The Wall Street Journal once described the sandwich as Britain’s “biggest contribution to gastronomy”. It was a backhanded compliment. The story, which appeared on its front page, went on to declare that “barely edible sandwiches dominate the landscape” in the UK. And perhaps this was once true. I’ve often bemoaned the lack of good, independent sandwich shops in London, the kind you find on almost every corner in New York and LA. Despite living in the country that supposedly invented the sandwich, we’re far too content with flimsy supermarket versions. But times are changing and London chefs are leading the way.
But first, a short history lesson. If Mr John Montagu, the fourth Earl of Sandwich, hadn’t asked for salt beef served between two slices of bread over 250 years ago, we might’ve been deprived of the classic lunch staple that’s migrated around the world and back. The story goes that the Earl asked for this particular serving so that he could eat while playing cards and his friends asked “to have the same as Sandwich”.
The Earl of Sandwich had almost certainly seen stuffed pitta breads on his travels in the Eastern Mediterranean. And from vada pav in India to chacarero in Chile, and back to jambon-beurre in France and our own chip butties, there’s a universal genius, and decided practicality, to putting something delicious between bread.