Earlier this month, on Facebook, my uncle posted a picture of the Yumbo -- Burger King's "retro" hot ham and cheese sandwich -- trying to figure out which one of his family members were all about this sandwich in the ’70s.
“My three year old brain remembers someone from our house liking these. (mom?),” he wrote. “Apparently the fact that BK is bringing this back from the dead is bigger news than a McRib sighting.”
My grandmother was quick to reply. “Not me. Sorry, I don't remember them,” she said.
I could have told him that. I knew who it was. It was my mother.
As a teenager, my mother did not like hamburgers. (Don't worry, she likes them now.) She did not like fries. (They're "okay.") She did not like colas. (Recovered Diet Coke addict.) Instead, when she and her friends would visit the (brand new to Natchez, Mississippi) Burger King, she would feast on the hot ham and cheese option with onion rings, washing it all down with an orange soda.
“I craved them after basketball practice,” she said. “I think I needed to replenish my salt.”
I've mentioned it before, but my mom has always been much more health conscious than me. Loves Ezekiel Bread, that kind of nonsense. The idea of her eating -- and enjoying -- anything from Burger King causes a fair amount of cognitive dissonance, but I've always found her enthusiasm for the Yumbo particularly puzzling.
I initially planned to review the sandwich myself, but quickly realized that she was a much better woman for the job. I could only offer opinions on the sandwich's current iteration, she could tell me (and you) how it holds up, 40 years later.
She was initially enthusiastic, but doubts began to creep in. "Um. Are you really going to make me drink the orange soda? I'm worried I won't respond well to it."
"You have to try it, but you don't have to finish it" I said, using her own words against her, many years later and for very different reasons. This seemed to soothe her, and her focus shifted. "Well, I hope they didn't change the onion rings," she mumbled.
And so it came to be that on the Sunday after Christmas, I whisked her away to Burger King. I told her to have a seat -- this meal was on me, obviously -- and I ordered the Yumbo combo. She found a table and adorned her head with one of the many paper crowns that were scattered throughout the establishment.
The Yumbo and its accompaniments were placed in front of her. Immediately, it was found wanting.
"It's supposed to be round," she says.
"This bun is all wrong. It should be round."
"Oh. Strike one, I guess."
"And what is this shit?" she asks, pointing to a microwave-burnt edge of ham.
She spent another minute inspecting the sandwich, pointing out its flaws, and sighing. "Too much mayo. I don't remember there even being any mayo. What is lettuce doing here? This is no place for lettuce. They're not fooling anybody."
"You have to taste it."
Finally, she takes a bite. And, I have to hand it to her, it's a big one.
"Nope. Too dry. There aren't enough slices and they're too thick. The sandwich I remember was piled high with thinly sliced, juicy ham, and it was dripping with saline. This is a different product. I think they tried to make it healthier."
The only positive comment: "The cheese is nice and false like I remember."
Thankfully, there are onion rings.
"I've been looking forward to this. I love a good onion ring. And I love a bad onion ring." (Where is the line?)
I find it strange that her favorite fried food is my least favorite. I've never been a huge onion ring fan. I love onions. I love fried. I like those shoestring fried onions. I just don't like onion rings that much. It makes me a little sad. Food-wise, we have little to bond over (though we do order our steaks the same way). I start to voice these thoughts but am interrupted by the dropping of onion ring truth bombs.
"The reason Burger King's rings are so good is that they're actually rings of chopped, processed onion mush. It's great, because the onion doesn't slide out of the ring. They're almost like onion fritters."
"What," I say, eyes wide with amazement. "Are you sure?"
"Yeah, look!" and she rips one open. She's right. The matter within the ring looks nothing like an onion. My mind is blown, but she's already moved on and is now instructing me in the ways of ketchup application.
"I didn't dip. You have to paint the ketchup on, straight from the packet." It allows for greater control, or something.
I'm glad we went from sandwich to rings, as they seemed to have lifted her spirits and banished the bad sandwich from her mind.
"These have held up pretty well. I could eat them every day."
But there is still one item to review, and it is bright orange.
She takes a sip and her eyes light up.
"It's not too sweet!"
I taste it. It is definitely too sweet.
"It needs more ice!" She uses the straw to facilitate a properly-chilled soda experience.
"So you like it?" I ask.
"Yes. But I don't want to because it's bad for me," she says sadly.
"That pretty much sums up our differences."
I ask her to rank each item in the meal, even though I already know what the order will be.
The onion rings are the clear winner. "They are just as wonderful as I remember," she says wistfully. The soda was "better than expected, but you got to have a lot of ice."
The sandwich was the weakest link. "The Yumbo was disappointing. I think they made it healthier. It was softer, and I don't remember there being mayo or lettuce, just a pile of juicy ham and cheese. It would drip salty liquid."
"Oh. And I know I already said it, but this bun is wrong."
Burger King better get their house in order.