When a Parisian can order “Le Big-Mac” on the Champs-Elysées or a typical Japanese businessman can grab a bagel in a Tokyo subway station, it’s pretty easy to see that for good or bad, American food has quickly conquered the world. However, there is still one American staple that still hasn’t reached the international kitchen: the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. This traditional combination is virtually unknown outside of the U.S., and to add a personal insult to its anonymity, my Japanese best friend actually thinks it’s gross.
The PB of PB&J fame, was introduced to the general public at the 1904 St. Louis World Fair, and it found its mate during World War II, thanks to soldiers in need of a cheap and easy source of good protein, but since then, has taken on a life of its own. PB was introduced to me by another picky eater in my life… my mother. She is as picky as my husband. Although Asians live on carbs, my mother doesn’t like rice, pasta, bread… I’ll talk about my mother issue at some other time. But I actually grew up with peanut butter (Skippy, no Jif in Japan).
Back in 1998, when I was working in Greenwich Village, NYC, a store called Peanut Butter and Co. opened. If you think the store’s name would limit its offerings, you’d be mistaken, as they’ve somehow managed to concoct an amazing array of peanut butter, along with every variation of PB&J sandwich and dessert imaginable! You won’t find this in Japan, or not many places in the United State either!
When I visited there recently on a weekday afternoon, a family of 4 was sharing a creation aptly titled, “Death by Peanut Butter Sundae,” which is NOT intended for the sugar substitute crowd as it consists of 3 scoops of vanilla ice cream, peanut butter sauce, peanut butter chips, Reese’s Pieces, peanut butter Cap n’ Crunch cereal and is topped off with whipped cream. It tastes exactly how you might imagine–VERY peanut buttery and VERY sweet.
Although basically a simple offering, the PB & J has been evolving since Elvis was forced to switch to a larger sized stage suit from his addition of bacon and banana to the equation. But that’s to be continued…