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All about sandwiches

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A sandwich made with white bread and salami

A sandwich is a food item consisting of one or more types of food placed on or between slices of bread, or more generally any dish wherein two or more pieces of bread serve as a container or wrapper for some other food. The sandwich was originally a portable food item or finger food which began its popularity primarily in the Western World, but is now found in various versions in numerous countries worldwide.

Sandwiches are a widely popular type of lunch food, typically taken to work, school, or picnics to be eaten as part of a packed lunch. The bread can be used plain, or it can be coated with one or more condiments to enhance the flavours and texture. As well as being homemade, sandwiches are also widely sold in restaurants and cafes, and are sometimes served hot as well as cold.

The sandwich is considered to be the namesake of John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich, because of the claim that he was the eponymous inventor of this food combination. The Wall Street Journal has described it as Britain's "biggest contribution to gastronomy".


Salmon and cream cheese sandwiches on pieces of baguette

English sandwiches, crustless on a plate

Sandwich with fried egg, tomato and cucumber

Olive and red tomato sandwich

The modern concept of a sandwich using slices of bread (as found within the Western World) can arguably be traced to 18th century Europe. However, the use of some kind of bread or bread-like substance to lie under (or under and over) some other food, or used to scoop up and enclose or wrap some other type of food, long predates the 18th century, and is found in numerous much older cultures worldwide.

The ancient Jewish sage Hillel the Elder is said to have wrapped meat from the Paschal lamb and bitter herbs between two pieces of old-fashioned soft matzah—flat, unleavened bread—during Passover in the manner of a modern sandwich wrap made with flatbread. Flat breads of only slightly varying kinds have long been used to scoop or wrap small amounts of food en route from platter to mouth throughout Western Asia and northern Africa. From Morocco to Ethiopia to India, bread is baked in flat rounds, contrasting with the European loaf tradition.

During the Middle Ages in Europe, thick slabs of coarse and usually stale bread, called "trenchers", were used as plates. After a meal, the food-soaked trencher was fed to a dog or to beggars at the tables of the wealthy, and eaten by diners in more modest circumstances. The immediate culinary precursor with a direct connection to the English sandwich was to be found in the Netherlands of the 17th century, where the naturalist John Ray observed that in the taverns beef hung from the rafters "which they cut into thin slices and eat with bread and butter laying the slices upon the butter"— explanatory specifications that reveal the Dutch belegde broodje, open-faced sandwich, was as yet unfamiliar in England.

Initially perceived as food that men shared while gaming and drinking at night, the sandwich slowly began appearing in polite society as a late-night meal among the aristocracy. The sandwich's popularity in Spain and England increased dramatically during the 19th century, when the rise of industrial society and the working classes made fast, portable, and inexpensive meals essential.

It was at the same time that the European-style sandwich finally began to appear outside of Europe. In the United States, the sandwich was first promoted as an elaborate meal at supper. By the early 20th century, as bread became a staple of the American diet, the sandwich became the same kind of popular, quick meal as was already widespread in the Mediterranean.


The first written usage of the English word appeared in Edward Gibbon's journal, in longhand, referring to "bits of cold meat" as a "Sandwich". It was named after John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich, an 18th-century English aristocrat. It is said that he ordered his valet to bring him meat tucked between two pieces of bread, and others began to order "the same as Sandwich!" It is commonly said that Lord Sandwich was fond of this form of food because it allowed him to continue playing cards, particularly cribbage, while eating, without using a fork, and without getting his cards greasy from eating meat with his bare hands.

The rumour in its familiar form appeared in Pierre-Jean Grosley's Londres (Neichatel, 1770), translated as A Tour to London 1772; Grosley's impressions had been formed during a year in London in 1765. The sober alternative is provided by Sandwich's biographer, N. A. M. Rodger, who suggests Sandwich's commitments to the navy, and to politics and the arts, mean the first sandwich was more likely to have been consumed at his desk.

Before being known as sandwiches, this food combination seems to simply have been known as "bread and meat" or "bread and cheese".


In the United States, a court in Boston, Massachusetts ruled that "sandwich" includes at least two

slices of bread. and "under this definition, this court finds that the term 'sandwich' is not commonly understood to include burritos, tacos, and quesadillas, which are typically made with a single tortilla and stuffed with a choice filling of meat, rice, and beans." The issue stemmed from the question of whether a restaurant that sold burritos could move into a shopping centre where another restaurant had a no-compete clause in its lease prohibiting other "sandwich" shops.

In Spain, where the word sandwich is borrowed from the English language, it refers to a food item made with English sandwich bread. It is otherwise known as a bocadillo.

In the United Kingdom and Australia, the term "sandwich" is more narrowly defined than in the US: it refers only to an item which uses sliced bread from a loaf. An item with similar fillings, but using an entire bread roll cut horizontally in half, is always referred to as a "roll". (In South Australia, there is a regional variant of the "roll", superficially similar to a club sandwich, where the bread roll is sliced three times (parallel cuts), and filling is put in the first and third openings, but not the second. This makes the resulting "double cut roll" easier to handle: the top half and the bottom half are eaten separately.) Any hot item based on a bread roll is referred to as a "burger", never as a "sandwich". However, hot sliced (not ground) beef between two slices of toasted bread is referred to as a "steak sandwich" - it is the sliced loaf bread that distinguishes the steak sandwich from a "burger".

The verb to sandwich has the meaning to position anything between two other things of a different character, or to place different elements alternately, and the noun sandwich has related meanings derived from this more general definition. For example, an ice cream sandwich consists of a layer of ice cream between two layers of cake or biscuit. Similarly, Oreos and Custard Creams are described as sandwich biscuits because they consist of a soft filling between layers of biscuit.

The word "butty" (a reference to the fact that butter is often used in British sandwiches) is common in some northern parts of England as a slang synonym for "sandwich", particularly to refer to certain kinds of sandwiches including the chip butty, bacon butty, or sausage butty, though some people make the distinction that a butty is made using a single buttered slice, folded over rather than cut. "Sarnie" is a similar colloquialism, as is the Australian English colloquialism "sanger". Likewise, the words "sanger" and "piece" are used for sandwich in Scottish dialect; regarding the latter, an example of the use of "piece" is "piece and ham", meaning "piece of bread and ham".


A hamburger, one of the most popular types of hot sandwiches

A Reuben sandwich

The following represent common varieties of American sandwich.

  • BLT
  • Cheese sandwich
  • Club sandwich
  • Dagwood
  • French dip
  • Hamburger
  • Monte Cristo
  • Muffuletta
  • Peanut butter and jelly sandwich
  • Philadelphia cheesesteak
  • Pilgrim
  • Po' boy
  • Reuben
  • Sloppy joe
  • Submarine sandwich

Club sandwich

Croque-monsieur, a French ham and cheese hot sandwich

Peanut butter and jelly sandwich

A Philly cheese steak, a type of submarine sandwich

Smoked meat sandwich

French bread sandwich with fries

Sandwich making

Shawarma sandwich

Chicken breast sandwich

A meat and cheese sandwich with various toppings and a side dish of coleslaw

An open sandwich with smoked horse meat in the Netherlands

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