Experiencing different cultures is one of the travelers most common goals. To see the world and experience the traditions of other people. This is fun, I like doing this too. As an expat in Germany though I end up getting to see my own home culture in a different light. The oddities from the germanic perspective as it were. This week, the Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich.
The Humble PBnJ Sandwich Described
I know a lot of my readers are indeed from North America. You will definitely know exactly what I am talking about. For the rest of you, here is a description of the Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich (or PB&J). It is a sandwich very often given to small children by their parents as a meal. It consists of two pieces of toast bread (usually the fluffy white stuff) one side covered in peanut butter and the other in jelly. Reuniting the bread creates the sandwich. We always had it with chips or pretzels when I was a kid.
PB&J is more a theme than a specific sandwich. Traditional PB&J seems to be grape jelly, but really any will do. I quite like the blueberry jelly here in Germany and my mom usually made it from apple. Add to that the differences in peanut butter and those wacky health conscious people that use wheat bread. Other variations include:
- No Crusts : Having the crusts of the bread cut off.
- Potato Chips Inside : Once the PB&J is assembled insert ridged potato chips into the middle to add a crunch. Only do this at eating time, as the chips will get soggy.
- Fluffernutter : A very distant cousin of the PB&J replaces the jelly with marshmallow cream.
- Honeynutter : Ok, I made up that name, but a more close cousin than the fluffernutter is the idea of using honey instead of jelly. It is more sweet so more like a dessert than a meal.
So what, it’s a sandwich?
I, like many Americans, grew up eating PB&J sandwiches. They are quick and easy to make. As long as you don’t squish them, they last fine in a lunchbox. Children are picky eaters (and I was one of the worst) and PB&J are both sweet enough to please most kids and can be argued have SOME nutritional value (Peanut butter has protein and jelly is made from fruit.). Picnics and even some restaurants offered them as a kid’s alternative to anything containing too many vegetables.
In my travels, I have made PB&J in most every country that I have spent time in. They are cheap and comforting with the relationship to childhood. I have also not yet met someone that did not grow up in the US or Canada that likes them. My admittedly small study indicates that spending childhood under 6 years of age in the US or Canada greatly increases you risk for liking them. Even long time Americans that had moved there after that age have a greatly reduced rate of desire to slather bread with jelly and peanut butter as a snack.
The thing is, I remember eating probably more of these than anything else as a kid. I doubt I did, but I remember it. So when I am in a foreign place and need comfort food, it is the easiest thing to make. In fact, I will often travel with a jar of peanut butter in my pack knowing I can get bread anywhere and yoink jelly from the breakfast buffet somewhere.
Comfort Food as a Cultural Marker
Before I started traveling, I was naive and expected the entire world to eat and like them. Once I started spending time in other cultures I realized how wrong that was. Most of the Europeans that I have shown PB&Js to find it very odd. The turn their noses up at the idea. I guess this is like us looking at a German putting butter on a ham sandwich.
The base problem is the lack of understanding about peanut butter. There is not a tradition of it here. When I first landed on these shores the peanut butter that you could get was just squished peanuts and was slightly salty. Sure I used it on my PB&Js, but it wasn’t the same. I can understand now how Europeans could have a hard time understanding the idea of sweet preserves with this version of salty peanut butter. Over time things have improved, there are two brands of American style peanut butter in the stores here. One even has both creamy and chunky types. Score for Germany as the ideal destination, it has proper peanut butter.
For those of you not familiar with American peanut butter, it is quite smooth and slightly sweet. It is the texture of Nutella but not that sweet and the flavor is strongly of peanuts rather than chocolate. Creamy is just that smooth, while chunky is smooth with extra bits of peanuts mixed in. The grainy salty peanut butter is not used for PB&Js.
Spreading Culture wherever you go
Being a cultural ambassador is one of those cliches they like to through out in the study abroad briefing meetings. Well, I am often a sandwich ambassador. I will proudly show my sandwich in hostels anywhere I go. I have made PB&J in Vienna using grainy European peanut butter and breakfast jelly inside of Kornspitze (bready Viennese croissants) Using a baguette cut lengthwise is a nice trick too. The jelly doesn’t soak through as fast. As mentioned, I used to bring a jar of peanut butter in my pack when I went traveling. I don’t know if that counts as a liquid nowadays or not.
So I ask you..
North Americans? Do you make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches when you travel?
Everyone else? Heard of them? Tried them? Who showed you? Am I wrong in think this is just an American thing?