A History of Sandwiches and a Sandwich Recipe

November 16, 2020  |  By Peg Kern
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A classic cheesesteak sandwich. It’s national sandwich day, and we’re asking ourselves: do sandwiches exist in the cuisine of every country in the world? What defines a sandwich? Does a wrap count? What about a sandwich in pita? A burrito? A spring roll? A crepe?

Let’s make things easier and say that to be a sandwich, it has to have something ‘sandwiched’ between two pieces of bread. One piece of bread folded over doesn’t count. Sorry burrito, crepe, and lettuce wraps!

Spianata or Piadina sandwiches on an Italy culinary vacationAccording to the History Channel, Americans eat more than 300 million sandwiches each day. Each day! It begs the question: why?

Travel to Italy on a culinary vacation.

Why do Americans love sandwiches so much?

A classic club sandwich.We have a few theories:

  • It’s a perfectly portable meal.
  • It can incorporate virtually any ingredient or ingredients.
  • It’s damned tasty!

The sandwich was reputedly made popular in mid-Eighteenth Century England by the 4th Earl of Sandwich, John Montagu, who invented the sandwich because he was hungry but didn’t want to get up from his card game to go eat. Historians seem to agree, however, that Montagu had had similar foods before during his travels in Turkey and Greece, where meats, cheese, and spreads had long found their way between layers of bread.

A delicious Provencal vegetable sandwich during a cooking vacation in France.Still, it’s nice that he gave them such a recognizable name. Eating a “Montagu” or “meat between pieces of bread” doesn’t have the same ring.

It seems reasonable that popularity of the sandwich would grow during the industrial revolution, when working class people needed quick, portable, inexpensive meals.

The History Channel also reports that the most popular early sandwich in the US was tongue, which is probably a bit exotic for most American’s tastes these days.

A classic Croque Monsieur sandwich during a cooking vacation in France.But back to our original question: do sandwiches exist everywhere? Everywhere that there is bread certainly. Whether a tramezzino in Italy, a torta in Mexico, a Bánh Mì in Vietnam, or a croque monsieur in France, there is no limit to the types of sandwiches you can find.

Try a Bánh Mi on a classic culinary tour in Vietnam.

Hamburger at a gastro pub on a foodie tour of ChicagoWhat are some iconic American sandwiches? How about a Po Boy, Sloppy Joe, Reuben, or Club? A PB&J, a Philly Cheesesteak, a BLT, or what is perhaps the most famous sandwich of all…. the hamburger? (There are those that argue a hamburger is not a sandwich but rather its own category of food.)

A hotdog fully loaded.What about a hot dog? My boys debated this one for a while. The hot dog, they pointed out, is not really in between 2 pieces of bread, it’s nestled in the split top of one bun. Still, my ten year old ultimately decided that in his opinion, the hot dog was the exception to having to have 2 pieces of bread to qualify as a sandwich.

A classic Chicago style Polish.Here is Chicago, the king of sandwiches is Italian beef, but you’ll find plenty of Chicago style hot dogs and polish sausages as well. And there is a breaded steak sandwich at a local restaurant, Ricobene’s, that was once named the “World’s Best Sandwich.” (And yes, you can try all of these as part of the food tour during our Food Lover’s Chicago trip!)

A chicken and waffles sandwich.When I lived in Italy I was struck by how minimalist the sandwiches were (although no less tasty). You might have a single slice of capocollo or prosciutto and that was it, but if the prosciutto and the bread were amazing, that was really all you needed. There were no sandwiches with an inch of meat piled up, then so many toppings and condiments on top of it. Definitely nothing remotely resembling the chicken and waffles sandwich pictured here!

One of my family’s favorites is a classic Caprese sandwich. The secret? Plenty of good olive oil, and, like in Italy, don’t try to overstuff it!

Learn how to make a Caprese sandwich in our video:


Caprese SandwichA tasty Caprese sandwich.

Serves: 4
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 0 minutes
Cook method: assemble

Ingredients:

  • 8 slices of crusty Italian bread or 4 Italian rolls such as ciabatta rolls
  • 3 balls of fresh mozzarella, drained,
  • 2 ripe tomatoes
  • fresh basil
  • salt
  • extra virgin olive oil

Cutting mozzarella to make a Caprese sandwich.Instructions:

1. Lightly toast the bread in the oven or toaster.

2. Drizzle both sides of the bread with extra virgin olive oil.

3. Layer slices of mozzarella on one side of the bread, then top with thinly sliced tomato. Drizzle more olive oil on the tomato, then sprinkle with salt (don’t be stingy on the salt).

4. Tear the fresh basil into small pieces, then sprinkle over the tomato and top with the other piece of bread.

Enjoy!

What’s your favorite type of sandwich? Do you think a hot dog qualifies? Have you ever invented your own sandwich like Elvis’s famous peanut butter and banana sandwich?

By Peg Kern

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