Potato Salad Sandwiches, Bun Optional

In celebration of Labor Day Weekend, I’m sharing a recipe for one of my favorite picnic foods: potato salad. Or potato salad sandwich, as my Ah Ma would have it.

 

Everyone knows not to eat the potato salad at a picnic, right? Well, try telling that to my grandmother.

When I was around ten years old, my paternal grandparents came to stay with my family for an entire summer. During the endless weekdays, Ah Ma and Ah Gong—who spoke little English — would grab the county bus map, and a stack of coins. My younger brother and I would join them to explore California suburbia by public transportation. The buses ran infrequently and made many stops, but we managed to make to various destinations, ranging from the local Kmart to Stanford University.

In the afternoons, Ah Ma would take over the kitchen, giving my mother well-intentioned — but nevertheless unsolicited— advice like, “Butter makes everything taste better.” And that was just for the Chinese food. Round and good-natured, she was the Taiwanese answer to Paula Deen. Her other favorite ingredient was mayonnaise.

On weekends, my dad would load up the entire family in car for more exciting locales: San Francisco, Seventeen-Mile Drive, and such. In preparation for one of those trips, Ah Ma spent the morning boiling potatoes, carrots, and eggs in a pot. The cooked ingredients were diced and mixed with generous amounts of mayonnaise. But she didn’t just pack it all in a Tupperware and throw it in a cooler. No, in front of my horrified eyes, she took a slice of Home Pride white bread, topped it with a heaping scoop of potato salad, and covered it with another slice of bread. “That’s not how you’re supposed to eat it!” I screamed. She insisted this was good.

“Potato salad sandwich,” she said naturally, the way another grandmother might offer peanut butter and jelly. The bread-potato-bread pattern continued until all the slices were used. Then, she stacked the sandwiches one by one, back in the cellophane bread bag — so it resembled the original loaf, only interspersed with the potato-mayonnaise mixture.

On this particular weekend, our family was headed for Big Sur. I don’t remember much about the drive, except my father yelling, “Just focus on the road, and you won’t feel sick!” and me just wanting to squeeze my eyes shut and hoping the bilious taste in my throat would go down. Perhaps it was the windy coastal highway. Or perhaps it was being squashed four-abreast in the backseat. I blamed it on the sight and smell of the potato salad sandwiches. When we finally reached the redwood picnic area, the rest of the family tore into the loaf of sandwiches. I just drank orange juice.

potato salad sandwich

Potato Salad Bun, from L’epi d’Or Bakery

For years, I laughed at the concept of potato salad squeezed between slices of white bread. Until recently, when I found this Potato Salad Bun offered at many Taiwanese bakeries (What’s that? The most well-known is the Sheng Kee chain found in many metropolitan areas with a large Asian population). Nostalgia — combined with the temptation of one white-carb stuffed inside another white-carb — prompted me to try one. Unfortunately, I loved it. If only I had given it a try when I had the metabolism of a ten-year old.

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Over the years, the job of potato salad making fell to me. I’ve tried many variations of my family’s “recipe” (I use that term loosely, because we never wrote anything down, just used some of this and some of that). This is a Japanese style potato salad, more like the kind found on a Hawaiian plate lunch than the kind behind the deli counter. It is dense and mild, with no pickles, olives or sour cream. I’ve kicked it up a notch with the addition of wasabi.

Wasabi Potato Salad

•Six small Russet potatoes

•Two carrots

•Three eggs

•One Japanese or English cucumber (remove seeds if using a regular cuke)

•1/2 Red Onion

•1/2 c. Kewpie mayonnaise (or substitute Best Foods)

•1 tsp. of prepared wasabi for starters, or 1 Tbs. (or as much as you can stand) for more spice

•Rice Wine Vinegar, Salt and White Pepper to taste

Peel, boil and cube potatoes and carrots. Hard boil eggs and dice. Cut red onion and cucumber into 1/4″ dice. I like to leave the skin on the cucumber for added color. When the potatoes and carrots are still hot, sprinkle lightly with rice vinegar. Mix mayonnaise and wasabi. Toss with potato mixture, remaining vegetables, and eggs. Chill and serve. Makes about 20 Japanese-sized side dishes, or ten average sized portions. The buns are optional. But if you’re not concerned about refined carbs, stuff the potato salad in a sweet white roll, such as King’s Hawaiian hamburger buns, or even Home Pride white bread. Also, if you can find Trader Joe’s Wasabi mayonnaise, it’s a great substitute for both the mayo and wasabi, although you might want to cut it with some plain mayonnaise to preserve your sinuses.

Please, make sure you pack the potato salad in a cooler with ice and don’t leave it in the sun.

Originally posted on my blog at Open Salon, May 2010, where it won an honorable mention in the Salon Kitchen Challenge.

Comments

  1. says

    Yum – potatoes and bread, my two favorite carbs mixed together! The recipe looks yummy and the story is hilarious.

    What does Kewpie mayonnaise taste like, BTW?

    • says

      Kewpie mayonnaise comes in this plastic squeeze bottle- it’s a little richer and thicker, and maybe a bit sweeter than regular mayo. I think it’s usually used at sushi bars when they make California rolls and such that have mayo in the filling. Thanks for stopping by, Susannah!

  2. says

    Looks delicious! I’ve never had it growing up – I always thought Asians didn’t really eat potato salad or use mayo (too American). BTW, I noticed you called your grandparents Ah Ma and Ah Gong. My niece & nephew call their grandparents Ah Ma and Ah Pa, but that’s only because when they were little they couldn’t say the “Grand” in Grandpa and Grandma. Does the Ah mean anything? I always thought the official names were Gong Gong and Pau Pau (for mom’s side) and Ye Ye and Ni Ni (for dad’s side).

    • says

      Probably a good thing that you weren’t introduced to mayo early!

      Ah Ma and Ah Gong are the names for grandma and grandpa in the Taiwanese dialect. But you’re right, Gong gong and Po po / Ye ye and Ni ni are the Mandarin names! Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I look forward to following your blog, too!

  3. says

    What a fun story to share – I grew up with my Ankong and Anmah living with us, but I’m not even sure my Anmah knew what mayonnaise was! So interesting that mayonnaise has made its way into Asian cooking – I’ve seen it at restaurants served with fried shrimp!

  4. says

    You’re not the only mayo-eating Chinese family! I was laughing so hard at this post because a couple summers ago, I saw my aunt make a potato salad sandwich at one of my BBQs. The buns were out for the sausages and the potato salad just happened to be placed next to it. I was like “Who DOES that?” and then my Dad (her brother) responded “That’s what Chinese people do with potato salad!” Hee hee.

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