The Saddest Sandwich

When can a story about a sandwich almost make you want to cry? When it’s about a sandwich that helped rebuild Hurricane Katrina–damaged Biloxi, Mississippi.

Francis Lam’s moving post on Gourmet’s editors’ blog talks about some time he spent in Biloxi, where a humble Vietnamese banh mi joint became “the de facto commissary of the relief effort.”

When I first arrived here, a full 6 months after the storm, Le Bakery was one of maybe four places you could get something to eat. The others were the hospital cafeteria, the gas station market, and, if you could find the run-down St. Andrews apartments and knock on #4 before three o’clock, Doña Lucy would pack you up a lunch, just like she did for the newly arrived Mexican day laborers working for contractors who had a nasty habit of stiffing their pay and firing them when they got hurt on the job.

Thousands of volunteers passed through the town trying to make a dent in all the damage, and, according to Lam, they showed up day after day to grab lunch at Le Bakery in Tyvek mold-proof suits. But lately, things are different at Le Bakery:

A few more places for food have re- or newly-opened since, and, two years on, the throngs of volunteers have diminished to a few bands here and there. The work is still going on, in some ways better—more professionally, more far-reaching than ever—but lunchtime at Le Bakery can be pretty slow now, a couple of orders here and there, some people coming by just to pick up some loaves of bread to make their own sandwiches.

It’s rare to read a story about food that makes one feel so wistful. Granted, I’m a big Lam fan (mostly for blog posts like this one, in which he rips snooty oenophiles a new one), but this post blew a sad little breeze through my heart.

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