A few weeks ago, I met a guy named Thorsten and he asked me, kind of out of the blue, if I’d ever blogged about Dagwoods.
“No I haven’t,” I said. “But I definitely should.”
This conversation set into motion a sequence of events, which ultimately led me on a Dagwood mission with three architects to a corner shop in Brixton called Peter’s Food Centre.
Notes on Dagwoods
When I began this process, I had never eaten a Dagwood sandwich and in fact had no idea what a Dagwood actually is. I assumed the Dagwood was of South African origin, as I can’t recall having seen one on a menu before moving here. I only knew Dagwoods are cheap, messy, unhealthy sandwiches — a South African specialty.
But the Dagwood is an American invention, as it turns out. According to Wikipedia: “A Dagwood sandwich is a tall, multilayered sandwich made with a variety of meats, cheeses, and condiments. It is named after Dagwood Bumstead, a central character in the comic strip Blondie, who is frequently illustrated making enormous sandwiches.” The Dagwood originated in the 1930s and had its American heyday in the mid-20th century. But like many mid-century American pop culture trends, South Africa adopted the Dagwood and it has persisted here until current times.
While the American Dagwood seems to feature large quantities of deli meat and cheese, the South African Dagwood is basically a bacon cheeseburger topped with a fried egg and multiple sauces. Dagwoods are popular fixtures on South African fast food menus — I’ve seen them at Wimpy and Steers. Most South African roadhouses sell Dagwoods. I’ve been meaning to write a story on South African roadhouses for years, but until I do here is a placeholder from the Citizen.
So, that’s what a Dagwood is. This brings me back to lunchtime yesterday at Peter’s Food Centre, where I went with Thorsten and his colleagues, Ollie and Simon.
Peter’s Food Centre
The star of this post is actually not the Dagwoods but Peter’s Food Centre itself. I was enchanted by this shop. Walking into Peter’s takes you straight back to a bygone era.
I took lots of pictures.
We met an elderly man sitting at the window at the front of the shop. I asked if he’s Peter. He said no, he’s “Peter 2” — the manager of the shop. I learned later that his actual name is Jack, he’s originally from Cyprus, and he has been working at Peter’s for 50 years. The shop itself, according to Jack/Peter 2, is 80 years old.
We ordered our Dagwoods. There were three options: the Bacon Dagwood, the Jumbo Dagwood, and the Jumbo Bacon Dagwood. I was unclear on the difference between the last two options but decided to go for the Jumbo Bacon Dagwood because why the hell not. We all ordered slap chips (soggy fries — the natural accompaniment to every messy South African sandwich) with salt and vinegar.
We walked back to Thorsten’s office, where the architects all work, and laid out the Dagwoods. We discovered the main difference between the regular Dagwood and the Jumbo Dagwood is the regular one is on toast and the jumbo one is on a larger, round roll. I’m pretty sure all four sandwiches were otherwise the same.
Here is my assessment: I enjoyed the Dagwood experience and appreciated that these sandwiches are relatively easy to eat compared to other messy South African sandwiches, like the bunny chow and the kota.
But I felt like there was something lacking in my sandwich, and I realized later it was the bread. I think it would have tasted better, and felt more like a real Dagwood, on toast rather than a roll.
The next time I go to Peter’s Food Centre — which I definitely will — I’m getting the regular Bacon Dagwood. But this was a wonderful experience that I would highly recommend regardless, if only for the opportunity to take pictures and chat with Jack/Peter 2. He says he’s going to retire soon so don’t delay.
Thanks Thorsten, Ollie, and Simon for a lovely afternoon.