In Defense of the Tomato Sandwich

If you're a tomato sandwich hater, you're probably making them wrong.
Bettina Makalintal
Brooklyn, US
March 2, 2021, 7:00pm
A hand holding a tomato sandwich with white bread and mayo
All photos by author

There is little to look forward to in the sweatiest days of summer—the days when it feels like you can’t cool down even if you peeled your skin off—except for the pleasure of a peak summer tomato and putting that perfect tomato in a sandwich. 

People have many thoughts on how to construct a tomato sandwich, but this is my preference: squishy white bread, lightly toasted; mayo (Hellmann’s is fine with me, though I know fans of Duke’s mayo have strong feelings here); salt and pepper; and thick slices of the plumpest, juiciest tomatoes I can find—the ones you feel tempted to cradle home for fear that they’ll burst en route. This sandwich, it should go without saying, is best eaten over the sink or with an ample supply of paper towels, because if you do it right, it’s messy as hell. I look forward to the scarce few weeks per year when I can eat this sandwich; in my opinion, a November or March tomato is just not good enough to carry something so simple.

It has become clear in recent days that some people—whose summers must be a bit sadder for it—look down on the tomato sandwich as though it’s just a step towards a BLT and not perfection in its own right. The tomato sandwich backlash began this weekend, when the content creator Quenlin Blackwell tweeted a TikTok from Southern Living magazine to her over 1.7 million followers. In the video, a slightly-too-chipper cooking host assembles a tomato sandwich. While I have some disagreement with its process (recommending untoasted bread, for example), I can’t fault the concept—and yet, many people on Twitter have. 

Emboldened by Blackwell’s caption (“this is so fucking vile.”), haters have said things like: “If I had to look at this cursed, vomit-inducing shit, now so do you,” “no,” and “i’m gonna be fucking sick.” To be fair to them, the way Southern Living’s video star lets the sandwich drip is not “visually appealing,” but it is realistic. Some have said that it’s the “worst parts” of a sandwich, or that the cook did many things wrong including: not adding cheese, not adding turkey or other lunch meats, not adding lettuce or spinach, and not adding ranch and/or hot sauce—which would make it a sandwich, but not a tomato one. 

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An open-faced tomato sandwich—also good!

Luckily, the pro-tomato sandwich coalition has logged onto to defend our maligned icon. As some Twitter users have pointed out, the anti-tomato sandwich sentiments seem like rude digs at the South and to the idea of struggle meals. If the tomato sandwich grosses you out, perhaps the problem isn’t the sandwich itself or even the messy video, but your tomatoes.

Southern Living suggests this treat any time of year, but to really understand the tomato sandwich, I’d suggest setting a reminder for July or August; buying the best, ugliest heirloom tomato you can find; cutting that sucker into slices; then enjoying the experience, drippy mayo and all. If that doesn’t convert you, well, at least you tried it and didn’t just give in to petty Twitter outrage.