New Zealand office lunch culture is missing something major, writes Lauren Shamy – the humble pre-made sandwich, hero of the UK high street grab-and-go.
A two-year immersion in British culture is not exactly a unique rite of passage for New Zealanders. There’s no shortage of ex-expats who will wistfully recount 3pm sunsets and smugly mutter “oh sorry, I’m still in the habit of calling them crisps” at you when a packet of Bluebird Ready Salted cracks open. Some still pine for pub culture, free-flowing pints served in buildings named a couplet of “Rose’, “Hound”, “Crown” or “Horse”. Others feel nostalgia for London’s tube – the familiar morning routine of being crushed, sweaty and delayed, offset only by the evening’s freedom from counting standard drinks that superior public transport provides.
But when I feel homesick for the UK, the pang is in my stomach. Particularly around lunchtime. Specifically, for the humble sandwich.
I’m talking about the star of the supermarket meal deal, hero of high street grab-and-go. I’m talking a frankly unhinged Christmas range released by Marks & Spencers each November (epic monstrosities such as turkey and pigs in blanket on onion and sage stuffing bread – clog my arteries, baby). It took moving to the opposite side of the world and back for me to realise just how horrendously underrepresented sandwich culture is here in Aotearoa and I’m ready to do absolutely nothing about it except complain, so buckle in.
New Zealand is a young country by any standard and I’d argue our immaturity is most evident when the clock strikes 12pm. The pre-teen sibling of the Commonwealth, our desperation to be “grown up” manifests in an irrational commitment to tupperware – why is it that we think our colleagues and peers won’t take us seriously unless we crack open meal-prepped “adult food” in the break room? As if Jared from HR is going to respect you for steamed broccoli, brown rice and overcooked chicken. Like Erin from marketing’s memory of your off-key Christmas party rendition of ‘Gangsta’s Paradise’ will fade upon seeing you reheat last night’s chilli con carne.
Get a grip, own the Coolio impression and accept that the perfect combination of carbs, protein and veges is literally right at your fingertips: a SANDWICH.
There was no shame in a luncheon and tomato sauce number in our primary school days, before we became orange-stained-tupperware-wielding assholes, but we should be evolving our sandwich game past the cold cuts now. Or at least, the food service big dogs should be.
Where are the dedicated chain sandwich shops littering New Zealand CBDs? (Sit down Subway, I already have a lot of questions about your chicken classic, don’t start with me.) Of course Brits are less inclined to haul leftovers to work when gourmet sammies can be scooped up on every corner for £3.45 (a cool $NZ6.65, compared to the eye-watering $16 you’d easily drop on a BLT in Auckland cafes). In England, Pret a Manger is the Don Vito Corleone of the high street food family, ruling each corner with a gluten fist. Chicken caesar baguette? Pre-made and ready. Hoisin duck wrap? Wrapped and right this way. But let me tell you, the chokehold that their egg, mayo and cress has on me to this day? Unmatched. The rate at which I shamelessly consumed egg and cress sandwiches is both a tribute to my personal growth on that OE and in hindsight, probably the reason I didn’t entrap an Englishman to marry for a partnership visa.
Instead, I have returned to spread this humbling and important message: chuck the tupperware and eat a sandwich.