“If you’re anything like me, you probably find the global dominance of the Subway sandwich chain bewildering. There are now 32,046 Subway branches in 90 countries, making it the biggest fast-food purveyor the world has ever seen. But for why? The outlets are nothing but tiled slots with an interior design suggestive of a post-apocalyptic New York: the subway map, brownstones and Brooklyn Bridge, seared like the silhouettes of atom bomb victims into the shit-brown decor.
“Many pundits attribute the success of the chain to one simple perception – Subway is the healthy option. In marked contrast to the super-sized food fascism of the beef-farting, chicken-black-hole-of-Calcutta merchants, some joker in Florida actually lost weight on a Subway-only diet. Needless to say, he’s been a poster-boy for the chain ever since, a sort of Horst Wessel of hearty Italian bread. I’m not arguing with the idea that you can eat healthily at Subway, but then you modulate your nutritional requirements just as effectively at any corner sandwich shop.
“No, the secret of Subway’s success rests, in my view, on two things alone: first, there’s the very fact that it is a chain, offering a modular eating experience that can be simply replicated from Bloemfontein to Bangor. Nothing succeeds like ubiquity, and the more Subways there are, the more the sandwiches they serve approach the Platonic ideal. Then there’s the store-baked bread. I’m not sure what the actual mechanics of this are, but most probably the bread arrives in the form of pre-kneaded and portioned dough, and is simply popped in the ovens. No matter: the by-product is that warm, yeasty stench that wafts from the door of every Subway, selling the scurrying punter the idea that here be Mama.”
Read the rest of this week’s Real Meals column at the New Statesman.