Webster tells us that the sandwich was named after the Earl of Sandwich, and defines it as “two or more slices of bread with a filling of meat, fish, cheese, jam, etc., between them…”
With the possibility of so many fillings that Webster settles for ‘etc.,’ we must turn to the critical element of a sandwich, one that has infinite variety itself – bread. Let us go back in time to the 1st century B.C.
History of Sandwiches
The first recorded sandwich was made by the famous Rabbi, Hillel the Elder, who lived during the 1st century B.C. A poor man, but a great scholar, he began the Passover custom of sandwiching a mixture of chopped nuts, apples, spices, and wine between two matzohs to eat with bitter herbs. This sandwich is the foundation of the Seder and is named after him. But matzoh, being unleavened bread, is not absorptive of sauces and juices as today’s sandwich has become.
Before the Renaissance and the invention of the fork, any object that moved between plate and mouth, lifting cooked food and its sauce without spills was a necessary utensil. From the Dark Ages to the Renaissance, bread was an integral part of a table setting. Thick slices of bread, called trenchers, were set on wooden plates (also called trenchers) to soak up the sauces accompanying pieces of meat. The word comes from the French verb trenchier or trancher, which means to cut. Each trencher was eaten at each meal, and a new one made for the subsequent meal by simply cutting off new a slice from the loaf. If the meal was formal and elaborate, trenchers might be changed more than once during the meal. The advent of the fork, however, dictated that using fingers to lift food was bad manners. The trencher became passe.
John Montagu (1718-1792), the Fourth Earl of Sandwich, revived the concept of bread as utensil giving us the name we use today. Montagu was First Lord of the Admiralty and patron to Capt. James Cook who explored New Zealand, Australia, Hawaii, and Polynesia. Capt. Cook named the Hawaiian Islands after him, calling them the Sandwich Islands. Legend holds that Montagu was addicted to gambling, so addicted that he gambled for hours at a time at a restaurant, refusing to get up for meals. To believe this legend, we can only imagine that he was so intent on scooping up winnings that he could not listen to the growls in his stomach demanding food. Supposedly, he ordered his valet to bring him meat tucked between two pieces of bread. His fellow gamblers, no doubt looking for a lucky charm, began to order “the same as Sandwich!” The original sandwich would have been nothing more than a piece of salt beef between two slices of toasted bread. Whatever the truth of the legend, the name sandwich is inscribed for all time.
In her book, English Bread and Yeast Cookery, Elizabeth David tells us that while France and Italy remained true to the freeform bread, the British were quick to adapt to making a fine loaf of white bread in tins. This ensured uniformity and slices that were evenly cut. In addition, bread made in a tin is less crusty and offers more dough to absorb juices or spreads and hold ingredients together. The British loved their sarnies, the nickname given to sandwiches. Another slang word for sandwich, one that predates sarnie, is ‘butty’ as in jam butty, chip butty, ham butty etc., and that was a contraction of ‘bread and butter’. That came from northern regions, possibly Yorkshire.
In 1840, the sandwich was introduced to America by Elizabeth Leslie (1787-1858). In her “Directions for Cookery”, she offers a recipe for ham sandwiches that she deemed them worthy to be a main dish. In the 1900’s, with the industrial revolution underway, bakeries began to sell pre-sliced bread. The American public jumped at the ease of making a sandwich. The sandwich as institution was born. Human beings, being adventurous, have developed the sandwich into both a quick and easy meal, and an art form. How long would it take for us to reconfigure the possibilities: we toast the bread or serve it plain; we pile high the sandwich with the maximum ingredients, or keep it simple with one or two.
Types of Sandwiches
To not offend the fine sensibilities of sandwich lovers, these are placed alphabetically. If we have missed a local specialty, or if you wish to share a favorite, perhaps a personal discovery, please advise us over e-mail. (click for e-mail)
Beef On Weck Sandwich or Beef On Wick
This is a unique staple of Buffalo, New York’s bars and taverns. Few, if any, restaurants outside of the Buffalo area serve this sandwich or even know what it is. It is a roast beef sandwich on a salty kummelweck roll which is a Kaiser roll, seeded with caraway and topped with an abundance of chunky salt . Kummelweck is simply shortened to “weck.” The sandwich is usually served with horseradish, kosher dill pickle slices, and French Fries on the side. We asked Tony Matteliano (my sicilian mama and papa) who lives in the Buffalo area about the Beef on Weck. He wrote us: “The few places I have traveled to outside of Western New York , do not seem to have this sandwich. I have traveled and asked about roast Beef on Kimmelweck ( another spelling), but no one seemed to know what I was talking about. They knew what roast beef was, but not the kummelweck roll! Yes ‘Beef on Weck’ is truly the King of sandwiches. No doubt, no lie, absolute truth. Thanks for asking, now I am drooling.”
This is a specialty from Kansas with roots in the German and Russian. A yeasted pocket bread would be stuffed with beef, sauerkraut, onion and seasonings. It is similar to the Runza (scroll down).
This is a sandwich with cooked chicken breast and bacon, lettuce and tomato. They are layered between two, possibly three slices of toasted bread with mayonnaise. This was quite fashionable in New York, and was a favorite with the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.
From the Berghoff Cafe Cookbook:
“There are at least three histories of the original club house sandwich, which consisted of cooked chicken breast, bacon, sliced tomatoes, and crisp lettuce layered between two-or three-slices of bread. One version is that in 1894, the club sandwich was created in the kitchen of the Saratoga Club-House, Saratoga Springs, New York. A second version is that it was created by an anonymous very hungry man who came home late and, while making himself some toast, searched the pantry-he found bacon, cold chicken, tomato, lettuce, and mayonnaise-and put these leftovers between his toast. Yet a third version suggests it was a two-decker sandwich that originated aboard double-decker club cars traveling between New York and Chicago in the 1930s and ’40s. And the late James Beard added his two cents, declaring that the two-decker original club house sandwich was one of the great sandwiches of all times-but that a three-decker was a horror.” Carlyn Berghoff the berghoff cafe cookbook Try their recipe for berghoff’s club sandwich
Toasted Cuban sandwiches are Miami’s favorite snack. The best places to buy them are from street corner-snack bars called loncherias. The sandwiches have a submarine-style layering of ham, roast pork, cheese, and pickle between a sliced length of Cuban bread. Cuban sandwich shops make these sandwiches using a sandwich iron similar to a panini press.
This sandwich is named after the popular comic strip character of the 1930’s, Dagwood Bumstead. Rather inept in any domestic duty, Dagwood was only able to pile leftovers between bread. Yes, go ahead and clean the fridge and call it a Dagwood, but remember to pile high enough to make it impossible to eat.
Falafel is the national street food of Israel and the whole middle east. It is served in a pita, dressed with tahini sauce and smothered in a variety of add-ons. One may find chopped salad, pickled vegetables, even the fiery Yemenite condiment called zhug. Every Falafel stand has its own style. Some people love it topped with sauerkraut (“like me,” says Elinoar Moore), wedges of tomato and tahini. Hot pepper may also be sprinkled on top.
Finger Sandwiches for Tea
The origin of the mid-afternoon tea is credited to Anna, the Duchess of Bedford, who conquered the weak feeling at four in the afternoon by having tea and breadstuffs. In time she invited friends and the tea party was born. 1840 is the given date for this historic moment, and by 1880, the country was following the Duchess’ lead, and tea shops were in vogue.
There are a few caveats for tea sandwiches or finger sandwiches: choose thinly sliced, sandwich bread of a tight grain; use a thin layer of butter to seal the bread from the moist ingredients; cut away all crusts. (Please read more in our article about high tea and low tea.
Invented in Los Angeles by Philippe Mathieu, the owner of a shop called “Philippe the Original,” the “French Dipped Sandwich” is the specialty of the house and is made with either roast beef, roast pork, leg of lamb, turkey or ham served on a light French roll dipped into au jus sauce, made from the the pan drippings of roast beef.
The gyro is a Greek specialty. A proper Greek gyro is made with meat cut off a big cylinder of well-seasoned lamb or lamb and beef. (This meat is on a slowly rotating vertical spit the name gyro, implying the circular spinning motion of a gyroscope). Gyro is probably the most often mispronounced food name. Even its fans usually do not get the pronounced correctly – whether it is mispronounced as “jee-rohs,” “jai-rohs,” “gee-rohs,” The correct Greek pronunciation is “yee-rohs.”
The hoagie comes from Philadelphia and has developed several legends as to its origins, but the word ‘hoagie” seems to have derived from ‘hoggie’ (an apt term for anyone downing this supersize sandwich). A site member advises us that “The term “Hoagie” refers to the men who worked on Hog Island. Hog Island was famous for shipbuilding. The shipbuilders liked their sandwiches big, and local shopkeepers accommodated by creating a Sandwich which would satisfy their appetites. A correctly made Philadelphia Hoagie has some of the soft interior of the bread removed, to accommodate more ingredients.
It is related to the Poor Boy, the Hero and the Submarine. In other parts of the country it is called a Zep or Zeppelin.They are all made on full loaves of crusty French bread filled with various cold cuts and many different trimmings.
This is a specialty in Springfield, Illinois, and is a thick sandwich with two or three slices of bread encasing fried ham steak or 2 large hamburgers. It is served with thick French fries, and a special sauce. A ‘Pony Shoe’ uses one slice of very thick bread.
Hot Brown Sandwich
The Hot Brown is an open-faced sandwich made from turkey, bacon, pimientos, and Mornay sauce. The sandwich is place under the broiler to melt the cheese. Chef Fred K. Schmidt at the Brown Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky, created The Hot Brown sandwich in 1926. In the 1920s, the Brown Hotel drew over 1,200 guests each evening for its dinner dance. The band played steadily, the dancers grew hungry. At midnight, when the band took its break, the crowd headed for the restaurant to eat. Chef Schmidt delighted his guests (and prepared them for more dancing) by creating the Hot Brown. Today the Hot Brown sandwich is still a Louisville favorite and still the signature dish of the Camberley Brown Hotel.
The Hot Dog
Though the hot dog is a classic invention of its own, it must be included here as it conforms to Webster’s definition. Controversy surrounds the origin of the hot dog. Who really created the first hot dog? Although the city of Frankfurt, Germany lays claim to being the origin of the first frankfurter in 1852, some argue that Johann Georghehner, a butcher from Coburg, Germany created the first frankfurter as early as the 1600s.
Several legends surround the American hot dog. Some claim that the first stall selling hot dogs was in Coney Island in 1916, others shout, no, the St. Louis World Fair of 1904 was the starting point, while yet others claim it was first sold by a food concessionaire named Harry Stevens at New York’s Polo Grounds, the home of the New York Giants, in the early 1900s. Whatever the truth of its origins, the hot dog is forever allied with the American baseball game.
The name appears to be credited to the cartoonist TA (Tad) Dorga who drew the oddly presented sausage as dachshunds in buns, and called them hot dogs because he couldn’t spell frankfurter. Another variant says that around 1894-95, students at Yale University began to refer to the wagons selling hot sausages in buns as dog wagons. One such wagon was nicknamed “The Kennel Club.” It was only a short step from this campus use of dog to hot dog, and this fateful move was made in a story in the issue of the Yale Record for 19 October 1895, which ended, “They contentedly munched hot dogs during the whole service.” Fittingly, July is National Hot Dog Month. Statistics say that the average American eats 60 hot dogs a year.( To cook and dress hot dogs, please read our article hot dogs.
-A Hot Dog called a ‘Coney Island’-
This is a specialty from Cincinnati and is often called a ‘Coney.’ The history is somewhat vague, but a Macedonian immigrant, Tom Athanas Kiradjieff gets the credit for this, also. En route to Cincinnati, he passed through the Coney Island area of New York. Later when he decided to cover one of his hot dogs on a bun with mustard, Cincinnati Chili, and onions, and top it all off with a lot of finely grated Cheddar Cheese, he named it a ‘Coney Island’ and the name sticks to this day. ‘Coneys’, as the locals call them, are now made with a hot dog that is a bit smaller and shorter than a regular wiener, to allow more room for the chili and other goodies that go thereon. (from our chili article – click to read)
The Monte Cristo Sandwich has creative variations from one restaurant to another. The basic sandwich is made of two slices of white bread with ham, turkey, or chicken, and a slice of cheese. It is then dipped in beaten egg and fried in butter. A classic Monte Cristo sandwich should come with a side of jelly to dip it in. The original grilled cheese sandwich, this consisted of Gruyere cheese and lean ham between two slices of crustless bread, fried in clarified butter. It was originally served in 1910 in a Paris cafe. This sandwich is still a popular snack or casual meal throughout France and Switzerland in most bars and cafes.
The muffuletta is a specialty of the French Quarter of New Orleans. It could be called olive salad on bread. Despite the name ‘French’ this is a gift of the Italian immigrants who settled in New Orleans. To be authentic, it should be served on a round 10-inch roll, at room temperature. It is frequently called simply a ‘Muff.’
Old, but New – Panini, Crostini & Bruschetta
Italians have always eaten bread with everything. In the history of Italian food the concept of a sandwich was, most likely, peasant fare. Having gifted the world with ‘open-face’ inventions, such as pizza or foccaccia, the flavored and dressed toast known as bruschetta, we would demand nothing more of the Italians. But panini are there, crunchy breads holding warm meats and cheeses. There lots of panini sandwich recipes that use ingredients that are totally healthy. Though the Italians may, indeed, prefer panini plain, they are quite popular grilled in a panini press. Bruschetta is really garlic bread, though it has become a form of open-face sandwich. It is rubbed with fruity extra virgin olive oil then grilled. Garlic is rubbed lightly over the hot bread after grilling, then drizzled with olive oil. Today we dress it and pile it high with ingredients of our own choice. Crostini are small, thin slices of toasted French or Italian bread topped with a few simple ingredients and served as an appetizer.
Philadelphia Cream Cheese Steak
contributed by Craig Tiano
The Philadelphia Cheese Steak is a long-roll sandwich filled with chopped pieces of fried chip steak smothered in melted cheese. It’s fame easily surpasses the Cubano and ‘Beef on Wick’ sandwiches you’ve included. I’ve seen it on menus in the Caribbean, Italy, and Scotland!
This sandwich has well documented legends. The story goes that the original cheese steak was made by a hot dog vendor (Pat Olivieri) who got tired of having hot dogs for lunch. One of his regulars smelled the steak and onions and asked if he could have some, too. That’s the legend. Today, the descendents of Pat operate Pat’s in the heart of South Philadelphia. The original Philly steak didn’t have cheese. That came later. Pat’s serves what they call the “original”, made with chip steak and cheese whiz on a crusty italian roll. If you want onions, you have to order “wit” (as in “Cheese steak wit”). Across the street is the rival Geno’s. Geno’s makes their Cheese steak with american cheese, unless you ask for provolone. They do NOT use cheese whiz. If you want onions, you ask for a “Cheese steak with onions”. If you ask for a “Cheese steak wit”, they’ll politely correct your pronunciation of the word “with”. At both, you can ask for it “scooped”, which means they’ll pull out virtually all of the soft interior of the roll. I, personally, don’t like it that way. When you scoop, you usually end up with ketchup/pizza sauce and grease making the roll so soft that it requires you to eat it very quickly for fear that it’ll fall apart. With the size of an average cheese steak being easily 1/2 pound+ of meat plus a roll and cheese, it’s not something to scarf down! I, personally, prefer the Pizza Steak, a variety of cheese steak which includes provolone cheese cooked with the steak, the steak/cheese put into the roll, pizza sauce poured in, and then topped with mozzarella and put under the broiler until the mozzarella bubbles and the roll gets a bit crispier.
Pita, the ingenious pocket bread, is of Middle Eastern origin, and is today popular in Israel, Greece, Lebanon, and many Arab countries. This ingenious bread is a pouch as well as an absorptive dough. It both carries food and soaks up juices and flavorings. It has been added to diets worldwide as a lunchtime staple.
Poor Boy (or Po’ Boy)
The Po’ Boy or Poor Boy emanates from New Orleans. The fillings vary, ranging from fried oysters, shrimp, fish, soft-shelled crabs, crawfish, roast beef and gravy, roast pork, meatballs, smoked sausage and more. They are always made with French bread. It is related to the Hoagie, the Hero and the Submarine. They are all made on full loaves of crusty French bread filled with various cold cuts and many different trimmings.
The Reuben Sandwich is a grilled sandwich made with corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and Russian dressing on rye bread. There are two claims to the Reuben. The Midwestern claim states that it was created by Reuben Kolakofsky (1874-1960), a wholesale grocer in Omaha, Nebraska and co-owner of Central Market in Omaha sometime between 1920 and 1935. Like the Earl of Sandwich at his gaming tables, Kolakofsky belonged to a weekly poker group for whom he fixed this sandwich. One of the players, Charles Schimmel, was owner of the Blackstone Hotel in Omaha, and he put the Reuben on his menu.
But Reuben’s was a landmark Manhattan delicatessen, first established around 1908. Arnold Reuben’s daughter claims that a Reuben Special sandwich was created in 1914 for Annette Seelos, Charlie Chaplin’s leading lady.
This is a specialty from Nebraska, similar to the bierock mentioned above. It also has its roots in the German and Russian, and is a yeasted pocket bread stuffed with beef, sauerkraut, onion and seasonings.
Schnitters and Sangers, hopefully with Fritz (from Australia)
In parts of South Australia,a sandwich is called a schnitter, while in other places it is called a sanger. Sangers can be sandwiches in one state and sausages in another. But hopefully, they will be served with Fritz. We asked Margaret Walker (margaret’s kitchen down under) about Fritz: “We have a meat here called Fritz. In other states of Australia it is called Devon or simply Sausage. It is beloved by children Australia wide. My greatest treat was to go into the local Butcher Shop, and be offered a slice of fritz to eat whilst mother was waiting to be served. The butcher took out his steel and sharpened his knife, then took the long orange stick of smoked fritz from the refrigerator and cut a thick slice. I felt so thrilled when I had that thick slice in my hand and could enjoy the taste and texture of really fresh fritz. Fritz and Tomato Sauce is a favorite of all South Australian school children for a lunchbox sandwich.
Similar to a gyro, the traditional Middle Eastern shawarma sandwich is made with marinated pieces of meat which have been pressed, stacked onto a rotisserie and cooked slowly. The cooked meat is then shaved off and made into a sandwich with yogurt, tomatoes and lettuce.
H.K. Heinz in Pittsburgh says their research at the Carnegie Library suggests that the Sloppy Joe began in a Sioux City, Iowa, cafe as a “loose meat sandwich” in 1930, the creation of a cook named Joe…” Since ground meat, stretched as best as possible, was a staple throughout the depression, we will credit the creation of the sloppy joe to the general spirit of all people who use their imagination to make food taste good without cost.
The sub is a king-sized sandwich on an Italian loaf of bread approximately 12 inches long and 3 inches wide. It is filled with ham, salami, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and usually flavored with garlic powder and oregano. It is thought that the original concept of these sandwiches came from the Italians who immigrated to New York in the late 1800s and brought with them their favorite Italian Sandwich recipes. It is related to the Poor Boy, the Hero and the Hoagie. They are all made on full loaves of crusty French bread filled with various cold cuts and many different trimmings.
Sandwiches to Live in, not to eat
The Town of Sandwich is a seaside community of about 22,000 residents located in the northwest corner of Cape Cod in Barnstable County, Massachusetts. Incorporated in 1639, Sandwich is the oldest town on Cape Cod and one of the oldest towns in the United States, settled by =European immigrants nearly 150 years before the American Revolution.
Another Sandwich town is in England. The family of the Earls of Sandwich has no real connection to the town itself, only the title. The 1st Earl, Edward Montague, originally intended to take the title of the Earl of Portsmouth – this may have been changed as a compliment to the town of Sandwich, because the fleet he was commanding in 1660 was lying off Sandwich, before it sailed to bring back Charles II to England.
The name Sandwich is Saxon in origin and means, ‘Sandy Place’ or ‘Place on the Sand’. The first recorded mention of the town was around 640 AD but it is older than that.
Close to Sandwich there is a small village called Ham (from the word hamlet – meaning small village).