Inspired by FIFA fever, the Washington Post published a feature on the sandwiches of some competing nations.
In Winnipeg, we need no special events to celebrate our rich ethnicity. Or at least I don't -- I love sandwiches, I'm grateful for the opportunity to indulge in so many international choices, and the following are just a sampling of some of the city's finest.
VIENA DO CASTELO is a grocery store, with a kitchen that prepares delicious Portuguese specialties, either for takeout (the mother lode is on Saturday), or for eating at one of six little tables. There are always daily specials, and there can't be many better bargains than the sandwiches, at $3 to $5 each, or $2 more with a bowl of soup du jour (the classic potato-kale, for instance). They vary daily, but there's always a bifana of wine and garlic marinated pork loin with sautéed onions (spicy sauce optional) and chourizo sausage with cheese baked into a bun. Also, often, they offer pulled piri piri-spiked roast chicken.
It would be a sin not to try one of the superb pastries -- the ne plus ultra of egg tarts, or the gorgeous chocolate mocha cupcake ($2 each). 819 Sargent Ave., 204-415-4615.
Banh mi Vietnamese subs are mushrooming everywhere, even as influences on non-Vietnamese burgers and sandwiches. However they are at their possible best, most authentic and cheapest ($4 to $4.50 each) at KHAN HOA, a little butcher shop where 10-inch crusty rolls are smeared with paté, loaded with the meat of your choice, enlivened by the sweet-tart crunch of marinated carrot and daikon strips and a squirt of hot sauce. My favourite filling is the assorted Vietnamese cold cuts, (No. 1), but others are good too -- grilled beef (No. 2), grilled pork (No. 3) chicken (No. 4), pork meatball (No. 5), and barbecued pork meatball (No. 6). Communication is minimal so it's best to order ahead, by phone and by number. 698 Sargent Ave., 204-504-7688.
There's also no shortage of Middle Eastern stuffed pitas, but three of the best can be found in the simplest and smallest of places. BEST PIZZA AND DONAIR does have a few seats but the food is mainly for takeout, and the donair was one of the best I've found. It has slices of marinated, spit-roasted beef and lamb tucked into a pliant, puffy pita (it won't come apart in your hands), along with lettuce, onions and tomatoes -- ask for garlic sauce instead of the sweet sauce. Equally flavourful are chicken shawarma with the same trimmings, plus pickled turnips ($7.99 each) and the ground lamb kebab sandwich, which includes excellent hummus as well ($8.99). 1469 Pembina Hwy., 204-275-0444.
The venerable BISTRO DANSK has been serving open-face Danish sandwiches on great house-made breads since 1977. The fruit-garnished portions are unbelievably generous -- dark, Danish bread piled high with moist, savoury liver pate and topped with back bacon and sautéed mushrooms; and slices of the house baguette heaped with tiny shrimp in mayonnaise ($11.95 each). It's not exclusively Danish, but another must is the exquisite hazelnut pie. 63 Sherbrook St., 204-775-5662.
Bistro Dansk may be one of our oldest restaurants, but the Winnipeg Jewish-style shaved corned beef on rye pre-dates it by countless decades. It's available everywhere, including BERNSTEIN'S, but they also offer two terrific and locally rare sandwiches of house-cured meats -- thick, hand-cut slices of warm brisket ($8.75) and thin-sliced pickled tongue ($6). You can have the renowned potato latkes at $2.25 for one, or $5.75 for three, or, as add-ons at $2.75, a cup of savoury soup, tangy coleslaw and/or excellent skinny fries. 1700 Corydon Ave., 204-488-4552.
Cuban sandwiches are also rare, but one version is available at the MARION STREET EATERY, where grilled Italian bread is spread with grainy Dijon mustard, and packed with ham, roast pork, Gruyere and dill pickles. At $12.50 it comes with a choice of soup du jour, a green or caesar salad, excellent fries or potato wedges, but for $2 more you can change your du jour to a crock of terrific onion soup. 393 Marion St., 204-233-2843.
Panini are ubiquitous, but nowhere are they more authentic than CAFFERIA 360's panino. There's only one but it's a great one, not grilled flat like most, but a warm crusty bun filled with mozzarella, mortadella and superb aged prosciutto di parma which -- like most of the edibles here -- are imported directly from Italy ($7.99). It's huge, but save room for the delectable (also imported) sfogliatella puff pastry with a ricotta filling ($4) and, of course, one of the fabulous Italian coffees. 1459 Corydon Ave., 204-489-8990.
SIMON'S Milanesa Especial is an Argentine sandwich of Italian inspiration and epic proportions, which layers crisply fried breaded beef with ham, mozzarella, tomato, onion and baked eggs ($16, including a side of fries). Finish Argentine style with the luscious torta mil hojas of crisp pastry layered with dulce de leche, walnuts and whipped cream ($6). 513 St. Mary's Rd., 204-231-2756
THE CRUSTY BUN is a marvellous German bakery, with a small café attached where you can have a schnitzelburger -- a huge slice of breaded fried pork loin tucked into one of the wonderful buns ($7.95). Of course dessert here is essential -- anything from the rich bee sting layers of cake and custard to the tea cake of crunchy puff pastry ($1.65 to $3.45). 1026 St. Mary's Rd., 204-257-7311.
All the above sandwiches had their origins in other countries, and, for that matter, so did the clubhouse -- in the U.S. It may not be ethnic but I couldn't resist ending with one terrific twist on the classic -- OSBORNE VILLAGE CAFE'S massive Club Maison, packed inches high with fresh-roasted turkey, cheddar, bits of cranberries and (the master stroke) several thick slices of braised pork belly instead of bacon ($9). 160 Osborne St., 204-452-9824, Ext. 217.