Brighton has a car boot sale. Brighton also has a large number of vegetarians. And those vegetarians need feeding just like the rest of us. At the car boot sale there are a couple of burger vans that travel from outside Brighton where vegetarians might be looked upon as weird or perhaps a bit ‘hippy’, and the vendors aren’t used to catering for them. A burger van vendor who can rise to the challenge and provide an alternative will make sales that the others might miss when hungry customers are uninterested in bacon ‘n’ egg baps, cheeseburgers or hotdogs. Long ago there was one such innovative chef who looked at the contents of his travelling larder and with these limited ingredients devised a sandwich to cater for the needs of the non-meat eating population of Brighton. It was a sandwich which I enjoyed then, and that I have recreated many times since.
I used to make my way to the boot sale every Sunday morning. Religiously. It’s not held at the marina car park, a shame as it’s out of town, but before it was held at the railway station car park and it was brilliant, as antique and junk dealers mingled with normal people who’d just emptied their lofts. Being Brighton, with it’s eccentrics and creative types, the contents of said lofts was often more interesting than the contents of the lofts of the residents of, say, Haywards Heath*. It was vibrant and chaotic, and being in the centre of town it was extremely busy. I saw Jarvis Cocker there once, as I was arriving he was leaving, pushing a baby in a buggy. I remember how he looked incredibly scruffy which seemed to make him all the more impressive. I’ve picked up crockery, guitars, clothes, and lots of kitchen equipment on my visits and rarely came away from the boot sale without something, even if that something was nothing more than a sated appetite.
The sandwich that the vendor created for his vegetarian customers, and which in our house has since adopted the name ‘The Car Boot Sale Sandwich’, consisted of two slices of lightly toasted bread (brown bread, since we all know vegetarians would prefer that to white), buttered, and between them a mixture of fried onions (from the hot dogs), a slice of processed cheese (from the cheese burgers) and a fried egg (from the egg’n’bacon baps). It was made even tastier with the addition of a thin layer of mayonnaise and a little mustard. Oh and it does need to be processed cheese too. We tried it with normal cheddar and it just didn’t seem the same.
It’s clumsy, slippery and inevitably messy, but it just works. It’s a great hangover cure, but equally as enjoyable if you’ve gone to bed early with a book and a chamomile tea the night before. The sweet silky onions sink into the milky processed cheese as it melts in the heat and the little crisp edges of the egg, bathed in a runny yolk, add a welcome texture. When we make it these days, we use wholemeal bread. It’s both nicer and it serves to counter a little bit of the guilt you feel when spreading mayonnaise onto a fried egg, and we add a bit of chopped parsley too.
I don’t know if it was particularly popular at the car boot sale. I imagine stricter vegetarians wouldn’t have liked the idea of their food being cooked on the same hotplate as the burgers, bacon and hotdogs, but being a meat eater I was never bothered by this. I don’t remember it being available for more than a few months, but I had one quite few times, and It’s lived on in our house for years.
* Haywards Heath might well have interesting people and an interesting car boot sale. I was just being presumptuous.