Sanitary? Not really. Necessary? Yes.
Eating sandwiches at the Jersey Shore was a big part of my childhood. Every time my family got up at the crack of dawn and piled in the car and took the Garden State Parkway to anywhere below Exit 105, we packed heavy. There was no “we’ll just grab food when we get there." In addition to the chairs, thick magazines, and towels, we always lugged onto the beach a big cooler of hand fruit, sometimes chips or pretzels, lots of water, and the main event, sandwiches. Though the sandwiches themselves were relatively modest—turkey, salami, provolone, your choice of oil and red wine vinegar or mayo and mustard—there was one thing that couldn’t be skipped: sand.
This is no typo. Sand in sandwiches is an essential part of beachside eating. This tradition may have started after a sandwich was unintentionally dropped and then brushed off and eaten anyway. Or maybe it was that after an hour or two of building sandcastles and wave-jumping, we were just too hungry to walk all the way back up to the boardwalk to wash hands before eating. Instead, we did the old water bottle-rinse and reached into the cooler, fingers still salt-sticky. Whatever the cause, those sandwiches had a bit of extra crunch from the sand—and they were better for it.
I’m not a little kid anymore. I hide under a massive umbrella while smearing on SPF 95. I tend not to dig holes with my bare hands in the squelchy sand between the water and the rest of the beach. And I always reach a spritz of two of my trusty bottle of natural hand sanitizer before eating. Still, I crave that crunch of not-quite-food in my sandwich when I’m on the beach, and that’s why you’ll catch me sprinkling just a few grains of sand into my bread before taking that first bite. Is it sanitary? Oh no. Is it even safe? Probably not, but I don’t care. This is where I live on the edge, and I think many would argue it’s a pretty modest rebellion.
You could scoop some of that soft, sun-warmed sand into a jar, seal it with a lid, and take it home to replicate these beach sandwiches for days (even years) to come. In my opinion, however, if you’re not sitting on a towel, smelling of coconut sunscreen and briny ocean while you chew, it’s just not quite the same. Still, the next time you’re at the beach, I ask you to join me, and exchange your pinch-tin of sea salt for a light shower of sand. You won’t be sorry.