Sandwiches, without exception, came on Dutch Crunch--as characteristic of a Northern Californian childhood as earthquake drills and year-round flip-flops.
We learn most about our hometowns when we finally leave them; it's one of life's funny quirks. Just as sharp contrast makes an image clearer, it is only by comparing ourselves to others that we begin to see the rich detail of our own everyday experience. Especially as kids--when our neighborhoods are, essentially, all we know--we rarely realize that the little aspects of life we take for granted just aren't the same elsewhere.
And as with life, so too with food.
Growing up in the Bay Area, there was a single bread of choice for sandwiches. No, not San Francisco sourdough--lunches came on Dutch Crunch, as characteristic of a Northern Californian childhood as earthquake drills and year-round flip-flops. It wasn't until I left for college that I realized that this Platonic ideal of a sandwich bread just didn't exist anywhere else. Even Ed Levine, who sniffs out regional food like a pig does truffles, had never heard of it.
So what is Dutch Crunch?
So what is Dutch Crunch? It's a dense, doughy bread with a moist crumb, generally sold in sandwich-sized rolls or baguette-shaped loaves. But what sets it apart is the crackly top--with crunchy little bits growing from the paler crust underneath.
The bread is coated with a wash of rice flour, butter, sugar, and yeast. In the oven, the top crust splits and browns, giving us that distinctive streaked or spotted crust. Needless to say, the crunch is the best part of the loaf. Sweet and crispy, worth picking off and eating by itself, its only fault is a tendency to scrape the top of your mouth when you're taking a huge bite. But it's worth it.
Where Dutch Crunch comes from--and why it's virtually unknown outside of the Bay Area--is a matter of some debate. It's patterned after a Dutch loaf called Tijgerbrood, or "Tiger Bread," explaining the name. (The "Crunch" part is self-evident.) Still, San Francisco is hardly a Little Amsterdam--well, at least not ethnically--and I've yet to find an explanation for how this particular loaf of bread jumped over an ocean and a continent.
The San Francisco Chronicle traces the bread's Californian debut to 1909, at Galli's Sanitary Bakery,while others cite its appearance much later. But today, Dutch Crunch shows up everywhere from high-end city bakeries to a standard suburban Safeway. My own favorite sandwiches came from the Village Cheese House in Palo Alto, but there's plenty of competition.
Growing up, with an after-school athlete's appetite, my signature order was a none-too-dainty egg salad with cheddar on Dutch Crunch. I went through turkey and roast beef and veggie phases, but the bread never changed. And even when a hefty Cheese House sandwich was too big to finish, I'd never let a crust go uneaten--I'd leave a pile of egg salad on the plate, so long as I could leave room for that chewy, buttery, oh-so-crunchy roll.
Bay Areans, where's your favorite Dutch Crunch? And Bay Area expats, have you ever seen the bread elsewhere? This homesick Californian is dying to know.