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Sandwiches are a form of fast food. Their story has moved from something that you would make at home, or in the fields, as a casual lunch for working people, to being something acceptable to the upper classes, to being something available for purchase everywhere by everyone at any time of the day.

Hamburgers, technically, are a sandwich.

A Sandwich doesn't need to be two pieces of bread. Open-faced Sandwiches made on a single piece of bread are popular in Germanic countries.

The basic ingredients of a sandwich are bread, some form of spread for the bread, and a filling.

The bread can be from a sliced loaf of bread, or it can be a bun. It can be toasted, or fresh. Sandwiches made from pitas or bagels are new additions to the Western Sandwich repertoire.

The bread is usually covered with a spread first, such as butter, margarine or mayonnaise. Usually the spread is plain, but sometimes a herbed butter can be used. In the case of Reuben Sandwiches, the spread is actually a salad dressing -- Russian. The spread both moistens the bread, and stops juices from the filling from going into the bread and making it soggy.

Anything can be used as a filling. If it's meat or fish, it has to be cooked first. In every generation, in every schoolyard, there's a sandwich filling which distinguishes the poor kids from the better-off kids. On the eastern seaboard of North America, it was at one time lobster sandwiches: the poor kids brought them, while the better-off kids had the baloney sandwiches. Now, the reverse would be true.

In the UK, as of 2004, 240 million ready-made sandwiches are sold every year, with Brits eating an average of 155 sandwiches per person a year. More people (300,000) in the UK work at making sandwiches than work in agriculture. Brits spend 3 times more money on sandwiches than they do on hamburgers.

Marks & Spencer launched the ready-made sandwich market in 1981. Their Sandwiches are all made by machine. The machine even butters the bread, spreads the fillings on, and cuts them before packing them.

Sandwiches in the UK are now quite elaborate, with choices such as Brie, grape and walnut, or hoisin duck wraps, or tuna with sweetcorn, or poached salmon and cucumber with lemon-horseradish sauce and dill.

The most popular sandwich in the UK as of 2011 is the Prawn Mayonnaise sandwich (shrimp mayonnaise), with 124,000 packs of them sold a week by Marks & Spencer alone. The sandwich was introduced commercially to the UK market in 1981 by Marks & Spencer. The second best-selling sandwich at Marks & Spencer in 2011 was smoked ham and mustard, with 115,000 of them being sold a week. The prawn sandwich is also the best-selling sandwich at the grocery food store chain, Waitrose, and second-best selling at the grocery food store chain, Tesco (Tesco's best selling is their chicken salad.)

In the US, as of 2004, Americans eat about 193 sandwiches per person per year.

History Notes

Urban legends say the sandwich was invented by the Earl of Sandwich. What the Early may have done, in fact, is lend his name to them.

Sandwich is a town in England, one of the Cinque Ports. Its name comes from the Old English word "sandwic", meaning "sand village" ("wic" being borrowed from the Roman's word for village, "vicus".) Though the earliest written record of the town occurred about 644 AD (when Wilfred, Bishop of Northumberland landed there), most people feel there was some kind of settlement there during Roman times.

The Sandwich family to which the Earl belonged, however, has no connection at all with the town.

Edward Montagu (1625 - 1672) was the first to have the Earl of Sandwich title, awarded to him by Charles II in 1660. Samuel Pepys recorded on the 26th June 1660 that Montagu had first decided to choose the title of Portsmouth: "My Lord dined at his lodgings all alone to-day. I went to Secretary Nicholas to carry him my Lord's resolutions about his title, which he had chosen, and that is Portsmouth. " On the 10th July, though, Pepys wrote further on the topic: "And finding my Lord in White Hall garden, I got him to go to the Secretary's, which he did, and desired the dispatch of his and my bills to be signed by the King. His bill is to be Earl of Sandwich, Viscount Hinchingbroke, and Baron of St. Neot's."

Some speculate that Montagu decided to leave the Portsmouth title available for the use of one of Charles II's mistresses, Louise de Kérouall, who became the Duchess of Portsmouth. But she didn't become Charles II's mistress until 1671, and didn't become a duchess until 1673, which is too long after 1660. Others speculate that just before Montagu had led a fleet of 37 ships, headed by The Naseby, over to Holland to pick up Charles II and return him to England, Montagu's fleet had been moored off-shore of Sandwich.

In any event, Sandwich it was for the family name.

The particular family member credited with inventing the sandwich as a food was John Montagu (3 November 1718 – 3 April 1792), who became the fourth Earl of Sandwich in 1729. (The Sandwich Islands (now Hawaii) were also named after him.

The Earl was frequently at the court of King George II. He was considered pretty corrupt and incompetent, and in return despised the hoi polloi of society, He was also suspected of being a Satan worshipper, as he was part of "The Hell Fire Club" founded by a Sir Francis Dashwood, which held black masses. Benjamin Franklin also attended the club meetings from time to time as a guest.

In any event, the story is that the Earl didn't want to leave the table during a game of cards, or stop playing, so he asked for beef between two pieces of bread, which would be something that he could eat only with one hand. The story comes from Pierre Jean Grosley's "A Tour of London" in 1772 . Grosley wrote, referring to a period in the mid 1760s:

"A minister of state passed four and twenty hours at a public gaming-table, so absorpt in play that, during the whole time, he had no subsistence but a bit of beef, between two slices of toasted bread, which he eat (sic) without ever quitting the game. This new dish grew highly in vogue, during my residence in London: it was called by the name of the minister who invented it."

Some say the game was in 1762, drawing on a date provided in the journals of Edward Gibbons (1737-1794). He recorded on 24 November 1762 seeing men in a gentleman's club (The Cocoa Tree, at Pall Mall and St James Street) eating what he referred to as "a bit of cold meat, or a Sandwich." Gibbons' use of the word "Sandwich" as a food item, though, does invite one to believe that it was in common usage as a term in at least some social circles.

Regardless of when the word "sandwich" was applied to them, sandwiches have obviously been made for as long as man has been making bread. Peasants throughout the millennia would have eaten cold meat, cheese and vegetables between slabs of bread. In the Middle East, pita breads have long been rolled up around fillings, or cut open to make a pouch and had the filling put inside them.

Hillel, a Rabbi who lived during the time of Herod the Great, is also credited with "inventing" sandwiches. A passage from the "haggadah asys", "When the Temple stood, Hillel used to combine matzo and bitter herbs in a sandwich and eat them together, doing as the Torah says: They shall eat the Passover offering together with matzo and bitter herbs." Matzo, though, wouldn't make a great sandwich: it's brittle and would shatter on the first bite, causing all the filling to drop out.

By the start of the 1800s, sandwiches had moved from being just a men's food at clubs, to things that could be served to ladies after dances as a light refreshment. In 1837, Elizabeth Leslie (1787-1858) listed in her book "Directions for Cookery" a recipe for ham sandwiches: "Ham Sandwiches - Cut some thin slices of bread very neatly, having slightly buttered them; and, if you choose, spread on a very little mustard. Have ready some very thin slices of cold boiled ham, and lay one between two slices of bread. You may either roll them up, or lay them flat on the plates. They are used at supper or at luncheon."

By the start of the 1900s, Sandwiches were an everyman's food, available for purchase anywhere.

The advent of bread tins also helped sandwiches. Bread baked in tins (as opposed to more rustic-style bread just cooked free-form) yielded uniformly sized loaves that would in turn yield uniformly-sized slices, helped make Sandwich-making easier.

In 2001, the 11th Earl of Sandwich (John Edward Hollister Montagu, born 11 April 1943) and his son Orlando actually opened a sandwich company, delivering sandwiches to London offices, and selling them ready-made in the Waitrose grocery store chain, with the family crest on the packaging. In 2003, they licensed the American rights to the Sandwich shop name "Earl of Sandwich" to Robert Earl, founder of the Planet Hollywood restaurant chain. The first American shop was subsequently opened at Disney World in Florida on Friday, 19 March 2004.

Literature & Lore

"I eat a lot of sandwiches, who doesn't man, sandwiches are easy to eat. But I hate sandwiches at New York delis, too much *ing meat on the sandwich, it's like a cow with a cracker on either side." -- Mitch Hedberg (American comic. 24 February 1968 – 29 March 2005)

From the mid-1900s on, mathematicians in a branch of math called "algebraic topology" grappled with a mathematical conundrum known as the "Ham Sandwich Theorem." The goal of the theorem was to rescue "the careless sandwich maker by guaranteeing that it is always possible to slice the sandwich with one cut so that the ham and both slices of bread are each divided into equal halves, no matter how haphazardly the ingredients are arranged." The theorem problem was first posed in a 1945 paper by Hugo Steinhaus, a Polish mathematician.

Language Notes

In foodie circles today the Roman word "offula" is translated inaccurately as "Sandwich." The mistranslation of the word appears to have originated with one food writer getting it wrong but then being copied widely.

Offula might be better translated as "tapas" or even "canapés", if you wish. "Offa" meant a bite or a "mouthful" and "offula", being the diminutive of "offa", meant an even smaller bite or mouthful, a tidbit. In classical studies, it's often translated into English as "a morsel". In French it's often rendered "petit morceau", and in German, "Stückchen". The Romans also used the word "buccea" to mean the same thing.

In English, before the term "Sandwich" was applied to Sandwiches, they were just referred to as "bread and meat" or "bread and cheese."

In the UK today, a sandwich is often referred affectionately referred to as a "sarnie" or a "butty."

"Sandwich" can also be used as a verb, to describe something squeezed between two other objects.


Abrahams, Marc. Researchers solve ham sandwich mystery. Manchester: The Guardian. 9 May 2011.

Roberts, Hannah. 30 years on, our favourite sandwich is still prawn. London: Daily Telegraph. 18 April 2011.

See also:


Baloney; Beef on Weck Sandwiches; Croque Madame; Croque Monsieur Sandwiches; Frank Sinatra Sandwich; Ginger Rogers Sandwich; Grilled Cheese Sandwiches; Guédille; Hot Dogs; Lobster Rolls; Marshmallow Cream Spread; Monte Cristo Sandwiches; Open-Faced; Pain de Mie; Panino con il Lampredotto; Pepperoni Rolls; Philadelphia Cheese Steak; Pullman Loaf Pans; Rachel Sandwich; Reuben Sandwich; Sandwiches; Submarine Sandwiches; Tartarmad; Tartine; Toasties; Walter Winchell Sandwich; Zsa Zsa Gabor Sandwich

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Also called:

Emparedado (Spanish)


Oulton, Randal. "Sandwiches." CooksInfo.com. Published 20 August 2005; revised 18 February 2011. Web. Accessed 05/22/2018. <http://www.cooksinfo.com/sandwiches>.

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