The soft pillowy texture of freshly baked bread and the crisp freshness of vegetables. At the centrepiece are the succulent layers of meat bursting with incredible flavour. All that and more happens, as you sink your teeth into the humble sandwich.
Few foods today can make the claim that they are eaten around the world; the sandwich though, is one of the special few. Quick, light and tasty, the sandwich has been for centuries, the go-to food choice for when we need something convenient and good to eat. Most cultures today have their own versions of putting tasty meats and fresh vegetables between two pieces of bread. And for a good reason! Who wouldn’t like to get all the favourite flavors in one satisfying bite?
How the sandwich was born
The USA, Turkey and countries in South America may be the master creators of well-loved sandwiches, but the word sandwich itself actually comes from a country of fish & chips and tea, the UK. “Sandwich” is in fact a namesake of John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich, who was believed to have created the dish during one of his gambling marathons. This happened back in the 18th century at a steak restaurant in London. He asked the chefs there to create a meal that he could eat while playing cards and would not get his hands greasy. The chefs then decided to serve their beef steaks between two slices of bread. The practical way of eating a steak caught on with the Earl, as well as the other men in the restaurant, who then started to order “the same as Sandwich”. Hence, the name and practice of having a sandwich was born.
The convenient solution made the sandwich one of the most popular foods in Europe over the next century, as the Industrial Revolution took place. After all the practicality of the British cuisine die contribute greatly to the world of gastronomy.
However, the idea of slapping meat between two pieces of bread had already been practised long before the Earl of Sandwich “invented” the idea. In the Mediterranean area, the Turkish and the Greeks had already been slathering their dips, cheeses and meats between pieces of bread, and the Earl supposedly got the idea during one of his trips there.
(Want to be more inspired by the British Cuisine? Then have a look on Clubvivre Chef Tim Ross-Watson’s menus. He is a Fine Dining Rebel, specialist in Modern British cuisine and Concept Development.)
The sandwich transformed as it spread across the countries
Nevertheless, the word “Sandwich” has been still widely adopted and adapted in many countries around the world, giving birth to the diverse menu of sandwich creations we have today.
Besides famous universal favourites such as Hamburgers and Club Sandwich from the USA, Croque Monsieurs and French Toast from France as well as Kebabs from Turkey. One would probably be able to find more intriguing and unusual creations in Asia. In Japan for example, instead of bread, rice-cake patties are used to sandwich juicy sauced-soaked yakiniku. This sandwich contains flavourful paper-thin slices of beef that have been braised in Japanese soy sauces. In Singapore on the other hand, we have our favourite late night supper food called Roti John. The sandwich is made of meat, eggs and mushrooms, pan-fried in the shape of an omelette and served with baguette-type bread, sometimes dipped in curry. A growing favourite Asian sandwich though, would have to be the Bánh mì from Vietnam. A remnant of Vietnam’s French colonial history, the Bánh mì is made of a lighter version of the French baguette. It is filled with pieces of Vietnamese cold cuts, such as sliced pork belly, head cheese, pork sausages and liver pate. Bánh mì is also topped of with a heap of native Vietnamese greens such as cilantro, pickled carrots and cucumber.
Going further down in the Southern hemisphere, we have Australia and their Vegemite sandwich. Vegemite is a salty dark brown paste made from leftover brewer’s yeast extract, seasoned with various spices. This wide variety of sandwich options exemplifies what is perhaps so unique about the Sandwich. It has the ability to allow endless combinations of ingredients which give rise to different flavours and different experiences for all dining occasions.
Foodies of the 21 century demand a sandwich revolution
The popularity and convenience of being able to pick up a sandwich and finish it on the go has definitely shape the way people eat around the world. As cities become increasingly fast-paced and people lead busier lives, the sandwich has proven to be a staple main food for urbanites, who want to quick solution to their hunger. When in the past colleagues would sit down for a meal during lunch to socialize, we nowadays see more and more people staying at their desk and continuing to work while eating a sandwich.
In the past century, there has been an unfortunate growing trend towards the pre-packed, mass-made sandwiches, which are readily available in most convenience stores and don’t require any preparation time. Needless to say, the factories that produce these “fresh and healthy” sandwiches load their products with flavour and texture-enhancing chemical additives to re-create what real, freshly prepared sandwiches taste like. The pre-packed sandwich had become the new fast food.
Fortunately though, we have in recent times, seen a hopeful growing movement of people that sees the folly of these fast foods and wants to celebrate sandwiches made with integrity. The well-known “Food Trucks” culture in the USA for example, is a successful stepping stone in helping to offer kitchen-prepared and yet inexpensive sandwich options. Singapore itself has also seen a growing number of independent cafes and bistros, which pride themselves on serving a well-prepared sandwich menu. People are also willing to spend their time and money to have these sandwiches. Perhaps thus, not all is lost for the sandwich and consumers will hopefully go back to enjoying a real sandwich.
The sandwich has definitely come a long way from its humble beginnings at the London steakhouse. From the kid-favourite Peanut butter and jelly sandwich to the refined Cucumber Sandwich eaten at tea-time in United Kingdom, to the messy boys-night-out Hamburger. The list of existing sandwiches is endless. With today’s growing community of food lovers, that list of sandwiches is bound to expand and we surely look forward to having a bite of that.
What is the best sandwich you ever had? Please share it with us in the comments.