Instagram’s most ubiquitous new dish — a gorgeous, golden-hued, triple-cut, yolks-out egg salad sandwich from Konbi in Los Angeles — almost never existed. “We got in a fight because I didn’t want to serve it,” says co-chef and co-owner owner Nick Montgomery. “I thought it was stupid. And egg salad usually sucks.’”
When Montgomery and fellow chef-owner Akira Akuto were working out the menu for their 500 square-foot Echo Park cafe, which opened in early October, the idea was to serve pristine French pastries alongside gussied-up versions of Japanese convenience store foods using high-quality ingredients. A folded Japanese omelette and Duroc pork katsu were no-brainers for the sandwich portion of the menu, but egg salad wasn’t a sure thing, even though it’s a beloved staple at 7-Elevens and the like all over Japan.
“It was actually just intended to be a relief item from the hot food, but we didn’t expect it to be popular,” Akuto says. “We predicted the egg salad would be in last place.” Instead, it became Instagram’s version of the song of summer: something you can’t escape, and even if it irks you a tiny bit that it feels like it’s everywhere, you can’t help but bob your head along with the beat.
The café has been a social-media hit since its first day — media and “influencers” were swift to squeeze into the cafe’s ten snug counter seats; local writer and host of the Air Jordan food podcast Jordan Okun tweeted a few days after the opening, “Do I even exist if I haven’t been to Konbi yet?” But according to Akuto and Montgomery, the egg salad sandwich’s tipping point came after newly appointed New York Times California restaurant critic Tejal Rao posted a shot of the sandwich a few weeks after the café’s opening: “The sandwich really was in last place, but then someone reblogged Tejal’s post, and it took off,” Akuto recalls. (It’s worth noting that the pork katsu is still the most popular sandwich, but depending on the day, the egg salad or the omelette comes in second.)
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The sandwich’s appeal is manifold: it’s delicious, it’s visually arresting, it feeds into food media’s obsession with Japanese food and culture, and at ten bucks, it’s accessible to anyone who wants a bite of a food-world sensation. “You don’t have to understand the significance of the egg salad sandwich in Japan, that it’s this take on Western cafe culture,” says Los Angeles Magazine food editor Garrett Snyder, referring to the country’s iconic plastic-wrapped convenience-store versions. “And it’s not some crazy $200 kaiseki menu that you’re bragging about on Instagram. It’s a sandwich, but it’s still projecting an appreciation of the craft.”
It helps that the egg salad itself is next-level. The eggs, from nearby Chino Valley Ranchers, were selected for their bright orange-yellow yolk (“they’re similar to what you would see in Japan,” Montgomery says). The brilliant-yellow salad is made with Dijon mustard, crème fraîche, a hint of rice wine vinegar, and scallions before it’s spread onto fluffy milk bread created especially for Konbi by local baker Andy Kadin of Bub and Grandma’s. But the stars of the sandwich are undoubtedly the two medium-boiled eggs that are purposely placed “butt to butt” before slicing the sandwich. Once the crusts are trimmed parallel to the eggs and the sandwich is cut into thirds, each slice is anchored by a sunrise of yolk shining out from the middle.
“The yolk in the middle is a textural counterpoint to the salad,” Akuto explains. Montgomery adds: “We decided it was delicious to have the egg in the sandwich, but it looked kind of stupid if you didn’t see the egg yolk in every slice.” (The sandwiches are also engineered to fit perfectly into the shop’s takeout boxes, right down to the bread that’s sliced at exactly five-eighths of an inch.)
The egg salad sandwich’s social media success is all the more notable because of what it isn’t: a gimmick food sporting a tag like “unicorn” or “rainbow.” Montgomery and Akuto are quick to point out that none of the food on their menu was created specifically to be social media-genic. Montgomery says, “I wish people would just say that you make food look good because that’s how you should serve it. It’s not for Instagram.”
“Konbi found a niche,” says Victoire Loup, restaurant consultant and founder of the food site In the Loup. “No one does Japanese street food with French-inspired pastries — fashion designers say they wish they’d created the white shirt. Well, Konbi found their thing, which is the egg salad sandwich, and it’s simple but iconic.”
Zach Brooks, who runs the Los Angeles outpost of Smorgasburg, said, “Look, I’m in a weird position because the food at Smorgasburg is Instagrammable, but we care way more about how the food tastes than [ how] it looks. If it wasn’t my favorite sandwich on the menu I wouldn’t have Instagrammed it. In the end, you eat it and it’s just so good.” He added, “They should get credit for that.”