Ian McMillan: The many subtle joys of a bacon sarnie

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We were taking our grandson Thomas to school the other morning so he had his breakfast at our house and he fancied bacon and beans.

I went into the kitchen at the glorious moment when the bacon was just hitting full sizzle mode in the frying pan. The smell was overwhelmingly wonderful, the sound was exquisite and the sight made me feel like I’d seen a modern masterpiece in a gallery.

“I bet you’d like a bacon sarnie,” my wife said, flipping the bacon with a skillet. I shook my head, although I wanted one. I really did. But I’m trying to be a good boy. I left the kitchen loftily, having attained some kind of bacon-refusing moral high ground.

My vegetarian friends tell me that the smell and the sound and the sight – even the idea – of a bacon sandwich is what makes them want to turn back into carnivores. There’s something primal about it, something celebratory, something about the morning after the night before or the preparation for a solid day’s work, that makes it unique.

After all, I like cheese sandwiches but they don’t seem to inspire the same kind of loyalty that the bacon sandwich does. Another great thing about the bacon sandwich is that it’s not one thing but many. 
 It contains multitudes. It’s (and I never thought I’d say this about a bacon sandwich) subtle and nuanced. It starts with the name. Is it a sandwich or a sarnie? A roll or a bap? A butty or a breadcake? I’ve heard it called all these things in different parts of Britain in cafés with steamed-up windows. Then there’s the sauce: brown or red? I’m a brown sauce man myself; I fool myself that it’s sauce for grown-ups and that tomato ketchup is nursery food. Mustard is best, of course, but maybe that marks me out as posh person.

Then there’s the bread, but there’s really no discussion to be had here. Brown or white? It has to be white, of course, and the thicker the better. Some gourmets go for toasted bread but I bet they want samphire and quail’s eggs on it and all.

Then there’s the vexed question of butter. Do you put butter on a bacon sandwich? I would say no. I would say the grease from the bacon provides all the lubrication you need and butter would be just one step too far.

Others disagree: my mate Iain couldn’t believe it when I said I didn’t have butter on a bacon sandwich. “No butter on a butty?” he gasped, his shock forcing him to speak alliteratively. “You may as well have no milk in your tea!”

Well, I don’t have milk in my tea, as it happens. I thought I was being an aesthete; he thought I was being daft. He dug up an argument and presented it to me triumphantly: “But do you have butter on a chip butty?” He asked. I replied that of course I did, just so that the butter could run down at least two of my chins. “Well then, I rest my case,” he said triumphantly.

It was all too much: I went back into the kitchen and said, “OK then, I’ll have a bacon sarnie on white bread with no butter and some brown sauce and mustard.” And my wife said “Too late; Thomas has 
eaten it all.” And he had!