Around the World in 80 Sandwiches
From Japan’s katsu sando to Mexico’s pambazo, these are 80 of the most iconic sandwiches from around the globe.
There is perhaps no food more versatile than the humble sandwich.
That might sound like a silly thing to say about something that can essentially be described as “something delicious jammed between two hunks of starch.” But that basic template allows the sandwich to be so much more, and its presence in virtually every culture on the planet and across the centuries speaks to its universality. Sandwiches can be pretty much anything (except a hot dog). They can be a simple, on-the-go street food affordable to the masses. They can be luxurious creations by lauded chefs. They can be sweet or savory, hot or cold, big and small. And sometimes, they can offer a glimpse into traditions and customs of the regions from which they’ve sprung. Sandwiches bridge gaps between cultures and classes. No matter where you go, odds are you’ll find a variation on that simple starch + delicious formula.
We decided to take a cue from Phileas Fogg and take a jaunt around the globe to look at the world’s many, many sandwiches. Nearly every sandwich tells a story, from delicacies created to honor royalty, to peasant foods designed to maximize deliciousness and longevity. They come in all shapes and sizes, packed with proteins, cheeses, spreads, sauces, and veggies that all but define their place of origin. And as society becomes more global, sandwiches serve as ambassadors into the rich cultures of the world, providing entry points into diverse cuisines in a (usually) handheld package. We can all find common ground between starches.
Perhaps it’s time for the sandwich to be less humble.
With France’s colonization of Vietnam came French bread and pâté, and with French bread and pâté -- and various Vietnamese ingredients and produce -- came the bánh mì. A traditional bánh mì is comprised of a French baguette, sliced lengthwise, and filled with cold cuts, pâté, pickled veggies, cilantro, jalapeños, and creamy mayonnaise. Other derivatives swap out cold cuts for different hot proteins: Barbecue pork, lemongrass beef, and grilled chicken are all classic options. There’s even such a thing as dessert bánh mì; instead of the typical savory meat and veggies, you can find bánh mì kẹp kem loaded with ice cream and crushed peanuts.
The popular, unpretentious West African breakfast sandwich is essentially a choose-your-own-adventure that starts with a few simple elements: red beans cooked in a spicy tomato paste with onions and myriad spices; baguettes, an essential part of most any Senegalese breakfast (and a reminder of its French occupation until 1960); and a generous helping mayonnaise and hot sauce. From there, you can get wild, and throw in eggs, potatoes, onion sauce, or even pasta. At some street vendors, it’s a little more DIY -- you go to the bakery, get the baguette, they add the magic, and wrap it in yesterday’s newspaper, giving you both a delicious sandwich AND the satisfying opportunity to finish someone else’s crossword.
Boh Loh Yau
Boh loh yau, also known as the humble pineapple bun, is a delectable carb bomb of butter, sugar, and more butter. The Hong Kong breakfast-staple got its name because the sugar cookie like substance that is placed on the bread dough melts and cracks into a pineapple-like pattern during the baking process (it’s important to note that original pineapple buns don’t contain any actual pineapple). The result is a soft, pillowy bread with a crunchy sugar crust topping, which is delicious in itself. To make the boh loh yau an even bigger treat, the bun is sliced horizontally and stuffed with a slab of cold butter, making it a remarkably sweet breakfast sandwich of bread and butter. It’s meant to be washed down with brutally strong Hong Kong milk tea as the ideal way to get through the morning.
The Bombay sandwich is essentially is India's vegetarian take on a classic club sandwich. Standard fillings like bacon get swapped for raw cucumber and beet slices, lettuce and mayo are swapped a layer of spiced boiled potato and plenty of zingy cilantro chutney. Tomatoes usually make an appearance, so does cheese, but you won't find any chicken or turkey in between the bread layers. And like club sandwiches there are many variations based on personal preferences. Some make the Bombay sandwich with strips of raw green bell pepper while others add onion or even ketchup. One thing unites all of the sandwiches, however, and that is they are buttered on the outside and grilled in a sandwich press until the contents are gently warmed up. It'll make you forget there is no bacon.
There are burgers, and then there are bun kebabs. The latter, one of Pakistan's most beloved (and most delicious) street foods, is basically the sandwich equivalent of when your most boring friend studies abroad and suddenly comes back with a personality. The bun kebab consists of a patty, most commonly made with ground beef or lamb, that is mixed with lentils, spices like cumin, ginger, and green chili, and an egg and then fried until crisp in ghee or oil. The cooked patty is then loaded onto a squishy-but-griddled burger bun and topped with things like onions, chutneys, tomatoes, or even an omelet. Vegetarian versions swap the meat for boiled potatoes, but the result is equally as addictive.
The effects of British Colonial rule can still be felt throughout India, over 70 years after it achieved independence. It most often sneaks up on the plate. The best example of this? Chutney sandwiches, or the very Indian riff on British tea sandwiches. Soft white bread is slathered edge-to-edge with butter, and then liberally brushed with verdant green chutney made with handfuls of cilantro, green chili, and ginger. The crusts are often cut off too, just like their British counterpart. Frequently the sandwich is also layered with thinly sliced cucumber or tomato, or even slices of cheese for a good salty punch. Chutney sandwiches are most often served at snack time, though they are also an incredible thing to find in your lunch box.
The end of Japan’s national seclusion resulted in an influx of Western influences, including food. Japan has reinvented Western classics so often that there’s a coined term for this particular category of fusion food: yōshoku. Among the plates of pasta, omelets, and hamburgs are fried croquettes: the ultimate Japanese snack or pre-dinner appetizer. Pronounced korroke in Japanese, croquettes are panko-crusted, deep-fried potato balls that come served with an abundance of different fillings: ground beef, kabocha pumpkin, tuna, and even mac & cheese! When sandwiched between two halves of soft, sliced white bread, they turn into a croquette sandwich -- or korroke sando in Japanese. They’re typically topped with tangy katsu sauce and are the wonderful carb-on-carb creation you need in your life.
For hundreds of years, the kebab has been integral to Middle Eastern cuisine, with Ottoman Empire-era cook and travel books detailing stories of vertically grilled meats (this style was invented by Iskender Efendi sometime in the 19th century, and preferred to horizontal because the juices trickled down and self-basted the meat). But, as opposed to the shish kebab, and other stick or plate based iterations of the meal, the doner kebab (doner comes from "dondurmek," a Turkish word for rotating roasted meat) differentiates itself both by the fact that it is served on flatbread (usually Turkish pide) with various vegetables (usually cabbage, lettuce, white onions) and the ubiquitous white sauce. Its cousins include the gyro or shawarma.
But here's where it gets complicated. The doner version was allegedly created in Germany, by one of three Turkish immigrants: Mahmut Aygun, Kadir Nurman, or Nevzat Salim. Various sources, however, indicate that some version existed in Turkey beforehand, so really the most important things to take away from all of this are: the doner kebab is iconic and delicious, and marketing is important.
As with many things involving this part of the world, the history of falafel is disputed. Most sources say it originally came from Egypt, where it was made by Coptic Christians with mashed, fried fava beans and called ta'amiya (various other versions put its beginnings in India or Yemen, but let's not further complicate things). Thanks to Alexandria's port city location, popular foods there often proliferated elsewhere via traders and merchants, and as it moved north, a similar dish made with chickpeas were introduced in Palestine and the name falafel became popularized. From there, according to a 2002 NY Times story, Eastern European Jews who fled Russia for Palestine in the late 19th century also embraced the falafel. And then, as a mass exodus of Jewish people moved to Israel after its creation in 1948, it really took root as part of Israeli culture. But regardless of the exact origin, here's what we know: if you take mashed chickpeas and spices and make them into little balls, deep fry them, stuff them into fresh pita with pickled or fresh veggies, tahini and hot sauce, and eat it, you, too, are going to want to take credit for that level of deliciousness.
Fruit sandos are a rainbow of joy laid gently upon clouds of fluffy whipped cream. It’s exactly what it sounds like: a fruit sandwich -- which can be made with all kinds of fruit, but typically features strawberries, kiwis, and peaches -- sliced evenly and layered between subtly sweet cream in a way that allows the three distinct colors to shine within the cross section of the sammie. In Japan, fruit sandos can be found in convenience stores with availability -- and types of sandos -- dependent on the season. What remains a constant is the whipped cream and the fluffy white bread, with crusts trimmed, that encase the juicy produce.
In 1976, fish shop owner Rashaad Pandy realized he didn't have anything put together to feed some day workers. So he threw what he did have on hand, described in a Cape Town Magazine story as "a round Portuguese roll, polony, slap chips and achar" and sliced it up for everyone. One of the workers called it "a Gatsby smash" (the movie version, starring Robert Redford, was playing at the time locally) and all of them lavished the improvised sandwich with praise, so Pandy put it on his menu with the name Gatsby, and it took off. These days, the sandwich is one of Cape Town's most famous exports (in Johannesburg, another iteration of the sandwich is known as the AK-47, because it's so big you can hold it like a gun). It now comes on a long loaf of bread, but it's still cut into fours. There are many different alterations now (calamari! Masala steak!), but the original version -- with polony (essentially bologna), fries, and achar (hot sauce commonly made with green mango and chili) or sometimes classic South African hot sauce piri piri -- is the truth.
Panko-crusted pork cutlets are already amazing on their own. Be real; katsu is a deep-fried piece of meat, not too different from a schnitzel, so it’s hard for it to go wrong. But brush on some katsu sauce (a zingy accompaniment to katsu that tastes similar to Worcestershire), add crunchy chopped cabbage, and sandwich the whole thing between some fluffy, cloud-like shokupan (think an improved-upon Japanese version of Wonder Bread) and you’re on the brink of genius. That’s what a katsu sandwich is: a brilliant combination of flavors and textures -- juicy, crispy, meaty, and creamy -- that results in a compact meal that hits all the right notes.
Toast is usually the most boring part of a breakfast spread. Sure, you can add some butter and a swipe of strawberry jam, or a dollop of good ricotta if you are lucky, but at the end of the day it is still dry, crunchy bread. That is not the case in Singapore and Malaysia where kaya toast rules the morning. Toasted bread gets topped with kaya, a thick, luxurious, eggy coconut jam that is flavored with fragrant pandan leaf, and some butter and is then squished together. Often the sandwich is served with a side of soft-boiled egg topped with a little bit of dark soy dipping sauce for that sweet-salty-savory effect.
Due to colonialism and occupation, Laotians also have their own version of a baguette-based sandwich, similar to Vietnam’s bánh mì. It’s called a khao jee, but instead of the typical bánh mì proteins of pork loaf, cold cuts, and pâté, Laos’ version often features an herbaceous sausage, or sai gog. The sai gog is loaded with lemon grass, garlic, ginger, shallots, and fish sauce -- all your favorite Southeast Asian flavors -- and is typically made with pork. The toppings also somewhat replicate bánh mìs (pickled carrots, onions, and cilantro) but instead of a creamy mayo and salty pâté, khao jee is typically dressed in chili sauce.
Moo Yong Sandwich
The curly wisps of moo yong -- or dried pork sung -- can easily suck all the moisture out of your mouth when not eaten with the right accompanying sauces. But sandwiched between two slices of white bread that are either smeared with chili oil, covered in mayo, or drizzled with condensed milk, moo yong becomes a delightfully simple breakfast sandwich common among Thais everywhere. The magic of a moo yong sandwich is how versatile it is. It can go the savory route, with spices, chili oil, eggs, and scallions, for the ultimate loaded Thai-style breakfast sandwich. A simpler approach just requires a generous spread of mayo or condensed milk for a sweeter start to the day.
There is the club sandwich, and then there is the Pakistani club sandwich. Both are layered affairs that require three slices of bread and a sundry of fillings. The latter, however, ups the ante with the addition of flavor-packed chicken cooked with spices like turmeric, garlic, and red chili powder, and an omelet. Like its American counterpart, the Pakistani club sandwich also requires plenty of mayo and the occasional tomato or cucumber slice to hold the sandwich together. It is also frequently cut into appealing triangles that are often served with fries like any good lunch sandwich should be.
Pork Belly Bao
Popularized in America by David Chang of Momofuku and Eddie Huang of Baohaus, the gua bao -- which translates to "cut bread" and is also known as pork belly bun or pork belly bao -- is a prominent Chinese and Taiwanese snack. The bao is composed of smooth, pillow-soft white buns, steamed until warmed through and extra fluffy. The uniform buns are then traditionally filled with pork belly, pickled mustard greens, ground peanuts, and cilantro. The gua bao is a lesson in flavors and textures: fatty, fall-apart pork paired with nutty ground peanuts, refreshing cilantro, and crunchy, acidic mustard greens, all enveloped in a portable, spongy bun.
Pork Chop Bun
Macau, the autonomous region of China that’s adjacent to Hong Kong -- and still upholds some of Portugal's lasting colonial influences -- has a sandwich that is equal parts Chinese as it is Portuguese. The result is a beloved Macanese specialty called the pork chop bun: a hot, juicy pork chop (sometimes with the bone still in!) snuggled between the cotton-like dough of the aptly named Portuguese bread, the piggy bun. It’s oily, it’s savory, and it’s delicious. The pork chop is well-marinated and typically pan-fried, ensuring it’s crispy and juicy without drying out. In its simplest form, it’s just the pork chop and bun, but many pork chop shops serve it with mayonnaise, lettuce, and even onions and tomatoes.
We'll spare you a hackneyed "shrimp on the barbie" joke, but suffice to say ocean-surrounded Australia has a thing for seafood, with the prawn roll being a particularly popular sandwich-style rendition. Their take isn't too dissimilar to the lobster roll, though some kind of Thousand Island-esque dressing is a more common sauce than straight-up mayo. Lettuce is also typical along with other bits of chopped vegetation, with avocado also having become a popular additive in recent years. Bread-wise, a soft sub roll or hot dog bun are frequent selections, but don't be surprised to see a circular bun, or even find miniature versions served as finger sandwiches.
Roti john gets its name from roti -- the Malay and Hindi word for flatbread -- and john, in reference to the western colonial rule that brought baguettes (a large component of the roti john) to Malaysia. A roti john is an omelet sandwich consisting of minced meats (typically chicken), onions, and eggs. The omelet portion of the sandwich can be cooked first, with the bread submerged in the eggy mixture in the middle of cooking, or pan fried all at once in a method that is similar to cooking French toast. Mayonnaise, ketchup, and chili sauce is then generously squeezed on top -- for a creamy, sweet, and spicy balance to the savory sandwich -- and variants include sardines, salad, cheese, and serundeng, or spicy fried coconut flakes.
While falafel sandwiches tend to get all the attention as far as hearty and filling vegetarian options go, there is another option that is often overlooked -- the sabich. The beloved Israeli sandwich traditionally features a soft pita stuffed with crisp slices of fried eggplant, crunchy pickles, a thick swipe of hummus, a drizzle of tahini, a cucumber and tomato salad, hard-boiled eggs, and some amba, an addictive pickled mango sauce. Yes, all of that is in one sandwich. The sabich hails from Tel Aviv and was created decades ago by the city's Iraqi-Jewish community. And though you can eat it for lunch, or dinner, or a snack -- whatever time you grab one, make sure to also grab plenty of napkins for when you inevitably end up with hummus, tahini, and amba smeared all over your smiling face.
Shawarma is not precisely the same as doner, or gyros -- but it is most assuredly part of the same family tree that traces its origins back to 19th-century Ottoman Turkey. The word shawarma, the preferred moniker throughout most of the Middle East and North Africa, is derived from the word “çevirme” when the meat is slow roasted on vertical spit and shaved off directly onto pita or other flatbread. Spice blends vary depending on geography and are one point of differentiation -- clove, cinnamon, cardamom, and coriander are common. Toppings vary similarly depending on where you are, but common add-ons like tabbouleh, fattoush, and most definitely tahini are another set of shawarma signifiers regardless of your protein of choice -- lamb and mutton are the OGs, but beef and chicken also get the treatment. Fun fact: Lebanese immigrants bringing their shawarma game to Mexico are responsible for your tacos al pastor.
Spicy Lamb Burger
The spicy lamb burger hails from Xi’an, the capital of Shaanxi province in northwestern China. Xi’an is known for its spicy and herbaceous food, thanks in part to its history as the beginning of the Silk Road. It was the first city in China to be introduced to the religion of Islam and the resulting cuisine is a fusion of Chinese and Middle Eastern flavors, as shown in the spicy lamb burger, a is a variant of a rou jia mo (which translates to “meat sandwich” or “meat folder”). The lamb full of cumin, chili seeds, peppers, and green onion, all served on a traditional Chinese flatbread. Allegedly, the rou jia mo dates back 220 BC, which might just make it the oldest sandwich in the world!
Taiwanese Breakfast Sandwich
The Taiwanese breakfast sandwich is a triple-decker feat of epic proportions. It features layer after layer of everything you want for breakfast: eggs (duh), ham (yes), and cucumbers and greens (you need some veggies!). This sandwich boasts three slices of fluffy white bread -- each encasing a different ingredient -- that are also slathered with a rich, creamy mayonnaise. You can typically find them in grocery stores, sliced diagonally to display their varying ingredients, and neatly packaged in plastic for diners on the go.
When it comes to the canon of carb-on-carb sandwiches, there are few entries as glorious as the vada pav. The sandwich is practically synonymous with the city of Mumbai, where street vendors mash together potatoes, green chili, onion, and spices to create patties that are dunked in a chickpea flour batter then deep-fried and served on squishy grilled buns lacquered with chutney. Though it was first invented as a cheap and filling meal for textile mill workers, vada pav has gone on to become the sandwich that is beloved by everyone in Mumbai from broke college students to wealthy Bollywood stars. These days, you can even find riffs on the classic sandwich like nacho vada pav (which comes topped with tortilla chips) and chef David Chang's version that he tops with scallion sauce.
You’d think a thick, black spread made from leftover brewing yeast extract and additives wouldn’t taste acceptable enough to become a continent-wide kitchen staple, but contrary to your animal instincts, this spread is Australia’s household treasure. People traditionally spread this paste, called Vegemite, thinly on toast, atop a layer of butter -- sometimes they stop there, but sometimes an additional slice of bread and other toppings come into play for added sustenance. Vegemite's taste can be described as strong, bitter, salty, meaty, and extremely heavy on the umami. Even back in the '80s, Vegemite was sufficiently iconic for Australian rock band Men at Work to famously sing “He just smiled and gave me a Vegemite sandwich,” and the world, whether or not they had any idea what Men at Work was even singing, sang along.
Unlike the ingredients in the sandwich, the origin story of the BLT is complicated. Some folks trace its origins back to sometime in the 19th century in England, as a version of the tea sandwiches served at the time. Others suggest that its ingredients -- bacon, lettuce, and tomato on toasted white bread with mayonnaise -- are simply the cheaper iteration of the club sandwich. The thorough folks at Foodtimeline.org claim the first recipes for that style of sandwich came from American cookbooks in 1920, around the same time sliced white bread started being produced in mass quantities. The term “BLT,” however, didn’t show up until 1941 and various parties think it either came from diner slang, or a famous Chicago newspaper writer with those initials. Regardless, the simple, delicious sandwich is now an international icon, equally popular in the UK and America and a work of art (no seriously: in 1963, sculptor Claes Oldenburg created a gigantic BLT art installation made of vinyl and wood, which you can now find at The Museum of Modern Art).
For pork loin, jamón serrano, fried green pepper, and sliced tomato, have a serranito in Andalusia. For red pepper salad, cured cod, and black olives, have an esgarraet in Valencia. For blood sausage and caramelized onions, have a bocadillo de morcilla in León. For nothing but tomatoes, salt, and olive oil on bread, have a pan con tomate most anywhere in the nation. The bocadillo is Spain’s supreme sandwich, standing out from its kin. A montadito is a bite-sized open-faced delight, a pulga is a made-for-tapas version on a dinner roll, and a sandwich is a thing made with Wonder bread. But a bocadillo is all about the baguette. Anything goes for the filling. An omelet is acceptable, as is everything from fried squid to pâté. As long as the exterior is crunchy and flaky on the outside, soft and fluffy on the inside, you’ll be in bocadillo bliss.
While the traditional full Irish breakfast is rightly beloved for its hearty, hangover-remedying excess, it's not exactly the most portable fare. Enter the breakfast roll, which takes the whole production and conveniently crams it in a French roll for what is basically the Irish cultural equivalent of a breakfast burrito. If we're splitting hairs, the full breakfast doesn't always make the breakfast roll lineup, but you're definitely in for some rashers of bacon, sausages, and black/white pudding. Fried eggs are a common addition, and tomatoes, hash browns, mushrooms, and baked beans have also been known to enter the fray. A testament to their popularity: Comedian Pat Shortt topped the Irish charts in 2006 with the novelty song "Jumbo Breakfast Roll."
Broodje Croquette (Kroket)
Even though the term croquette is French, the Dutch are such fans of the breaded and fried minced meat that they’ve all but taken over the croquette game, thanks in large part to the broodje (sandwich) version. The recipe is simple: Take leftover meat or potatoes or whatever, mince it up, bread it, shape it into a log, deep fry it, and put it in a squishy white bun with spicy brown mustard. Broodje Kroket is served all over the Netherlands at snack bars, regular bars (the bread-less version, called bitterbal, is a ubiquitous bar snack), and even fast-food joints. So yes, McDonald’s has a McKroket, which they describe as “Met een kroket van ragout met stukjes puur rundvlees en daar bovenop een lekkere mosterdsaus.” Case closed.
The carrozza, which is sometimes referred to as mozzarella in carrozza (translation: mozzarella in a carriage), is an oozy, fried sandwich filled with bubbly, melty mozzarella cheese. The recipe usually calls for white bread, stuffed with mozzarella, bathed in an egg wash, and deep-fried or pan-fried in olive oil. It’s popular in the Campania region of Southern Italy, where the production of all types of dairy products -- including tons of varying mozzarellas -- is quite robust. This is the sandwich for you if you’ve ever gazed lovingly at a mozzarella stick and wondered what it might be like in sandwich form.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
All across the Balkans, well-lubricated folks flock to the street vendors selling cevapcici -- a charcoal-grilled skinless sausage made of spiced minced meat (usually beef, veal, or lamb) stuffed into flatbread with onions, kajmak (a cheese spread made with sour cream, cream cheese, and feta), and ajvar (red pepper sauce). As the sausages are usually sold by the half dozen, be careful. After a few glasses of Šljivovica, you could easily find yourself emboldened into thinking eating a score of sausage sandwiches is not just a great idea, but imperative.
If you are looking for a sandwich with even a modicum of nutrition or health benefits of any kind, the chip butty is 1000% not the item for you. Arguably Britain's greatest contribution to the canon of hangover cures, the chip butty doesn't even feature a stray piece of wet lettuce or a limp tomato or even a slice of pickle that you can somehow use to justify your consumption. No, the chip butty is quite literally two slices of white bread, or a squishy white roll, generously buttered (and we mean generously) then wrapped around a pile of thick French fries (or what the Brits call "chips"). That is it. Sometimes people like to add a bit of ketchup, or maybe a drizzle of vinegar, but at the end of the day it is just a French fry sandwich on white bread. You can find them at basically any fish and chip shop, and they are so beloved that fans of Sheffield United (that's a soccer team) even sing a song called the "Greasy Chip Butty Song" at games.
It’s a meal fit for a queen! Well, that’s definitely what chef Rosemary Hume was hoping for when she whipped up this curry-spiked take on chicken salad for the crowning of Queen Elizabeth II way back in 1953. She hit the nail on the head and then some. Unsurprising for a country that loves cold meat and curry spice as much as the UK, coronation chicken has become one of those recipes that seems to change from chef to chef, a ubiquitous and fancy sandwich option that includes punches of fruit (often dried apricots or raisins) and toasted almonds to go along with that creamy curry and chicken. Its very presence makes a simple sandwich menu more elegant, whether it’s being served in Buckingham Palace, at Pret a Manger, or from a late-night window.
There are various unsubstantiated origin stories surrounding the croque monsieur involving sandwiches accidentally left near radiators and brasseries running out of baguettes, but whatever its precise beginnings, it began appearing in print around Paris circa 1910. It's not surprising that it took off, as the charms of a toasty ham and cheese sandwich are revered in many cultures, but the French take has a certain je ne sais quoi, and not just because that happens to be a French idiom. Maybe it's that the French have a way with cheese (Gruyère, Emmenthal, and Comté are the most common choices). Maybe it's those thin layers of ham and crusty pain de mie. It definitely goes to another level when it's topped with a layer of bechamel and an additional sprinkling of cheese melted under the broiler. Or add an egg to the mix for the even more indulgent croque madame.
These sandwiches are traditionally made with three incredibly cheap ingredients but are somehow the fanciest sandwiches around. A staple at afternoon tea, cucumber sandwiches are simply super-thin white bread, lightly slathered with butter and layered with thinly sliced cucumbers that have been sprinkled with salt. The crusts are cut off to make them look extra refined, and the sandwiches are often sliced into small triangles or batons. You aren't required to eat the sandwiches with your pinky out, but it doesn't hurt. These days, there are more variations on the classic tea time sandwich that are made with spreads like cream cheese, herbs like dill, and even salmon to make them a bit heartier.
The Francesinha -- which aptly translates to “little Frenchie” -- is a Portuguese interpretation of the French croque monsieur. Though restaurants around Porto, the Portuguese city of Francesinha’s invention, have different interpretations of the smothered sandwich, the core is typically made up of a trio of ham, fresh and cured sausage, and either steak or roast beef layered between sliced bread and topped with melted cheese before being bathed in a tangy red sauce. Occasionally, a sunny-side-up egg is crowned on top for good measure. Some Francesinhas feature seafood; others are studded with mushrooms and cream. But the most important element -- that is argued about among diehard Francesinha lovers -- is the sauce. Though all the famous Francesinha establishments have their own secret recipes, the sauce, for the most part, has a base of beer and tomatoes.
Γύρος is Greek for "spin." And if you’ve seen the broiling, twirling vertical rotisseries from which thin slices of pork, chicken, lamb, or beef are shaved, this translation will ring true. Whether in Athens, Chicago, New York, or beyond, gyros are the ideal street-cart food, peddled by sidewalk chefs day and night. Meat, tomatoes, onions, a squirt of tzatziki sauce, and sometimes French fries dusted in paprika are rolled into a warm pita. The gyro is said to have appeared first in Greece, though it resembles Turkish doner kebab and Arab shawarma, but the world’s largest manufacturer, Kronos Foods, is based in Chicago. Their CEO says they make 300,000-plus gyros a day in the US alone. A standard gyro is small enough to eat with one hand, but the world’s largest was 8,866 pounds. That’s a whole lot of lamb to spin.
If you made it to the "learning names of foods" stage of French class, you know that this sandwich consists of but two ingredients -- ham and butter. OK fine, three ingredients counting the baguette. But it's so much more than the sum of its parts -- when done right it's a salty, fatty, crusty study in flavor, texture, and simplicity. "Done right" for the record, essentially means good ham, good butter, and a fresh baguette. You can find them literally everywhere in France, especially in Paris, where they first appeared in the 19th century as, like so many sandwiches, a popular filling lunch for hungry workers. This ubiquity means they can vary in quality, but a growing cadre of French chefs are making versions with higher-end ingredients betting that people will pay for quality. Sound familiar?
In butcher shops and food stands all through Bavaria, Leberkäse rings out. Essentially a meatloaf of sorts made using finely ground pork and corned beef, onions, and seasoning baked until it gets a crusty brown top, then sliced like a meatloaf and served on a hard or soft roll with a dollop of sweet or hot mustard, Leberkäse roughly translates to "liver cheese," but confusingly only Bavarian Leberkäse is allowed to contain zero liver. There are myriad variations on the original recipe -- some involve adding cheese or peppers -- although a certain specific version linked to Austria contains horse meat. The true 'käse heads will tell you that the deeper brown the crust, the better the final product. They'll also tell you that it was first introduced in 1776, probably to celebrate the birth of America (Editor's Note: there is definitely no evidence it was made to celebrate the birth of America). Believe them.
The mitraillette sounds like a very uniquely American invention, the kind of food that Guy Fieri would declare “redonkulous.” It’s basically a mutant chip butty: a buttered baguette stuffed with huge slices of meatballs (or hamburger), then topped with various nondescript veggies, then piled up with fries and glopped all over with cheese and mayo. Hell, the name even translates to “submachine gun.” You don’t get more American than that, right? But no, this is a uniquely Belgian affair. Which means that the frites are probably going to be among the best you’ve ever had, the bread will be gloriously fresh, and everything will go nicely with a Flemish beer, placed on a lace doily for good measure.
The salade niçoise is one of the iconic dishes in the southern French city of Nice, so it's only natural that it would translate into an iconic sandwich as well. Pan bagnat (translation: bathed bread) takes a round country loaf -- originally it was common to use day-old bread that would gradually soak in the ingredients to come -- rubbed with olive oil and garlic. From there it's the familiar ingredients from the aforementioned salad -- tomato, onion, olives, hard boiled eggs, and basil are musts, and roasted red peppers are a common choice as well along with other vegetation. As for the seafood, anchovies are the OG of the niçoise game, but raw or canned tuna are the more prevalent choices nowadays. The sandwich acquits itself best when wrapped up tight and allowed to marinate (or bathe, if you will) for a while -- and since it takes so well to being prepped ahead, you'll find ready-made versions sold in shops all over Nice.
Panini is actually the oft-misused plural form of the singular panino (Italian for bread roll), a grilled sandwich served hot and featuring Italian bread paired with a variety of fillings. The most traditional panino has mortadella, salami, ham, and cheese inside, grilled until the cheese begins to melt and the cuts of pork are warmed through. Over time, panini presses have risen in popularity and are used to add the coveted grill marks to all sorts of sandwiches worldwide: from elaborate bbq brisket situations to tuna melts to simple grilled cheeses.
The Ploughman's lunch is an iconic and affordable British meal of cold foods probably dreamed up by someone who prefers to eat snacks as a meal. Standard components include bread, a hunk of cheese, some onions, pickles, and maybe an apple or a boiled egg. So it only makes perfect sense that it was turned into the more portable and handheld Ploughman's sandwich, which usually features wheat bread, layered with cheddar, lettuce, and Branston pickle, a sweet-and-savory thick jarred chutney that is beloved in Britain. The sandwich might also feature tomatoes, mayonnaise, arugula, and even some ham. Like revenge, the Ploughman's sandwich is a dish best served cold!
What if we told you that in Finland, the land of fantastic saunas and engineered metal products for export, there existed a sandwich that was basically a cross between a hamburger and a hot dog, which you eat in a hamburger/hot dog style with pickle, onion, ketchup and mustard on toasted white bread? And what if we told you that said sandwich was invented just 6 miles from the Gulf of Bothnia in the city of the Western Finnish city of Pori (sister city of Porsgrunn, Norway!) and that an enterprising investigative sandwich blogger named Jim did an incredible job breaking down said sandwich's mysteries (read more here) and recreating it in America and basically came to the conclusion that it's actually very similar to bologna? And what if we told you that, despite Jim's good works, we think we should all agree to stick with the hamburger & hot dog mashup because it's just so much marketable? Does that sound like something you can get behind?
Tramezzini are crustless and neat triangular sandwiches -- a 1925 Italian invention meant to rival traditional English tea sammies. Unlike their more popular cousin, the panino, tramezzini are not served hot. However, similar to their piping-hot relative, they are delicious and layered with whatever your hungry heart desires. Popular fillings of tramezzini include egg salad, anchovies, shrimp, prosciutto, and various veggies. Find them on the streets of Italy, in train stops, in cafes, and take them to go as the perfect portable snack.
Bake and Shark
Fish tacos are well and good, but have you ever bit into a great white hunk of shark? You will if you have a bake and shark, a Trinidadian beach snack in which a puffed up, airy, hollow flatbread with the consistency of fried dough is stuffed with filleted shark meat (usually blacktip) seasoned with salt, pepper, and green seasoning, breaded, and pan-fried. It’s often drizzled in condiment after condiment after condiment. Garlic sauce, pepper sauce, and coleslaw are just the beginning. Richard’s Bake and Shark on Maracas Beach is one of its most famed providers, reportedly the first to serve it. On Bizarre Foods, host Andrew Zimmern called it one of the top 10 foods he ever ate.
It’s easy to mock the simplicity of presidential culinary tastes when they consist of well-done steaks with ketchup and drive-thru mainstays. But sometimes simple is glorious. The sandwich that bears the name of Ramón Barros Luco, who led Chile from 1910-15, isn’t a complicated thing. It’s basically just a steak sandwich with cheese. The steak is either a thin filet or strips of churrasco, seasoned with a punch of salt and pepper, maybe some cumin. The cheese is preferably gooey Chilean mantecoso, though melty alternatives could include gouda. As for the bread, anything goes, though a flaky roll like a fluffy French-style marraquetas roll is clutch. It’s simple. It’s filling. And it manages to be presidential and populist without a side of eye-rolls.
The Brazilian Bauru is named after the city of its inventor, Casemiro Pinto Neto, who -- as a student -- ventured into São Paulo’s Ponto Chic cafe back in 1934 and requested what would eventually become one of Brazil’s most celebrated sandwiches. The Ponto Chic version of the Bauru originally featured beef, tomatoes, and mozzarella stuffed inside a French roll and steamed in a bain-marie (that's double boiler if you don't parle français) for extra meltiness. There are other interpretations that swap out beef for ham and include pickles. The sandwich became so intertwined with Bauru’s local identity that the city eventually declared it their official sandwich mascot, which should clearly be a requirement for all cities.
Cemitas are in the same family as the larger category of tortas, coming from Pueblo as they do and including ingredients that you might find in a burrito in their potential fillings. But there are key differences that bring it to a completely different level, beginning with the bun. The sandwich itself is named for its starchy vessel, a toasted-sesame-topped, brioche-adjacent bun that serves as the bookend for everything from Milanese to carnitas or lengua. Essential in the mix are shredded strands Oaxacan cheese, a mound of avocado, and fresh tomatoes to counteract the frequent addition of papalo, hot sauce, and chipotle-spiked crema. Also essential: an almost architectural ingenuity exhibited by the folks who stack these monsters so the ingredients work in concert with each other bite after bite without collapsing into a pile.
At its base, a chacarero isn’t all that different than its cousin, the Barros Luco. At its base is thin, flavorful (but not over-seasoned) steak (cheese optional) on a crusty bread, often a marraquetas roll. It’s then stacked with fresh tomatoes and green beans, which add an unexpected blast of juiciness and texture to an already explosive-yet-simple flavor profile. Consider it the steak deluxe to the Barros Lucos’ more straightforward take. Pro tip: If avocados are an option, take them. That’s just general life advice, but here it takes an already succulent sandwich to new heights.
Although chivito translates to “little goat,” this national sandwich of Uruguay actually features churrasco -- or beef steak -- as its main protein. Rumor has it that the sandwich was invented in 1946 at the El Mejillón Bar, when a diner requested a chivito sandwich under the assumption that it would contain goat, but the restaurant didn’t have any at the time and replaced the chivito with churrasco. The sandwich took off, and is traditionally made with tomatoes, olives, and mayonnaise. There’s a Canadian version -- chivito canadiense -- that layers the original ingredients with Canadian bacon. While the base sandwich is excellent on its own, people have been known to go the extra mile with toppings including boiled eggs, peppers, beets, and cucumbers.
Granted, there are versions of this delightful deployment of chorizo throughout much of South America, but Argentina consumes it with the most fervor. There, you'll most commonly find the spicy sausage links split down the middle and grilled (though keeping the link wholly intact isn't unheard of), laid on a soft roll and then generously topped with chimichurri. And yes, the linked nature of the chorizo puts this dangerously adjacent to the whole hot dog/sandwich debate (along with it being a staple of street vendors and sporting events), but put all that baggage aside for a second and just appreciate the choripan as its own wonderfully spicy thing.
Take a barra, a tiny, gooey fried flatbread yellowed from ground turmeric dough; curried chickpeas; and a rainbow of chutneys such as tamarind, mango, and Scotch bonnet chile -- but make it double. This chewy, spicy, sweet, savory street food comes from Trinidad, the larger of the twin island nation Trinidad and Tobago. Off the coast of Venezuela, it’s technically part of South America but also considered the most southern island in the Caribbean. The array of cultures that have come through Trinidad, including West African, Indian, Latin American, Spanish, and Portuguese among others, have affected its cuisine. The classic snack with Indian influences is also vegan. Perhaps the best thing about doubles is in its name. When you’re done with one, you get another.
A Mallorca is a sweet, airy, snail-shaped roll that takes its name from the Spanish island where it originated, and truth be told, you could consume one by itself in decidedly non-sandwich form, dusted in powdered sugar, and have yourself a fine time. In Puerto Rico, however, they also serve as the base for an iconic sandwich, in which they're split open and served hot with ham and cheddar cheese (and sometimes scrambled eggs as well). Think of it as a Caribbean answer to the sweet, savory appeal of a Monte Cristo. Or stop trying to draw comparisons and just enjoy the incredible sandwich you're eating in paradise.
When it comes to late-night sandwiches, few can touch Havana’s game. Case in point, the medianoche, which is so named due to the fact that it became popular when the discos emptied out on hot Havana nights. Those familiar with the Cubano will find a lot of common ground between the medianoche and its Americanized cousin, including the presence of roast pork, ham, Swiss, pickles, and mustard. The medianoche, though, pulls out a secret weapon in the form of a doughier, softer, sweeter bread that’s more like a challah than the considerably crustier bread used in a Cuban, leaving it springier and with a lighter crunch after it leaves its signature flat-press. Fourth meal, you’ve been put on notice.
Be warned: Things are going to get messy when you order a pambazo. Also be warned: You aren’t really going to care if you’re walking around with a red ring around your mouth for half the day. This is a wet sandwich. Not quite in the way a dipped French dip is, though. Pambazos come on a bread that is fluffy and crustless. More importantly, its light texture allows it to absorb a blast of guajillo pepper sauce, which gives every bite a tangy yet, not too spicy, pop of flavor. They’re generally filled with a mix of papas con chorizo -- potatoes and spicy sausage -- with a little cream, queso fresco and lettuce to chill things out, but not before the bread hits the grill to seal in all the flavor and prevent gushing. You’re going to want a fork and knife… but that would imply you’re not content to dig in immediately and worry about napkins later.
A pebete is a soft, slightly sweet roll common in Argentina that somewhat resembles a short hot dog bun that grew just a bit chubby. Unsurprisingly, if feels like it was born to be consumed in sandwich form. Ham and cheese represent the most popular filling options, though salami and other cured meats have been known to make an appearance, with a slice or two of tomato and a bit of mayo often rounding out the party. The term pebete originates from a word meaning "little boy," so it makes sense that this sandwich is a staple of childhood lunches -- although you never really age out of a quality ham and cheese, no matter what country's version it happens to be.
Sanduche de Hornado
In the same vein that Americans eat leftover turkey sandwiches for weeks following Thanksgiving, Ecuadorians dive into sanduches de hornados after roasting massive cuts of pork, or hornado de chancho. Food stands that serve plated meals of hornado de chancho typically have sandwiches as an option, folding the leftover meats into a toasted bun topped with lettuce, tomato, pickled onions, avocado, and ají -- a tree tomato-based Ecuadorian hot sauce -- for when you’re feeling spicy. The result is a zesty pork-packed handheld meal that’s perfect for Ecuadorians on the go.
Tortas are the most chameleonic of Mexico’s sandwich offerings. They can be hot or cold. They can be filled with cold cuts or intricately prepared meats like puerco pibil or carnitas or milanesa. Some are drowned in ahogada (chile sauce) and served with the understanding that your clothes will soon become tie-dye. And each region has its own version, though many believe that it sprang up during the French involvement in the Mexican Civil War, not unlike bánh mì in Vietnam. They are Mexico’s answer to the sub, but packing so much more flavor packed into the crusty bolillo roll, with toppings often including pickled peppers, refried beans, and avocado. Some folks say they’re basically burritos served on bread instead of wrapped in tortillas. That’s not wholly inaccurate. But it’s also like calling a wrap with steak and cheese a cheesesteak, and belies the unique sensory explosion hiding in that bolillo roll.
If you've enjoyed a Cuban sandwich, you have a solid reference point for the tripleta -- in fact, it's suspected that this Puerto Rican delight traces its origins to the influx of Cubans fleeing Castro's takeover of the country in 1959. But rest assured, the tripleta is ever much its own thing. As one might surmise from the name it's packing three meats -- these vary from vendor to vendor but typically you'll see marinated cube steak, ham, and either shredded pork or chicken. On top of that there's vegetation (cabbage, tomato, onion), mustard and mayo (and sometimes ketchup), and, in a fun wrinkle, some crispy potato sticks, all held together with some pressed French bread. It's like the Cubano's heftier cousin who really likes to party.
Bacon, Egg, and Cheese
You can get one most anywhere -- your local bodega, drive-thru, or diner. You know what to expect whether you bite into a hard roll, English muffin, or bagel. And you can bet whether you’re hungover, tired, or in a mood that it will make your morning. The classic is often riffed on, but dependably layers a fried or scrambled egg, cheese such as American, Swiss, or Cheddar, and crisp slices of bacon. Purveyors of the BEC abound in NYC on every corner, where it’s typically served on a Kaiser roll. Like others on this list, breakfast sandwiches were born at the crossroads of convenience and labor. During the Industrial Revolution, factory workers in London emerged, hungry and on the go. Vendors lined up to hawk swiftly downed mugs of coffee and breakfast on soft rolls called “baps.” Since then Americans have adopted it and made it their own -- even the Egg McMuffin falls under the BEC umbrella on some level, Canadian bacon notwithstanding.
Some claim you can’t get a good cheesesteak outside Philly. That’s bullshit, though back in 1930 it might have made sense. When the Oliveri family started throwing thin-sliced ribeye and grilled onions on a pillowy roll, they managed to follow in the footsteps of other famous Philadelphians and started a street-food revolution. Now -- thanks to the fact that steak, cheese, bread, and deli slicers are everywhere -- you can get this marvel "wit" or "wit-out," covered in pizza sauce, or simply as a perfectly seasoned pile of sizzling steak with onions and cheese, as God and the Oliveris intended. It’s a regional sandwich that became a genuine American ideal. Yes, the best ones remain in Philly. But now it captures and clogs hearts on the international stage.
We know that fried chicken and biscuits as Americans know them today both emerged in the pre-Civil War South (let's not confuse ourselves with the cookies and crackers the Brits call biscuits). It's less clear who the first inspired soul was who halved the biscuit and slid a boneless hunk of juicy fried chicken in between, but it was an inspired work of carb-on-carb genius. Today the humble chicken biscuit is a staple built for any time of day, a pillar of popular chicken chains like Chick-fil-A and Bojangles, and, like so many simple pleasures, a frequent subject of chef interpretation on hip restaurant menus -- many of which are delightful! But for all the pleasures of hot honey and whatever aioli and artisanal cheese you might want to throw into the mix, the two base components remain all you really need.
Forget what you’ve heard, “club” is not an acronym for Chicken and Lettuce Under Bacon. Yes, those are common ingredients found in the lunchtime dish, but it’s not a comprehensive list -- and in some cases, it’s plain wrong. Legend says that a man “accidentally” invented the club sandwich after stacking an assortment of pantry finds onto toast late one night. There’s no way to know if he was really the first person to put basic meats and veggies on bread, but what happened next is easier to corroborate: The hearty combination began popping up in social clubs around the turn of the 19th century, hence the name. In its early days, the club was simpler, with chicken or turkey, bacon, lettuce, tomato, and mayo between only two slices of toasted white bread. Modern clubs follow a similar BLT+ blueprint, but with one additional piece of toast in the middle for a triple-decker delight.
Jake Gyllenhaal wasn’t the only hot beef to come out of Los Angeles. The aptly named French dip has a somewhat contentious origin story, but we know that in the early 1900s, someone in SoCal changed the deli game by placing thinly sliced meat on a toasted, jus-soaked French roll. While a classic French dip relies on roast beef for density, other meats like pork, turkey, and lamb have been employed as tasty substitutions. Many recipes will also include some kind of melted cheese and additional condiments and vegetation to round out the party, though again, there aren’t many guidelines surrounding the exact configuration. When it comes to this sandwich, there’s really only one hard-and-fast rule: Somehow, in some way, the roll needs to come in contact with leftover pan juices from the meat. With no jus, there is no dip.
This "recipe," if you can call it that, is basically just a bunch of bologna, fried and stuck between two slices of bread. Though it's become reclaimed in recent years by chef-driven restaurants inclined to use brioche buns, handmade charcuterie and other fanciness, traditionalists would probably argue that the bread should be Wonder -- or at least something similarly white and squishy -- and that the sandwich shouldn’t be presentable so much as practical, time-saving, and oozing with saturated everything. Once the meat has been browned on the skillet, the rules for preparation are fairly loose: Mayo and/or spicy mustard are recommended, as well as shredded lettuce and a few slices of American cheese. The recipe varies slightly depending on the region, but there are even documented cases of grape jelly usage, so feel free to access your inner sandwich anarchist if the kitchen’s nearly empty.
When desire to whip up something extravagant meets an empty fridge, remember: The best things in life are cheese. Three basic pantry items are all you need for some buttered, griddled, oozing comfort food. The grilled cheese sandwich is, in fact, the best thing since -- and more importantly because of -- sliced bread. Humans have eaten bread and cheese together in myriad forms since the two existed, but it’s the sliced versions of these ingredients that make a grilled cheese a grilled cheese. It took off in the 1950s not long after Kraft Singles -- individually wrapped slices of American cheese -- hit the market in 1949. The prevalence of the simple sandwich is well-documented in pop culture: See Adrian Grenier cheffing them while he whines in The Devil Wears Prada and Johnny Depp stamping an iron-scorched one in Benny & Joon.
Revenge is a dish best served marinated in buttermilk, pan-fried, and smothered in a cayenne pepper paste that’s hot, hot, hot. The inception of Nashville’s iconic sandwich is credited to a modern tale of payback. Andre Prince Jeffries, owner of the cult-followed Prince's Hot Chicken Shack, says her great-uncle Thornton Prince III was quite a playboy and following a very late night out his then-girlfriend attempted to punish him by ruining his favorite breakfast with extra spice and pepper. Her plan was unsuccessful. Prince liked the altered dish so much he replicated the recipe and opened the now famed restaurant in 1945. Though you don't HAVE to eat it in sandwich form, it's a popular delivery choice as the carbs help calm the spices down a touch -- pickle chips are also a must. Today it's common to see fancified versions on menus across the country, but Nashville's still the place for the real deal. When vengeance isn’t sweet, it’s spicy.
The perfect lobster roll is a notion people claw over in New England. Hot drawn butter à la Connecticut or slathered in mayo à la Maine? Toasted bun or squishy bun? Meat cradled in a crisp leaf of romaine or meat pure and unadulterated? But the secret to a great lobster roll transcends stubborn preferences: good lobster. The traditional version features tail, knuckle, and claw meat in a New England-style split-top hot dog bun. A Milford, Connecticut seafood restaurant that was called Perry’s claims its origin, serving it first in the ‘20s, though who’s to say who the first fisherman to throw some spare crustacean bits on bread was? Ever since, the summer staple has dispersed through Cape Cod, Boston, Newport, Portland, and the like, eventually reaching NYC where it became a chef’s darling menu item in the '90s and fully entered the American culinary lexicon. Even McDonald’s serves the stately sandwich now (on the East Coast, but still).
Who remembers that Friends episode where Joey confuses a car backfiring with a gunshot, and dives to save Ross instead of Chandler, because Ross is holding a meatball sub? A few juicy and flavorful meatballs adorned with mozzarella and red sauce that's soaking into some crusty and resilient bread is enough to tear all of your most important relationships apart. You can find this Italian-American hero (on multiple levels) across the United States on the cheaper side of Italian restaurant menus in the States, and even in the most ubiquitous of deli chains (though quality may vary). The origins of the sandwich are unclear, but the general consensus is that someone wisely decided to put meatballs in bread around the turn of the 20th century, and no one has questioned its utility since.
A sort of Americanized spinoff of France’s croque monsieur, the Monte Cristo has gone by many less-inspiring names -- toasted ham sandwich, French toasted cheese sandwich, and French sandwich among them. It first appeared in cookbooks in the 1930s, earning the title “Monte Cristo” in SoCal several years later. When Disneyland introduced it to New Orleans Square menus in the late ‘60s, it broke further into mainstream and sparked a full-on craze. At its core, it's a simple diner sandwich taken to new heights by its flashy French toast finish: Swiss cheese and ham (turkey also often makes an appearance) is layered between two slices of bread. In some preparations, the bread has already been French-toasted, in others the whole thing is egg-battered and fried. Powdered sugar or a little jam for dipping are frequent sweet additions to balance all that savory.
What makes a sandwich a sandwich? Bread, baby. The makers of the muffuletta understood this well, and named their creation after the disc-shaped sesame seed-studded Sicilian loaf that holds it together. The bread is sliced lengthwise, drizzled with olive oil, then stuffed with olive salad (a blend of black olives, green olives, carrots, celery, onions, olive oil, ground pepper, parsley, and oregano), Provolone cheese, Italian ham, salami, and mortadella (naming the ingredients may leave you with shortness of breath, much like consuming too many). The entire round loaf is used, and gets halved or quartered once it's filled. It’s an Italian sandwich that didn’t originate in Italy but in New Orleans, where immigrants at the French Quarter’s Central Grocery invented it in 1906. Nearby Sicilian farmers would snack on meat, salad, and bread from trays on their laps antipasto-style, and soon enough the market’s owner Salvatore Lupo suggested putting them all together. The rest is sandwich history.
Peanut Butter & Jelly
It’s the first sandwich you ever tasted and the go-to option for sack lunching at all ages. Peanut butter and jelly are perhaps the strongest evidence of soulmates -- first married in the early 20th century -- and whether or not they’re joined together in even proportions, they’ll greet your taste buds in beautiful harmony. Before the rise of the PB&J, the common snack was peanut butter and sliced bread, two affordable ingredients in a Depression-riddled US. During WWII, they joined jelly on the military rations list, and soldiers soon realized the PB&J’s power. Since the war’s end, the three-ingredient sandwich has skyrocketed in popularity, so much so that a 2016 survey determined the average American eats almost 3,000 in their lifetime. Today, the PB&J is arguably the food most ingrained in American pop culture. What other sandwich could inspire an entire playlist of songs spanning every musical genre?
First of all, it only used to be rolled in crushed yellow peas (thus, peameal). Now it's rolled in cornmeal and brined, originally to stay fresh on the voyage across the Atlantic to Great Britain. It is not Canadian bacon (Canadians will tell you that is an American invention). And it comes from Toronto, allegedly invented by William Davies in the 1800s, the man who ran the biggest butcher shop in Canada, and helped give Toronto the nickname "Hogtown." The sandwich, which is now Toronto's official dish, traditionally features just the griddled meat on a kaiser roll, usually with mustard, although other common versions feature elements you might recall from BLTs: griddled peameal bacon, leaf lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise, and sometimes melted cheddar cheese. Try it once at the Carousel Bakery in the St. Lawrence Market and you will never think or eat or speak of the Americanized travesty that is Canadian bacon again.
To eat as much of New Orleans as you can in a single bite, it must be of a po' boy. The fillings vary. The bread must be French. Roast beef or fried seafood like shrimp, oysters, crawfish, fish, or crab are common choices. To get all the fixings -- shredded lettuce, tomatoes, mayo, hot sauce, and pickles -- order it dressed. In 1929, brothers Clovis and Bennie Martin are said to have created the sandwich after they opened a coffee shop in the French Market. During a transit strike, the siblings, former streetcar conductors themselves, showed solidarity by feeding strikers free sandwiches. According to legend, when one approached the shop, a brother would say “Here comes another poor boy” and make a sandwich. Today, po' boys can be found throughout the US, and are decidedly not free. Especially in New York, where a shrimp po' boy from Lure Fish Bar will cost you $24.
Arguing about barbecue ranks only slightly behind actually consuming barbecue in terms of American past times, so trying to sum up the various preparations and traditions surrounding the pulled pork sandwich is a daunting task. Is Carolina whole-hog the only true pulled pork? What about Memphis-style with a kick of sweet sauce? If you make it in a slow cooker are you committing treason? Look, we could be here a while, but the basic framework of slowly cooked, falling apart, (hopefully) smoky pork shoulder on a plush white bun is a singularly satisfying sandwich experience. To do it right, however, a hint of acid is a must, be it from the vinegar in the sauce, pickled veggies, or, most popularly, a helping of coleslaw, which sometimes comes as a sidekick, but is often spread right into the sandwich.
The Reuben is one of those sandwiches that has become inextricably tied to the New York deli experience: a decidedly un-kosher pile of corned beef, Swiss cheese, kraut, and Thousand Island dressing crammed between two pieces of rye bread. This makes it all the more amazing to think that the most popular origin story comes not from the Big Apple, but at a late-night card game in Omaha, Nebraska, circa 1920. In the intervening century, though, it’s become one of the great American sandwich stories, one that takes a melting pot to different pan-European traditions and piles them toweringly high between slices. It’s a Midwestern classic and an East Coast tradition and a standby at delis from coast to coast all at once, a true American mutt of a sandwich.
Not to be confused with the also-messy New Jersey monstrosity of the same name, this sandwich tries its best to stay within bounds, but the glob of saucy beef oozing onto your mac salad before the bun is even gripped suggests that the sloppy Joe is destined to prove the validity of its name, all over your T-shirt. To prepare one, brown ground beef in a skillet with onions and peppers, then mix it with a mustard-y, ketchup-y, Worcestershire-y sauce and sandwich it up, usually on a soft burger roll. As is the case with many of our quick ‘n' dirty American sandwiches, sloppy Joes were popularized in the '30s, when money was tight. There are a few SJ origin stories, one of which involves Ernest Hemingway bringing the idea from Havana, Cuba, to a bar in Key West, now known as “Sloppy Joe’s Bar.” Today you can get find them in all sorts of restaurants and bars, but it remains a fantastic meal to cook with your broke friends at home.
Montreal-style smoked meat is familiar. It's salty and smoky and looks vaguely like pastrami, but the difference comes to the spices and salt that the brisket is dry-cured in -- namely lots more peppercorn, coriander, mustard seeds, and tons of garlic. The brisket is then smoked all the way through and left to steam to maintain its heat, resulting in a tender, juicy cut of meat that has to be hand cut, lest it disintegrate before consumption. Smoked meat, like a pastrami, is typically served on rye bread with mustard. The little crispy bits that break off during cooking and cutting are taken and often used as a topping on poutine, resulting in a glorious, hearty, salty Canadian snack -- or meal.
EDITORIALEditors: Matt Lynch, Andy Kryza, Khushbu Shah
Writers: Kevin Alexander, Kyler Alvord, Ruby Anderson, Alex Erdekian, Andy Kryza, Matt Lynch, Khushbu Shah, Kat Thompson
Production: Alex Erdekian, Paul Pierre-Louis, Pete Dombrosky
CREATIVEDesign Director: Ted McGrath
Photo Director: Drew Swantak
Illustrator: Jason Hoffman
Photographer: Cole Saladino
Motion Graphics Designer: Fredy Delgado