My Chilean grandfather, Tata Wayo as we called him, made the best sandwiches. I’ve never been a sandwich fan, but there was something about the way he put the ingredients together.
First off, he used good ham. Not that unnaturally pink-hued luncheon meat shaped like a perfect rectangle with rounded corners coated in a thick film of slime that caused a slurping sound when dumped out of its plastic packaging. Tata used a thin slice of beautifully marbled ham, freshly sliced by the butcher that morning and still retained the shape of the pig’s hind quarter so you could almost trace the outline of its muscle, and expertly tucked it over itself so every side of the sandwich was the same thickness.
He lined up thick slices of cheese so they draped over the ham, stretching over the layers of meat as if it had been heated until it reached its gooey potential. It’s one of several white Chilean cheeses from a group called queso mantecoso. A category of cheese whose physical properties reside somewhere between buffalo mozzarella and softened butter, appropriate considering the term roughly translates to buttery cheese.
The ultimate ingredient, in my opinion, was the mashed avocado slathered on one side of bread. Tata Wayo believed that you should spread a thick enough layer of avocado so you leave teeth imprints every time you take a bite and I agree. He felt the same about butter, but that’s another story.
Avocado, or palta as it’s called in Chile, was my mom’s secret ingredient to get me to eat. I was three years old and still within my no-eating phase which drove my mom crazy. She tried every trick in the book and avocado was one of her secret ingredients.
Unless we were in Chile, then my grandfather was her secret weapon. Mom would collect my sister’s plate and ask me to pass mine so she could fix our food for us, but I’d shake my head and send my plate to my grandfather instead.
Tata Wayo would happily send a plate back piled high with ingredients (at least that’s how it looked to me) between two halves of Chilean hallullas, a flavorful bread that resembles both a scone and English muffin simultaneously. Sometimes I’d nibble at the sandwich, poke at the ingredients sticking out, or I’d lick the avocado off the bread and call it a day. No matter how much or how little I ate, I was excited that it was Tata Wayo sending my plate down back down to me. He’s the reason I have such fond memories of meal times with the family, and he is the reason I still get so excited when I see the table laid out for afternoon tea whenever I visit Chile as an adult. Now I eat the whole sandwich and wait for everyone else to serve themselves so I can grab a second hallulla and start again.