French dip

Today’s Zippy has Griffy and Claude bickering in a diner over American exceptionalism:

Three things: American exceptionalism and jingoism (note the title, “Jingo Bingo”), the French dip, and the diner they’re sitting in. In reverse order…

The USA Country Diner. Since this is a Zippy, the diner in it is a real one. From the Endangered New Jersey Diners site:

USA Country Diner, US 130 Windsor (Washington Twp.), 1964 Kullman. The Country Diner on US 130 south of Hightstown was erected by Kullman at a time when diner manufacturers were still enamored with the look of modernity, but were experimenting with new ways of presenting it. Stainless steel flanks receded for plate glass so expansive windows functioned more like walls. The USA Country Diner is a wonderful expression of this, stunningly framed in light blue and set on a foundation of horizontal stone reminiscent of a California coffee shop of the same time period. Last time I visited, a sign on a door said they were closed for renovation. That scared me almost as much as if the sign said they were closed for demolition. This building is a perfect rendition of early-1960s optimism with no equivalent anywhere in the state. Renovation for preservation is exactly what is needed, but a radical insensitive rebuild would take the diner off the endangered list, and put it squarely on the who-cares list. Worse yet, that was in 2006. Can benign neglect save this building, or will it disappear one day without warning?

(Note: USA in patriotic red, blue, and white, in line with the jingoistic theme.)

Bill Griffith does love his diners.

The French dip. Background from Wikipedia:

A French dip sandwich, also known as a beef dip, is a hot sandwich consisting of thinly sliced roast beef (or, sometimes, other meats) on a “French roll” [a type of bread roll] or baguette [or hoagie roll]. It is usually served au jus (“with juice”), that is, with beef juice from the cooking process. Beef broth or beef consommé is sometimes substituted.

Although the sandwich is most commonly served with a cup of jus or broth on the side of the plate, into which the sandwich is dipped as it is eaten, this is not how the sandwich was served when it was invented.

Two Los Angeles restaurants have claimed to be the birthplace of the French dip sandwich: Cole’s Pacific Electric Buffet and Philippe The Original. Philippe’s website describes the dish as a “specialty of the house”, and the words “Home Of The Original French Dip Sandwich” are present in the restaurant’s logo. At both of these restaurants, the roll is dipped in the hot beef juices before the sandwich is assembled, and is served “wet”. The sandwich can also be requested “double dipped” at either establishment. Philippe’s own brand of spicy mustard is traditionally used by patrons to complement the sandwich.

This controversy over who originated the sandwich remains unresolved. Both restaurants were established in 1908. However, Cole’s claims to have originated the sandwich shortly after the restaurant opened in 1908, while Philippe’s claims that owner Philippe Mathieu invented it in 1918. Cole’s was the oldest restaurant or bar in Los Angeles to operate continuously since its opening at the same location. Its streak ended when it closed for remodeling on March 15, 2007. It reopened on December 4, 2008.

The story of the sandwich’s invention by Philippe’s has several variants: some sources say that the sandwich was first created by a cook or a server who, while preparing a sandwich for a police officer or fireman, accidentally dropped it into a pan of meat drippings. The patron liked it, and the dish surged in popularity shortly after its invention. Other accounts say that a customer who didn’t want some meat drippings to go to waste requested his sandwich be dipped in them. Still others say that a chef dipped a sandwich into a pan of meat drippings after a customer complained that the bread was stale. Cole’s account states that the sandwich was invented by a sympathetic chef for a customer who was complaining of sore gums. Some accounts tell Philippe’s version of events, but assign the location to Cole’s. Unfortunately, the mystery of the sandwich’s invention will probably not be solved due to a lack of information and observable evidence.

The French dip is now served at a number of restaurant chains including fast food, diners and standard restaurants; however, other locations choose to serve the sandwich with jus on the side rather than already dipped.

Contested origin stories, so common in the world of food history.

The sandwich is also known as a French Dip sub, linking it to the big world of submarine sandwiches of all kinds (see postings here and here), a world that extends all the way to Vietnam, with its baguette-enclosed banh mi sandwiches (more on them in another posting). Here’s a version of its juicy American (originally Angeleno) variant:

This is a spare French dip; the sandwich is often served with a side of French fries or potato chips, or cole slaw, or even (for veggie lovers) green beans. The sandwich itself often includes sauteed onions or melted provolone cheese or both. And I have even come across a recipe that might fairly be called Return to France but is labeled French Dip Panini — a variant with sliced French bread (toasted), mayonnaise or roasted garlic aioli, caramelized onion rings, and Gruyère cheese.

American Exceptionalism. Summary in Wikipedia:

American exceptionalism is the idea that the United States is different from other countries in that it has a specific world mission to spread liberty and democracy. In this view, America’s exceptionalism stems from its emergence from a revolution, becoming “the first new nation,” and developing a uniquely American ideology, based on liberty, egalitarianism, individualism and populism. This observation can be traced to Alexis de Tocqueville, the first writer to describe the United States as “exceptional” in 1831 and 1840. Historian Gordon Wood has argued, “Our beliefs in liberty, equality, constitutionalism, and the well-being of ordinary people came out of the Revolutionary era. So too did our idea that we Americans are a special people with a special destiny to lead the world toward liberty and democracy.”

The specific term “American exceptionalism” was first used in Russian [in] 1929 by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin chastising members of the Lovestone-led faction of the American Communist Party for their heretical belief that America was independent of the Marxist laws of history “thanks to its natural resources, industrial capacity, and absence of rigid class distinctions.” American Communists then started using the English translation in factional fights.

Although the term does not necessarily imply superiority, many neoconservative and American conservative writers have promoted its use in that sense. To them, the United States is like the biblical “shining city on a hill,” and exempt from historical forces that have affected other countries.

Since the 1960s, postnationalist scholars have rejected American exceptionalism, arguing that the United States had not broken from European history, and accordingly, the United States has retained class inequities, imperialism and war. Furthermore, they see most nations as subscribing to some form of exceptionalism.

Then there’s the jingoist version:

Jingoism is extreme patriotism in the form of aggressive foreign policy. In practice, it is a country’s advocation of the use of threats or actual force against other countries in order to safeguard what it perceives as its national interests. Colloquially, it refers to excessive bias in judging one’s own country as superior to others – an extreme type of nationalism.

The term originated in Britain, expressing a pugnacious attitude towards Russia in the 1870s. “Jingoism” did not enter the American vernacular until near the end of the 19th century. This nationalistic belligerence was intensified by the sinking of the battleship USS Maine in Havana harbour that led to the Spanish-American War of 1898.

[Etymology] The chorus of a song by G. H. MacDermott (singer) and G. W. Hunt (songwriter) commonly sung in British pubs and music halls around the time of the Russo-Turkish War (1877–1878) gave birth to the term. The lyrics had the chorus:

We don’t want to fight but by Jingo if we do
We’ve got the ships, we’ve got the men, we’ve got the money too
We’ve fought the Bear before, and while we’re Britons true
The Russians shall not have Constantinople.

The phrase “by Jingo” was a long-established minced oath, used to avoid saying “by Jesus”. Referring to the song, the specific term “jingoism” was coined as a political label by the prominent British radical George Holyoake in a letter to the Daily News on 13 March 1878. The term eventually caught on in the United States. (link)

… and gave rise to the slogan “Why don’t you (just) go back (to) where you came from?”, used against anyone (like Griffy) who complains about American policies, attitudes, or customs.

Here’s jingoism realized as the American war-dog Jingo, in an editorial cartoon by Oscar Cesare from 1916:

The American War-Dog. The American-German Crisis, January-March 1916. Depicts U.S. President Woodrow Wilson looking out his door at howling dog labeled “Jingo”; representing those in the U.S. eager to join the Great War against Germany contrary to the administration’s policy of neutrality. (link)

Oh, just feed Jingo a French dip!

[Addendum: Elizabeth Daingerfield Zwicky reminds me that in January 1992, after the Linguistic Society of America meeting in Los Angeles, Jacques and I together with Elizabeth and Brent Chapman took the Coast Starlight train from L.A. to San Jose (and then on by Caltrain to Palo Alto), and caught lunch at Philippe Old Original before setting off on the train. Elizabeth is pretty sure that she had a French dip — and, looking at the menu now, I suspect that I had one of their dip sandwiches too (they offer pork, ham, lamb, and turkey as well as beef — I would probably have chosen lamb — along with quite a variety of sides, plus their famous hot mustard).]

2 Responses to “French dip”

  1. Three from Vietnam « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] banh mi, essentially a Vietnamese-French submarine sandwich. As I wrote recently about French dips: The sandwich is also known as a French Dip sub, linking it to the big world of […]

  2. Two portmanteaus « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] Lithuanians, who come up often in Zippy; French dip, which made a recent Zippy appearance in this blog; and the movie Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia combined with Bishop Fulton J. Sheen). Others […]

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