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Ode to the Toasted Special

Toasted in Camden

Not THE toastie, just A toastie.

Have you ever had one of those days? You know the one. Where you are zapped from inside out, perhaps you’ve drank too much, perhaps you’ve not slept enough, someone is rapping on your head at work or maybe you are actually ill? You’re probably hungover, let’s be honest.

I had one of those days recently. I felt like my brain was tucked too tightly in my skull and surrounded by bubble wrap, with just enough room for a tiny annoying creature with a pin to roam around squeezing through and bursting one bubble after another.

What to do? Well, I was in Ireland so I had to seek out the Toasted Special.

The Toasted Special is a thing of beauty and simplicity and should not under any circumstances be messed around with. There was a time when every pub in Ireland sold them. A simple toasted sandwich with ham, cheese, onion, tomato. Ideally some butter on the outside of the bread so that they brown and crisp beautifully. I will forgive you some parsley but never, ever, under any circumstances relish or any other ingredients which folk think will gentrify this humble sandwich. They don’t. They kill it.

Don’t dare give me panini bread, or foccacia. Sliced pan (Irish for sliced bread ;), that’s all, you hear me? Where have they all gone? I trekked the streets of Cork searching in vain. Foccacia, panini, relish. I gave up. Almost (as you know I never do). We decided to just settle for a drink instead and, I thought while at the bar, why not just ask?

Do you do food?

No, only toasted specials?

Toasted specials?!

Do you put anything like relish in them?

I’m sorry, no.

Great. Do you use normal bread? No paninis or anything like that?

Sorry, yes, just normal bread.

TWO PLEASE!

Oh, that crispy bread, slippery melted cheese and onion, juicy tomatoes, and porky ham. It was perfect. It redeemed the day for 20 minutes. And then we went and looked for another one. We failed. That’s ok, I am home now with my toasted sandwich maker and I can eat toasted sandwiches all I like.

Toasted in Camden

We love toasted sandwiches in Ireland. Love them. There is a café in Camden that sells only toasted sandwiches. Owned by an Irish man. Of course. Toasted sandwiches with crisps on the side. Toasted sandwiches with chilli and cheese inside (do try one: sinful but glorious).

What do you put in your toasties? They’re so underrated! The Toasted Special is king but I love plain cheese and onion sometimes. Chorizo and manchego. You really can’t beat a tomato in the mix. I’ve had leftover chilli and cheese in there as Toasted do. Sausages. Eggs. Jam (I was only about 8). the B3: brie, bacon and broccoli is surpirsingly delicious. Leeks are good in there too.

Fried sandwiches are good but the toasted sandwich maker tops all, where the steam comes rushing out in a cheeky effort to burn your fingers or your tongue and often succeeds.

Always forgiven though. You can’t beat the humble toastie.

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I like food. I like to make food. Eat food. Photograph food. Write about food. Mainly in London but when I am lucky or organised further afield.

26 Comments

  1. I love a toastie. I bought a Tesco Value sandwich toaster years ago for about £4 and it has to be the best value per use kitchen item I have. Most of the time I go for a simple cheese and ham and it’s out the cupboard at least once a month. When I’m feeling in need of some protein I stick an egg in too, which is always a mission to stop firing out the sides but is great when you bite in to runny yolk mingling with melted cheese. Onion, tomato and mushroom also make there way in there, although I find they can make the filling a bit watery sometimes.

    I once tried to do a cheeseburger toastie with a handful of raw mince, some cheddar, a wipe of ketchup and a smear of mustard. It was a bit too much though when the 20% fat of the mince and however much there is in the cheese all got together.

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  2. Oh gods, why do trendy places feel the need to try and use trendy bread for toasties?

    TOASTIES NEED PLAIN SLICED WHITE!

    I like ham and cheese. I like cheese and onion. I like peanut butter and banana. All have to be buttered on the outside before toasting too.

    :)

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  3. I too am a former toastie addict. When I was in uni I had toasties for lunch every day and never got sick of them. My fav combo was when mum sent missives of frozen meatballs which would go in alongside colby cheese, mushrooms and tomatoes.

    I’ll never forget the simultaneous feeling of joy and remorse as you bite into a freshly toasted sandwich and milliseconds later realise that the filling is still scorching.

    Well worth the pain.

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  4. We eat toasties for lunch at least once a week – and every time they’re suggested, we get over-excited about it.

    Our usual is a basic cheese’n’beans’n’tabasco sauce or, if we’ve got some in, chorizo and cheese (manchego, gouda or brie). Like Louis, I agree the pleasure is worth the hot-lava-inside pain.

    We occasionally have a “dessert toastie” (nutella and marshmallows, sometimes with banana too, if we’re feeling quote-unquote healthy) but these are rare because I have to wait until my boyfriend forgets quite how much of a sticky mess they make before I can mention them again.

    One never: NEVER try a pâté toastie. Pâté on toast? Yum! Pâté toastie? Awful. I tried it once in 1998 and it was that vile that it’s still haunting me, making me gip while writing this comment 12 years later. AWFUL.

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  5. Pingback: Celebrate the Toasted Special « Later On

  6. Niamh! I am loving your blog!

    I work in Camden and am not aware of this toastie shop! please tell me exactly where it is. I will have to pop along at lunchtime tomorrow

    x

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  7. I’m with you on toasties – I had one just today with a spicy chilie, salami cheese roll that was loitering in my fridge, left over from a party. It was delicious! Often do them too for my kids for breakfast. Great way to start them off with some good protein before school. Have to admit that I love my panini grill and it’s great for small quesadillas too.

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  8. I love toasties and as a student used to literally live off them. One of the best combos is cheese with a couple of tablespoons of baked beans. Delicious!

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  9. This is just like the grilled cheese sandwich in the United States. Butter spread on the outside of the bread and cooked either on a griddle or in a frying pan. Served in every diner and cafe, usually to placate fussy children. Always served with potato chips and sometimes a dill pickle spear. It’s my go to comfort food along with tomato soup. I quite often put tomato in mine and sometime onion plus black pepper. Every English person I have made one for loves it. Thin or medium sliced bread works best.

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  10. I adore toasties, cheese & chili is one of my favourites.

    I’ll never forget going to a pub in Dublin and asking if food was still being served, only to be told “no, but we can make toasties”, bloody gorgeous they were too.

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  11. yes yes and thrice yes!

    I don’t have room for a toastie maker, so invested in those toastie bags that go in a normal toaster! ACE!

    Now I can have proper toasties, with hot melty cheese and tomato. I must remember to let them cool down a bit though, and not keep burning the top of my mouth with incandescent cheese…

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  12. The toasted special.

    God, i love them. Mr P and I sometimes take weekend trips to the south, and pubs that have these are my absolute favourite.

    And perfect for hangover cures, too.

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  13. Goes against your theory a bit, but check out the foie gras and haggis toasties at the Canton Arms in Stockwell. In fairness they do use sliced white bread though. Super tasty. Keen to try out this place in Camden.

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  14. As a student in New Zealand the staple food was “toastie pies” – that is, toasties made in those toastie makers that seal the ingredients in. My favourite was creamed corn, but the classic filling was tinned spaghetti. Tinned pineapple and cheese was also popular, or baked beans.

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  15. When I was a wild young thing my friends and I would make cheese and bacon toasties after nights out in the pub – toastie machines are the bit of kitchen equipment you can operate safely when drunk. Sober, I prefer cheese and onion but I have a very wrong love for cheese and banana. That’s right, cheese and banana. I’m not ashamed.

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  16. I can’t believe you couldn’t find a Toasted Special in Cork – that’s mental! Well I’m glad you found one eventually. I’ve just moved to London from Cork actually and I’m trying to adjust to life across the water – there’s more differences than I realised! I’m looking forward to exploring all the foodie treasures to be had here! :-)

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  17. In the States we call them grilled cheese sandwiches and when I was a kid my mom and dad would take us to the local ice cream parlour, Superior Dairy, on Saturday afternoons in the summer. We’d have grilled cheese sandwiches with Lay’s potato chips and a dill pickle spear. And for dessert, hot fudge sundaes! mmmmm….

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  18. Have to confess to a liking for pretty plain cheese toasties with hamburger relish. I have a friend though who swears by smoked salmon and cheddar. I tried it and cannot begin to tell you how foul it was!

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  19. Ohhh great post on the humble yet brilliant toastie. It is something that shouldn’t be messed w/ & was a love of my childhood to the point were my brother and sister and invented a term for the cheesey bits that ooze out the sides when toasting – it’s a ‘cheese snackle’ if you please :)

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  20. Pingback: St Patrick’s Day: I am Cooking at the Roundhouse Hootenanny, COME! |

  21. On reading this through the midst of a migraine in a dark cold room…. I stumbled out of bed, hair more crumpled than the sheets now laying dorment…… And approached my boyfriend with a harsh and vicious question….. ‘Why do you not have a toasty maker.?’ The response I received was not one of which I was prepared for. This guy, the beast who Lives on sandwiches and various filings (so long as it doesnt consist of salad items) has never…. I repeat NEVER had a Toastied sandwich. He’s never had the sensation of panic, when the burning liquid cheese runs down your chin… Or the scauldering bean juice that has dripped through the corner and it quickly descends across every single finger….. Leaving you in a situation knowing if you put the toastie down you ruin the chances of it being contained when you have returned from, the burns unit at the hospital…. (I joke of course, but at that very moment these thoughts run through your mind!)

    Obviously faced with this situation I have told him, he needs to buy one today (preferably in lime green so it goes with the decor) or I will kick him…. But for now I will have to deal with standard chicken and cheese in toasted bread…. The old fashioned way :(

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  22. Oh this post made me chuckle! My fave toastie is so simple, but I have hankering a for it regularly; the Mumbai toastie with potatoes, cheese, beet, cucumber and a sprinkling of masala that resembles chaat masala..in buttery, plain white bread. Brilliant.

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  23. I just stumbled across your post while trying to find out if the “toasted special” was a uniquely Irish things. I was eating one yesterday and when I told my (Scottish) boyfriend that’s what I was having he looked at me blankly. Off all the delicious toastie combinations there are the toasted special is surely number 1.

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