Cheese & Onion Sarnie: A Working Man’s High Tea

If you’ve never had high tea in Singapore, add it to your bucket list.

These feasts, often buffets,  typically unfold over a few hours in posh hotels — all the better if they’re of the colonial variety such as the country’s fabled Raffles — and feature heaping tables of sweets (scones, clotted cream, jam, tiny tarts) as well as hearty servings of local savory dishes such as curry, noodles, steamed Chinese buns and more.

I always look forward to the scones, cakes and tarts — what proper post-Colonial Anglophile wouldn’t? But it’s often the dainty finger sandwiches that I covet first. Cucumber, sweet curried chicken — I can never get enough.

So when my monthly virtual lunch-group, the Let’s Lunch bunch, decided on doing high tea for October,  little sandwiches immediately went on my docket …

What sandwich to make? Watercress and cucumber seemed just a smidge too predictable.

What appealed far more was a British sandwich I’d been reading about but had never sampled — cheese & onion, one of the most classic and basic British sandwiches, eaten by the young, the old, the poor and, well, perhaps the rich. It’s so common in London lunchboxes that grocery stores there sell tubs of pre-made filler. With no Tesco in sight in New York City, however, I set about figuring out how to make this sandwich — or, sarnie, as the Brits call their sammiches.

For starters, it should be noted that the British do know their sandwiches — they invented them after all. John Montagu, the Fourth Earl of Sandwich, was said to have been so fond of gambling that he made his cook prepare his food in an easy-to-eat way, wedging meat between two slices of bread, so he could eat his meals at the table during a 24-hour gambling binge in the late 18th Century.

(A gambling-inspired meal — my late grandmother would have approved! She did, after all, create “gambling rice,” a one-bowl meal of rice with shrimp, shallots and shredded cabbage to serve to gamblers in the illegal gambling den she ran in her home. You’ll have to read “A Tiger in the Kitchen” if you want to find out more…)

When it comes to cheese and onion sarnies, however, no meat is involved. After seeing a blogger’s attempt to make one by simply slapping cheese and raw sliced onion between two slices of bread, I decided this would not be the shape my high tea sarnie would take.

Instead, I found a few recipes that called for a few kinds of chopped onions (usually green onions and sweet white onions) …

… which you then mix together with mayonnaise and grated cheddar cheese, the stronger the better so it stands up well to the onions. You can also add chopped chives and salt and pepper to taste at this point. Once that’s nicely mixed, just spread it on bread…

… and serve.

Because I wanted to class up this sarnie a bit, I cut off the crusts and sliced the sandwich up into little fingers. And boy were they delicious with a strong cup of milky Assam tea.

With its very intense — and lingering — flavors, blending raw onions and sharp cheddar, this would not be a sarnie best eaten before a meeting or first date. But for any regular lunch or high tea, it’s certainly a winner. I think the Earl of Sandwich would approve.


Don’t forget to check out the Let’s Lunchers’ high tea offerings below! And if you’d like to join Let’s Lunch, go to Twitter and post a message with the hashtag #Letslunch — or, post a comment below.

Cathy‘s Sweet Potato Tea Bars at Showfood Chef

Charissa‘s Egg Salad Tea Sandwiches with Honey Mustard, Tomatoes & Basil at Zest Bakery

Emma‘s Brown Sugar Shortbreads With Hawaiian Jam at Dreaming of Pots and Pans

Grace‘s Taiwanese Sandwiches at HapaMama

Karen‘s Saskatoon Berry Tartlets at GeoFooding

Linda‘s Mesquite Hemp Cocoa at Free Range Cookies

Linda‘s Singapore-Style Ginger Tea & Kaya (Coconut Jam) Toast at Spicebox Travels

Lisa‘s Little Lemon Meringue Tarts at Monday Morning Cooking Club

Mai‘s Cougar Gold & Shallot Shortbread at Cooking in The Fruit Bowl

Patrick‘s Welsh Rarebit at Patrick G. Lee

Rashda‘s Spiced Chickpea & Sweet Potato Tidbits at Hot Curries & Cold Beer

Rebecca‘s Millionaire’s Shortbread at Grongar Blog

Steff‘s Lemon-Lime Shortbread Cookies at The Kitchen Trials


Cheese and Onion Sandwich

(From The Kitchn)

Makes 2 sandwiches

4 ounces cheese such as Cheddar, Double Gloucester, Cotswold, or Red Leicester
2 tablespoons finely chopped sweet white onions
2 tablespoons finely sliced scallions
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
Salt and pepper
4 slices bread, toasted or untoasted

Grate the cheese. Combine in a bowl with the onions and mayonnaise. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Spread the mixture between slices of buttered bread.

21 thoughts on “Cheese & Onion Sarnie: A Working Man’s High Tea

  1. Pingback: High Tea | Patrick G. Lee

  2. I really want to visit Singapore and experience one of these lavish tea times. The cheese and onion sarnie looks wonderful… sometimes the simplest ingredients create the best dishes!

  3. This sounds so good and like a lovely twist on a pimento cheese sandwich. I love seeing how some types of food repeat across different types of food – with the one little twist (onion instead of pimentos) that makes them unique. And… I can’t wait to try it myself!

  4. Pingback: Zest Bakery & Deli » Blog Archive » egg salad tea sandwiches and our first high tea service

  5. Pingback: Let’s Lunch! HighTea with Taiwanese Sandwiches | HapaMama

  6. Cheryl, thanks again for letting me join your lunch bunch! This is so much fun. Those Singapore tea buffets are out of control! Your sandwich looks lovely– the variation I like even more is the Ploughman’s lunch, which involves cheddar and Branston pickle.

    • So glad you joined! And yes, “out of control” would be an accurate description! I adore Ploughman’s Lunches too … it’s been too long since I had one.

  7. Awww, I skipped the high tea at Raffles after I had read it really wasn’t “all that”. Also, I was curious if there was a halal high tea somewhere. Any-which-way I still have soooo many thing to try in Singapore, I’m sure to go back again if I’m able.

    • Not sure about halal teas but I’m headed to Singapore in a few days. Will see if I hear of any! There are many places to have great high tea in Singapore — the Marriott and Mandarin (along Orchard Road) used to do good ones and Shangri-La always does a nice job. You really can’t go wrong with a high tea at a reputable hotel in Singapore…

  8. Pingback: Mesquite hemp cocoa « Free Range Cookies Blog

  9. Anyplace that lets me sit and eat for a couple of hours in a row – sounds good to me! I love Singaporean food too – there is a great little place in SFO called Straits cafe (at least it was great some 10 years ago!) that specialized in that unique cuisine! Just started reading about your Aunties too so now it is on my bucket list! Thanks!

    • Wouldn’t it be fun if the Let’s Lunchers could get together for a 3-hour high tea in Singapore sometime? Oh, we can dream. I’ve only been to Straits Cafe in San Francisco (the one in the city) twice and the food there isn’t terribly authentic. If you are in NYC, try Taste Good or Nyonya; in DC, Malaysia Kopitiam is terrific! So glad you’re enjoying the book, dear…

  10. Oh man, tea in Singapore? That would be amazing – I would love it. I really DO hope it happens some day. I’m enjoying your book SO much, can’t wait for the online book club day. Having tons of fun with Lets Lunch bunch – sorry mine was so delayed this time (computer probs, work, too much to type.) Loved your post~

  11. Pingback: Rich tea in October « GrongarBlog

    • Aw, and this group loves you back. It’s been a fun few months…and people keep joining! Can’t wait for November’s Seduction Foods…

  12. Cheese & Onion sandwiches are not common here. You can get them from supermarkets but almost nobody would make them at home and sandwich fillers are not commonly bought and are shoved onto other things more often like baked potatoes.

    Common sandwich fillings here are tuna mayo, prawn mayo, ham and cheese, egg mayo and anything with sweet chilli – which we brits are crazy for. Oh, curry is No.1 but sadly we don’t include in sandwitches which I do. It’s delicious.

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