Sharon Cotliar/New York City
March 29, 2010 12:00 PM

If you could be any sandwich, what would you be?” asked the young Marine, bored, weary and craving something better than military grub after close to a year in the Afghan desert. At his desk in a dusty trailer, MSgt. Robert Bergmann, 39, didn’t answer hastily; he first searched the phrase “best sandwiches” online. High on the list of results was $10 slow-roasted pork on Italian bread from a tiny shop in New York City called Porchetta. So Bergmann e-mailed the restaurant: “Any chance you’d deliver to 300 Marines in Afghanistan?”

Porchetta’s website clearly notes its delivery zone: a 26-block area serviced by bicycle. But after chef-owner Sara Jenkins confirmed that this message from 6,900 miles away wasn’t a prank, she wrote, “Love to.” Moreover, there would be no charge, thanks to donations from purveyors Niman Ranch (426 lbs. of pork) and Sullivan St. Bakery (350 ciabatta rolls) and free shipping by DHL.

Afghan law prohibiting the sale of pork (in deference to Muslim belief) doesn’t apply to U.S. bases. But re-creating hot, crispy sandwiches in a remote desert raised other challenges. Jenkins, 44, roasted, froze and vacuum-sealed the pork and packed it in boxes with frozen rolls and reheating instructions. “I was worried that they’d get this big stinky mess,” she says. But after stops in Germany and Bahrain, the shipment arrived five days later, and Bergmann surprised his squadron with, he says, “the best meal they had had in 11 months.” Soon, Jenkins’ e-mail box filled with thanks from the troops. “Awesome!” wrote one, Maj. Gerald Cummings. “You brightened our day, taught our taste buds a culinary lesson and raised our pride in our country.” Jenkins deflects the praise: “It made me feel good” to provide “a little taste of home.”

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