The Humble Sandwich is a Global Favourite with 18th Century Roots
By: Spencer Reynolds
This August is Sandwich Month, and who doesn’t love a sandwich? The perfect vehicle for your favourite flavours, be it peanut butter and jam or ham and cheese, the sandwich is one of the most enduring, popular foods in the world.
The sandwich takes its name from an 18th-century British nobleman Sir John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich. Born in 1718, the Earl of Sandwich was not a cook or a noted gourmand but he was a notorious gambler. The legend goes that Sir John was unwilling to pause his gambling and leave the gaming table long enough to eat, so he asked his hired help to deliver him meats between bread. Sounding familiar?
The idea was that he could hold and eat this bread-and-meats creation with one hand, and gamble with the other – no cutlery required. His gambling friends began to order “the sandwich” and so an iconic culinary category was born.
Portable, easy to prepare and to eat, and with infinite filling varieties, the sandwich spread far and wide. The impact of the sandwich cannot be overstated. The Wall Street Journal called it “Britain’s biggest contribution to gastronomy”, and it’s become one of the commonplace and yet varied categories of foods today. In France, the Jambon Beurre is a ham and cheese on baguette and somewhat of a cultural grail. A Cubano is a Cuban grilled pork and cheese delight. The Bánh mì is a Vietnamese sandwich with pickled vegetables and fresh herbs.
Here in Canada, there are many iconic sandwich varieties, notably the Montreal Smoked Meat sandwich. Donair sandwiches are classic Halifax takeout treats, and many Canadian downtowns serve all manner of shawarma and falafel sandwiches alongside other icons of the sandwich world like the Reuben, the grilled cheese, and everyone’s favourite, the fried chicken sandwich. Submarine sandwiches are a category unto themselves, and most diners serve a clubhouse. Lobster rolls are a massive draw on the east coast where brown butter and a little coleslaw round out the meal.
What makes the sandwich such a culinary inspiration? It is likely its versatility and portability. Not only can you put just about anything between two slices of bread and have a delicious, nutritious meal in your hands — but you can take it with you!
The sandwich is the ultimate takeout darling. They travel well in a lunchbox, wax paper, or a Ziploc. They stay warm or cold, and the bread makes them easy to eat without making too much mess. There are exceptions to this rule though — we’re looking at you, pulled pork…
There are so many ways to eat a sandwich, and many hot topics arise in this debate. White or whole wheat bread is a classic sandwich conundrum. Whether or not burgers and hot dogs qualify as sandwiches is a topic of major debate. Cutting off your crusts is a preference we tend to age out of, but cutting your sandwich in half diagonally is a lifelong preference.
When we think of Canadian foods, we think of poutine and maple syrup. But if you examine the numbers, this is a sandwich nation. According to one survey, Canadians eat 3 billion sandwiches a year! 11% of men eat a sandwich every single day. In fact, there’s a growing category of sandwiches uniquely Canadian: the breakfast sandwich.
Whether you like tuna salad, egg salad, or pastrami on rye, there’s a sandwich with your name on it. August is Sandwich Month, and with so many options to choose from it’s hard not to think the sandwich is the best thing since sliced bread.