Sites We Love: Scanwiches

Gorgeous photos? Check. Engaging writing? Check. Seriously inspiring recipes, tips, and culinary curiosity? Check, check, and check. The best food blogs all seem to have a lot in common — but what separates them out are the strong personalities behind them. In our Sites We Love series, we sit down with some of our favorite bloggers to find out how they do it — and why it's as much fun for them as it is for us.

Jon Chonko / scanwiches.com

As a food blog boasting a simple concept and flawless execution, Scanwiches hit the internet with a bang when it first entered the scene in 2009. A dive into our email archive finds no fewer than a dozen emails from colleagues and friends exhorting us to check out this "completely amazing, beautiful" site, on which proprietor Jon Chonko posts scanned-in images of the sandwich he eats for lunch each day, with minimal textual accompaniment. In SAVEUR Issue #137, Helen Rosner writes that "the sandwich has never appeared more sublime than on the blog Scanwiches, in which cross-sectioned sandwiches float in eerie stillness against a velvet black background," and that's why we love the site: for its commitment to proving the beauty inherent in a food that's often overlooked aesthetically, and for teaching us how to look at sandwiches in a whole new way. Here's what Jon has to say about his site:

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Live since:** February 2009

Posting rate (posts per day/week/month?): At best 3 a week. Averages 1 per week. Whenever I get a new sandwich.

Geographic location: New York City

Why is the site called Scanwiches? Scanwiches is a portmanteau of s_can_ and s_andwich._ It's a punny little way to describe how I capture the sandwiches I eat, by scanning them on a flatbed scanner.

What's been your most popular post? The one that sees the most traffic and pageviews is the Dagwood that I scanned to break a record for the URDB (Universal Record Database). It's a little unfair to call that the most popular though. It's a frightening sandwich that was constructed during a raucous party so its a monstrous mess that I think people like to share because it's so horrifying. After that I would say the fluffernutter I did a few months back. It's something that everyone growing up in New England seemed to love as a child and it brought back fond memories for a lot of people. That post still gets a lot of action.

What's your favorite post? My favorite post is a turkey hero I made at home with sprouts. I love sprouts and of any ingredient I think they are the most fun to scan. This one in particular was amazing. The sprouts and onions bloom from the top of sandwich in a way I've never been able to repeat with any other sandwich. I scanned it at a time when I was playing around with including more homemade sandwiches. After seeing the result I decided to include as many homemade sandwiches as I could.

What's something great that you've learned or that's happened to you since starting your blog? This may sounds a little dramatic, but the whole blog changed the way I eat. I wouldn't have called myself a picky eater before the blog, but I wasn't aggressively adventurous. Especially around lunch time, I stuck to my tried and true favorites. Before I started the blog I ordered the same BLT from the same deli as many as 3 times a week and I was growing tired of being so regular. One of the first rules I established for myself was I would never scan the same sandwich, from the same place, twice. I did it because I wanted to motivate myself to try more foods and explore. It worked. Within the first month I had discovered half a dozen sandwich places and sandwiches that I never bothered trying before. The best thing though was banh mi. This is embarrassing, but before the blog I didn't even realize banh mi existed. My knowledge of Vietnamese cuisine began and ended at pho. Today I am obsessed with banh mi. Of the hundreds of sandwiches I've eaten it remains my favorite type.

It influenced my cooking as well. I always like to cook but now I have motivations for trying new dishes and experimenting with ingredients, if it works I have a nice dinner and a sometimes a great leftover sandwich the next day.**
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What's the usual process for developing one of your posts? ** The process is pretty simple. I buy or make a sandwich and scan it. I try and pick sandwiches from places I haven't been before and look out for new ones opening around my neighborhood. The facts of scanning mean I can't venture too far for certain type of sandwiches. A pulled pork won't make it more than a quarter mile before it becomes too messy to scan. Of the sandwiches I make, I choose sandwiches I want to eat or I think other people will get a kick out of. Scanning the sandwich is as straight-forward as you might expect. I carefully put it directly onto the glass of the scanner and press a button. There's a little bit of styling and arrangement that goes into it, especially the homemade sandwiches, but what you see is a good representation of what I've eaten. If a scan doesn't look good I don't post it. I'm not in the business of critiquing the sandwiches either. I want everything to look its best and got people decide themselves it is something they want to try.

What are your favorite ingredients and tools? My favorite ingredients to scan are leafy greens and sprouts, anything with rich color and texture. I love really good chewy breads too, the kind whose air bubbles resemble cathedral arches; those breads are often the tastier ones, too. The tools I can't work without are bamboo skewers (to hold the sandwiches together) and my ceramic knife. The knife cuts through an entire sandwich like a laser, it's brilliant. I've given up with serrated bread knives. Some people have described the sandwiches on the blog as dissected. If that's the case, then the ceramic blade is my surgeon's scalpel. **
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What are your favorite food and cooking resources? I love to cook at home. I try and do most of my meals that way these days. My cooking is generally very simple and doesn't require a lot tools. I do use a lot of cookbooks, though, not for sandwiches but for my own home meals. I dip into classics like the Silver Palate, a lot. One recent surprise that I've been thrilled with every time I use is the Dinosaur Bar-B-Que cookbook. Dinosaur is a chain of three BBQ joints around New York state that's known best for their ribs. I went to school in Syracuse and knew the place, and a friend who grew up in Rochester recommended the book. Every recipe has been gold so far, and since it's so meat heavy, more than one has turned into a great leftover sandwich. The best so far was a apple-maple pork loin that I turned into a sandwich for National Pig Day earlier this month. **
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What photography equipment do you use?** I started the blog with an ancient HP Scanjet that my girlfriend lent me in the early days. I bring it out every now and then. Most recently I shipped it to Texas for SXSW (and left it there). My main machine now is an Epson Perfection v700 Photo Scanner. Archivists and photographers will probably be appalled that I've only ever put sandwiches on such a delicate piece of imaging technology, but it's a fantastic scanner and a little windex keeps the grease away just fine.

Where else can we find your work? Outside the food world, Scanwiches is popular in a lot of design and technology circles for reasons you might expect. It's been in Wired and Print magazine, for example. There's also a Scanwiches book on the horizon, it will be hitting shelves Nov. 3rd, 2011 — National Sandwich Day, of course.

What food blogs do you follow? I'm a bad fellow blogger, I don't frequent many sites exclusively. I love to bounce around Tumblr and Twitter chasing beautiful food photography and recipes that incorporate whatever I'm craving at the moment. Aggregate sites like Tasteologie are good for that. I do follow a few blogs for more personal reasons. Being a Texas expat, Homesick Texan is one I check out whenever I get a craving. Another blog I recently started following is macheesmo.com, a site all about encouraging people to cook at home, try something new, and figuring it out for yourself. That certainly describes my own experience with food, both when I started Scanwiches, and today in my own home kitchen.

Photos by Jon Chonko/Scanwiches.com

Do you know a blog or blogger who deserves to be featured in this space? Email a nomination — including a link to the site and a few sentences on why they're worthy of love — to siteswelove@saveur.com.