alaskan deli: ode to a sandwich

6 02 2010

I have been remembering a sandwich. Oh My! It was one of those sandwiches – you know what I mean!

My second summer in Alaska was spent in Petersburg, a charming, Norwegian- influenced, island village on the inside passage. I lived, with my boyfriend and an interesting guy from New York – who was working on his MA about Hemingway,  in a small Norwegian fishing hut built on pilings in the Wrangell Narrows. The cabin came with a floating barge and a skiff for rowing to the nearest island. It was a fantastic place and we were very lucky to find it. Petersburg, like every other fishing village in Alaska, is always  inundated with college students looking for work during the summer holidays. There is a designated area for them, Tent City, and it really is an incredible atmosphere.

L and I had just completed a bicycle trip from New Hampshire to New Orléans. After thirty days of riding through the Catskills, Adirondacks and Appalachian trail and spending a few weeks hanging out in one of the most exciting and colourful cities in the world, we headed back to Alaska. Arriving before the rush we spent a month working for the U.S Forest Service, planting cottonwood branches in muskegs all over the island to help the moose and deer population survive, whilst staying in the Forest Service’s very rudimentary accommodation until we found that beautiful little shack on the water.

We began working night shift at a shrimp processing plant, which was an experience in itself  (especially for a strict vegetarian) but as I had spent the previous summer gutting fish on the slime line in the Aleutians, I was impervious to gooey, meaty bits at that stage. Working night shift meant we had the days to explore the island and enjoy the village prospects. That is when I discovered Halsa,  a Norwegian  deli on a back street with the most surprising array of vegetarian products and offerings. There was small café attached, one or two tables actually, but the atmosphere was delightful and warm and welcoming. I tried pretty much all they had for vegetarians until, one day, I discovered the SANDWICH.

Two thick slices of seeded wheat bread. Once slice layered with a garlic hummus and the other with cream cheese, sprinkled with a small handful of raw sunflower seeds,  avocado and a sweet chili chutney. Between these two pieces, they managed to pile a veritable tower of tasty veggies: Grated carrot, thick slices of tomato, alfalfa sprouts, cucumber, sliced beetroot, a choice of cheese slices (of course it was always swiss or gouda for me) and a few pieces of  thinly sliced pickle.

Over the years I have created versions of this sandwich – some very close to the original, others very different but just as tasty in their own way. The deli is no longer there, my googling searches inform me, but I must tell you, I have never quite managed to re-create the exact sandwich experience I had all those years ago.  I am not disheartened, though, indeed I am energized by a worthy quest.




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