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History of Sandwich: Colonial Past that Most Patriotic Americans Wanted to Forget



Despite all worldly excesses, the sandwich proofs that at the core people are pragmatic. However, the portable food was called “meat on bread” before the name “sandwich” was coined, which frankly doesn’t have the same ring.


Hot or cold, sweet or savoury, finger-food or foot-long, this layered culinary staple will remain in the world’s collective menu. How was this finger-sized or foot-long food invented? Delve between the slices of bread and find out the story of this delicious portable dish!


Origin of Sandwich:

Although one might slice the food in any way, the origin of the portable sandwich is not easy to trace. Several people throughout ancient history have been seen holding their food in their hands and even enjoying the delicacy.


Hillel the Elder, a prominent Jewish rabbi who lived around the 1st century B.C. was the first recorded. During his leisure of designing the Golden Rule, it is believed that Hillel placed a mixture of chopped nuts, apples, spices and wine between two matzos (unleavened bread), which were consumed with bitter herbs.


He was the first person after whom the comfort food sandwich is named: Hillel’s concoction became ingrained in the observation in the observation of Passover that the food came to be known as a “Hillel sandwich”.


During the middle ages, between the 6th and 16th centuries AD people didn’t use plates for eating rather they ate from blocks of stale bread, trenchers. Among other foods, meats with sauce were piled on top of the trenchers and were consumed by fingers.


The trencher had thick absorbent texture; soaked up the excess juices and were eaten if the diner felt hungry after the meal. Otherwise, the trencher was either thrown away or was given amongst the poor.


According to some sources and records, the first recorded mention of the sandwich was around 0664 AD, but there was probably some kind of settlement during the Roman times as the site is very close to Richborough Roman Fort, Rutupiae. Most likely, the name of the town is Saxon, approximately meaning sandy place.


In the 17th century, taverns in the Netherlands started serving food that was similar to the present day sandwiches. They hung the cured beef from the ceilings of the taverns that were sliced and paired with bread and butter for the customers.


The sandwich that the world knows and consumes presently popularized in England during the 18th century. The story goes that in the middle of a 24-hour gambling event John Montagu, the Fourth Earl of Sandwich wanted to continue his betting even without taking a break for his lunch.


He conveyed his trip to the Mediterranean where he saw pita bread and small canapes were served by the Greeks and Turks. He found that dips, cheese, and meats were all “sandwiched” between and on the layers of bread.


Montagu instructed an aide in putting together a similar meal for him that could easily be eaten with a hand and continued with his gambling spree. Montagu enjoyed his meat and bread so much that he ate the same constantly and with the popularization of the concoction in London society, it took on the Earl’s name.


However, Montagu technically didn’t invent the food but gets the credit for making it popular and in a way naming it. Bill Wilson in his book Sandwich: A Global History, described people soon started to order “the same as Sandwich” which later shortened simply ordering a “sandwich”.


The creation of Montagu took off immediately and in just a few months, a man named Edward Gibbon coined the name “sandwich” in a diary entry stating that he had seen “twenty or thirty of the first men of the kingdom” eating them in a restaurant.


Montagu’s title lent the preparation cachet, making it fashionable in serving sandwiches in the European continent. Captain James Cook named the Sandwich Isles (Hawaii) after John Montagu, who was his financial sponsor.


Popularity over Continents:

During the 19th century, the sandwich had become popular all over the European continent, especially in England due to the Industrial Revolution, and the world incorporated into the French language as well.


People started demanding for easy to make and easy-to-carry lunches that would keep them full for a long day at work at the office and during hard labor. Every class of people enjoyed sandwiches and are now available in different flavors and kinds and for all situations.


Also Read: History Of Nachos: An Accident Recipe Invention of Tortilla Chips that Shaped the Mexican Delicacy


Since then sandwich was incorporated virtually into every Western cuisine by its simplicity in preparation, portability, and endless variety.


Even the American colonists have taken to the sandwich, however, there does not exist any written records of them. Records are found with the appearance of a sandwich recipe in an American cookbook published it 1815.


However, intellectuals state that sandwich reached to the Americas by an Englishwoman, Elizabeth Leslie, who in her famous 1850 cookbook, Directions for Cookery, In Its Various Branches, described serving ham sandwiches as a main dish.


According to her writing records, sandwiches are prepared by neatly cutting some thin slices of bread, buttering them slightly along with the application of a very little amount of mustard sauce. Slices of thin cold boiled ham are then placed between the two slices, which are either rolled up or served flat on a plate and are served either during supper or lunch.


The final layer of the history of the famous culinary food sandwich is credited to Otto Rohwedder of Davenport, Iowa, who invented the bread-slicing machine during the 1920s. Rohwedder’s invention made a life for the homemakers around the world easier and eventually spawned the phrase “the greatest thing since sliced bread”.


Even 23 years after the magical contraption, U.S. Food Administrator Claude Wickard banned the sale of pre-sliced bread. Citing the wartime shortages, Wickard thought the process required excess packaging, however, the ban didn’t last long and was lifted after three months.


Officially, this was done with Wickard's overestimation of the savings that the ban would produce, but in reality, it likely had much do with harsh public outcry.


People found the creation of the culinary dish; the sandwich went unsung for a long period. This is because the early American cooks avoided culinary trends of the British peerage system and it was something that most Americans preferred to forget. Once their memory faded and the sandwich appeared, the most popular version wasn’t ham or turkey, but tongue.


With the advent of technology and coming up with some excellent sandwich ideas, of course, today most Americans would never dream of eating a tongue sandwich. The iconic New Orleans sandwich, famously named the Po’ Boy, came about during the Great Depression by a streetcar worker strike.


Two brothers who were operators of streetcars owned a sandwich shop nearby and promised to feed any down-on-his-luck striking worker free. Whenever a hungry striker walked into their shop, the clerks yelled, “here comes another po’ boy” and thus the name stuck.


The school lunch staple, the Sloppy Joe, came about at the same time. It was the short order dinner cooked, Joe; and the Reuben that decided un-Kosher treat of corned beef, Swiss cheese and sauerkraut appeared in Omaha, Nebraska and not in a New York City deli.


The food was named after one of the participants in a weekly poker game, taking place in a hotel and the creation took off with its featuring on the dinner menu by the hotel owner.


Varieties of Sandwiches:

Fast-forwarding to the 21st century, the sandwich has its official name and pre-sliced bread. It also has some oddities. Any type of roll or bread along with any type of food that is conveniently eaten can go into a sandwich, hot or cold.


British tea sandwiches are prepared with thinly sliced bread filled with fish paste, watercress, cucumber, and tomato. Scandinavian smorrebrod are served open-faced, with artfully composed toppings prepared with fish, sliced meats, and salads. The hollowed-out rolls serves as a popular base for a sandwich in France.


The United States contributes to elaborate sandwich formulas. Two of the most successful being the club sandwich, made with sliced chicken or turkey or bacon, lettuce and tomato and the Reuben sandwich, which used the black bread as the base and the toppings consisted of corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and Russian dressing and served grilled.


Hot sandwiches, especially the ubiquitous hamburger on a bun, are a staple of the American diet and the peanut butter and jelly sandwich remains the mainstay of American schoolchildren.


There are few meals as simple and humble as a sandwich and there is no time of the day when a person cannot munch on a sandwich. Besides the American sandwiches that are most popular across the world, there are few more that are quite common.


These include Chip Butty from the United Kingdom, Vada Pav famous in the streets of Mumbai, India, Chacarero from Chile, Bánh mì from Vietnam, Cemita from Mexico, Doner Kebab from Turkey, Kaya Toast from Singapore, Jambon beurre from France, Mitraillette from Belgium, Katsu-Sando from Japan, Choripann from Argentina, and Bauru from Brazil.


Americans eat more than 300 million a day. This is because the sandwich is considered the perfect food due to its portability and open to any interpretation and as simple or as elaborate as the mood permits.


The sandwich has a long history but was not embraced in America as it is now. It is hard to imagine that the sandwich was once thought of as a symbol of the colonial past that most patriotic Americans wanted to forget.


Up Next: History of Butter Chicken: Know How The Spicy and Savoury Most Wanted Cuisine of India Invented!


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