• The humble salad sandwich is an Australian icon, but is quickly being forgotten. (Mike Harrison/Pretty Little)Source: Mike Harrison/Pretty Little
When was the last time you had a salad sandwich – we're talking lettuce, shredded carrots, cheese and beetroot in between buttered bread?
Michelle Tchea

20 Sep 2021 - 10:04 AM  UPDATED 20 Sep 2021 - 10:09 AM

If you grew up in Australia, you'll no doubt have fond memories of salad sandwiches in plastic school lunch boxes. They may have been soggy and a little uneventful at times, but definitely colourful: think ruby red beets, green salad leaves and orange carrots bundled neatly between two slices of bread.

You could find salad sandwiches nearly everywhere; from school canteens and milk bars to delis, hospital cafes and food courts. It was the most accessible lunch out there.   

It's no surprise that one of Australia's greatest inventions is a sandwich featuring canned beetroot. We do have an affection for the root vegetable. Canned beetroot was even one of the items that stayed in production during World War II.  

"If you grew up in Australia, you'll no doubt have fond memories of salad sandwiches in plastic school lunch boxes. They may've been soggy and a little uneventful at times, but definitely colourful."

With Asian roots, I didn't have salad sandwiches in my lunch box. I remember the first time I had a colourful salad sanga at the Australian Open, back when food and drink bottles were allowed into the grounds of the multi-million-dollar event. I sat in Show Court One, which is now called the Margaret Court Arena, to watch a men's first-round match. I ate a salad sandwich my friend's mum had made for us. It was simple yet enjoyable. There was nothing extraordinary about it, but the combination of beets, salad and soft white bread was unforgettable for a kid who had a mother who loved to toast bread.

Another great salad sandwich memory that perhaps breaks a cardinal rule of the salad sandwich: egg. Hear me out. Egg sandwiches are found in all great bakeries in Taiwan. This sandwich includes omelette, because eggs are a genius addition, iceberg lettuce for crunch and lots of creamy mayo to bring it all together. It's not a conventional salad sandwich, but something I looked forward to eating as a child in my Taiwanese-Australian household, especially when the alternative was a braised giblet sandwich, which I didn't appreciate as much.

My uncle, affectionately known to us as JoJo, got sick at an early age. So, my childhood memories of salad sandwiches were either of eating them with my friends, buying them from a local milk bar or getting them at the hospital cafeteria during his regular check-ups. Although the hospital visits involved disheartening news, sitting in the hospital cafeteria - talking, eating and spending time with him - was special. 

Many of us have a salad sandwich memory and thankfully there are places, like Picnic in Fitzroy North and Pretty Little in Balaclava in Melbourne, that still make this humble handwarmer. However, the salad sandwich never did become as iconic as the Australian meat pie. I often wonder why this is so. Perhaps it's because we no longer have milk bars in the suburbs anymore, or maybe we Australians have become too 'next level' for something as simple as a salad sandwich.  

I invite you to pay homage to it like I have by having it more for lunch. You can change it up with a creamy mayo potato salad or use a baguette instead of sliced bread. Fry an egg, add crispy bacon and break all the rules.

I’ll be right back; I've got the sudden urge to eat a salad sandwich. 

My ultimate salad sandwich  

The rocket adds heat and the butter and mayo add richness. Sometimes I add an omelette and I ALWAYS add mayo. This recipe involves toasting the outside of the sandwich, but this is my favourite type. Please, no hate mail. 

  • 2 slices thick slices of multigrain bread
  • 2 tbsp real mayonnaise 
  • 1 tbsp salted butter 
  • A handful of each alfalfa sprouts, grated carrots, rocket leaves 
  • 1 beetroot, roasted, peeled and grated (trust me, it makes a difference)
  • 2 slices heirloom tomato 
  • 2 slices aged cheese like gruyere or cheddar  
  • Cold omelette (optional)
  • Method

  1. Smear mayonnaise on one side of each bread slice. On the other side of each slice, spread butter.
  2. Put a frypan on medium-hot heat. Place the mayo side of each slice down on the frypan and toast until golden. 
  3. Take the bread off the heat and place the remaining ingredients on the non-toasted side of one slice. Put the other slice on top with the non-toasted side down.
  4. Slice and eat or wrap it in paper like the good ol' days.

Note: Tinned beetroot is fine, but roasting and grating your own beetroot is a game-changer or you can buy them vacuum-sealed and then grate at home if you don't have that much time up your sleeve.

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