rural Greenfield, then to Boston, Gwangju, Seoul, and all over Asia, until now, living in the great New York City. Sure, I may have burnt the pork belly a bit and it could have used a little more tomato, but it was delicious, and I'm damn proud of what I created.
Thank you for reading.