What is a Bacon Sarnie and Where Can You Find One?

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If you love bacon, come to Britain where eating it is part of everyday life. And a bacon sarnie or a bacon butty is an excuse for eating lots of it.

A bacon sarnie is a bacon sandwich that's a guilty pleasure throughout the British Isles. Some people call it a sarnie, some call it a butty. The origin of the name is a bit of a mystery, but if anyone in a cafe or refreshment van tries to offer you a bacon roll or a bacon sandwich, you are probably not in the UK. Whatever you call it, it is essentially a couple of slices of white bread, stuffed with a satisfying amount of bacon that is probably a lot more than is good for you.

And it's one of Britain's favorite foods, turning up in the top ten of food favorite surveys again and again. A few years back, a mobile telecom company surveyed 60,000 of its subscribers, asking them to choose Britain's most important national treasures. The humble bacon sarnie was first on the list - before the country's history, before the BBC, even before Her Majesty the Queen. So if you want to get to grips with Britain's national cuisine, forget fish and chips - it's bacon and brown sauce between slices of bread that leads the way. 

What's in a bacon sarnie?

Besides bacon of course? White bread is essential - but what kind. There are two schools of thought on this. Traditionalists go for the cheapest, most tasteless white bread money can buy. It's only there to hold the bacon and sauce together without interfering with the taste of the meat. Traditionalists would never toast the bread. That would just add another unwanted flavor and texture.

Lately, hipster foodies have introduced a variation by sneaking toasted sourdough into the recipe. That may be trendy (and tasty in its own way), most purists would turn their noses up at the sacrilege.  

The bread is slathered with butter - I did say this was a guilty pleasure - and while some add ketchup, or (ew) mayo, HP Brown Sauce is the other essential. As to the bacon, it can be dry-cured streaky - the most similar to American bacon - or back bacon (quite a bit like what Americans call Canadian bacon), as long as there is plenty.

Sometimes you'll be served this sandwich on a bap, a soft roll similar to a hamburger bun. Then it will probably be called a bacon butty.

The British do seem to have a taste for slapping unhealthy things between slices of white bread. Check out the chip butty and crisp sarnie, two other guilty gastronomical pleasures.

Where and when?

You won't find bacon sarnies (that's pronounced SAH' nee by the way) at formal occasions and dinner parties - unless your hosts are being ironic. Otherwise, they are an anytime filler, warmer-upper and treat. Students eat them for breakfast, workmen for an afternoon pick-me-up, ravers after a night of clubbing - all that bread and fat soaks up a lot of alcohol.

Practically everyone on vacation or on long road trips seems to have time to stop for a bacon sarnie. You can always find them at motorway stops and in old fashioned "caffs" like Browns in Oxford Covered Market. Even Starbucks serve a sort of version of a bacon sarnie that they will heat up for you in a microwave.  And the best bacon sarnies are eaten outdoors, with a steaming cup of coffee - or milky tea to be completely authentic.

In her instructions for the perfect bacon sandwich, British food writer Elaine Lemm, says, "It is almost rude not to eat bacon on a Sunday morning (outside in the rain if away camping or at a festival). And, always on holiday, especially in the UK."

After an early start on a drive out to the country with friends and dogs, a roadside stop for a bacon sarnie and a cup of milky tea at about 10 a.m. is an absolutely essential tradition.

And about that milky tea - a lot of British tea drinkers like their brew pretty strong. Adding milk mellows it. Don't knock it until you've tried it. 

So are they good?

Some things the British enjoy eating (like jellied eels, or beans on toast) are acquired tastes - but everyone loves bacon sarnies. Even vegetarians use vegetarian bacon made from Quorn or tofu for them.

But are they good for you? If you are health-conscious to the slightest degree, you should face the fact that from a health point of view there is nothing whatsoever to recommend bacon sarnies.

But the ultimate truth is, once you've tasted one, you won't care - and what's more, you will probably want another one.

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