One of the most amazing things about being in the US is the unending choice of stuff - everywhere. And that fact that everything seems to consist of all kinds of other things. Waiters in restaurants (except for the very high class ones) look at you gone out if you try to order a steak without three different kinds of stuffing inside and two sauces on top, not to mention the choice of five dressings for the side salad you don't want, and a selection from the option of six different kinds of potatoes.
I can't imagine what Americans must think when they come to England. If you go into our local restaurant at lunchtime on a Sunday, they don't even ask you what you want - they just bring you beef and whatever vegetables and other accompaniments they decided to cook that week. Or, if you profess vegetarian tendencies, a nut and mushroom quiche. And, of course, chips (the proper English kind - not anything French, or flat disks of fried potato flour).
OK, so maybe I'm exaggerating just a smidgeon here. And I've raved in the past about how hard it is to order something simple such as a coffee or a sandwich (see How p&p Makes Cheese Sandwiches). But, since then, I've been able to experience first-hand the competitive nature of sandwich ordering that prevails in many US locations - including the "fancy new building 37 cafeteria" mentioned in that post.
After choosing the type of bread you want (I don't know the proper names, so I just have to ask for "that flat one"), you select from a range of over 30 different fillings. The lady behind the counter just keeps piling them on, without ever seeming to question the culinary combination and it's possible after-effects, or applying any limit to the number of selections you make. I tend to stop when the sandwich reaches a thickness that, after suitable squidging in the grill and afterwards by hand, roughly equates to the cross-sectional area of my mouth. But plenty of people appear to disregard this rule of thumb, and I'm convinced engage in a competition to see how tall they can make their sandwich before it won't actually fit in the Panini grill.
Mind you, during my most recent on-site visit, I was relieved of the taxing sandwich assembly choice process one day when they ordered in a load of pre-packed sandwiches so we could continue a meeting over lunch. As expected, most of them were combinations of esoteric (and often, as far as I could tell, extraordinarily mismatched) fillings. I managed to find one with a mixture that seemed logical and reasonably harmless, grilled chicken and mozzarella. However, on reading the packet, I was stunned to discover that even this relatively unexciting delicacy contained some thirty plus different ingredients (as you can see here).
Of course, that just started another competition - whose sandwich had the largest number of ingredients? After some frantic discussions and investigation, we found one that had 47 different ingredients. A clear winner (and, unfortunately, I can't remember now what it was advertised as). And, of course, all this activity totally disrupted the meeting, and pretty much negated the whole advantage of ordering in.
Next time, I reckon I'll just order a cheeseburger. I'm sure there's only a couple of simple and wholesome ingredients in them...