This week’s entry: List of sandwiches
What it’s about: Liz Lemon once said, “I believe that all anyone really wants in this life is to sit in peace and eat a sandwich.” Ever since a compulsive gambler slapped some meat between two hunks of bread so he didn’t have to leave the blackjack table (possibly an apocryphal story), sandwiches have been comfort food to the world, and the greatest things since, well, sliced bread.
Strangest fact: You can put anything between two slices of bread, including bread. Such is the brief ingredient list of the toast sandwich, which is a buttered slice of toast between two slices of toasted bread. Try to contain your shock upon learning that this extravagance of blandness was produced by Great Britain.
For those who want slightly more variety but no less starch, several sandwiches are topped with french fries, including South Africa’s take on the hoagie, the gatsby; Springfield, Illinois regional favorite the horseshoe, in which any kind of meat is topped with cheese and fries; Pittsburgh’s similar primanti; Cleveland’s Polish boy, a kielbasa, fries, and coleslaw on a bun; and the Belgian mitraillette, containing meat and fries on a baguette. But purest of all is Ireland’s chip butty—chips meaning fries, and butty slang for bread and butter.
Biggest controversy: While not on this list—as well it should not be—there have been controversial claims that the hot dog is a sandwich. Most infamously, Merriam-Webster destroyed its credibility forever by making the ludicrous claim on Twitter, which was promptly burned to the ground in a firestorm of anger and disbelief. (In fairness, the dictionary definition itself defines “hot dog” as a mild sausage served in a long roll, as any sane person could tell you.)
Wikipedia itself is not safe from such lofty, incorrect claims, as the entry for open-faced sandwich on this list contains the baffling three words: “see also pizza.” We assume that’s vandalism, and will be cleaned up by the time you read this.
Thing we were unhappiest to learn: Besides “see also pizza”? While we want to believe in our heart that there’s no such thing as a bad sandwich, the British (again, surprise!) have other ideas. While British Rail has been defunct for nearly 20 years, “British rail” is still slang for a stale, unappetizing sandwich, in memory of the rail lines’ dismal catering.
Thing we were happiest to learn: Seemingly every corner of this great nation has its own sandwich. Besides the french-fry-oriented regional favorites mentioned above, there are plenty of cities with their own signature sandwich. While Buffalo is most famous for inventing chicken wings, its second-favorite local delicacy is beef on weck, a roast beef sandwich on a kummelweck roll. (A kummelweck is a kaiser roll topped with caraway and salt.) Philadelphia has the cheesesteak, of course; the wonderfully named Woonsocket, Rhode Island has the wonderfully named Dynamite (a sloppy joe equivalent with peppers and onions); Denver has the fool’s gold loaf, a hollow loaf of bread filled with peanut butter, jelly, and bacon. (According to Wikipedia, Elvis Presley once flew to Colorado just to eat one. Makes sense, as the fools’ gold loaf is a supersize variation of the Elvis—peanut butter, banana, and bacon, ideally fried on a griddle.)
Minneapolis is home to the jucy lucy, a cheeseburger with cheese baked into the meat. Louisville has the hot brown, an open-faced turkey and bacon with mornay sauce. Richmond, Virginia’s sailor is pastrami, knockwurst, swiss, and mustard on rye. Chicagoans enjoy Italian beef (just what it sounds like), while Portland, Maine eats an entirely dissimilar Italian sandwich. But St. Louis is the sandwich capital, boasting the gerber (garlic bread with ham and cheese), the prosperity (ham and turkey with broiled cheese), and Chinese takeout favorite the St. Paul (an egg foo young patty with pickle, onion, mayo, and the like).
Also noteworthy: The rest of the world makes some pretty great sandwiches too. Italy’s carrozza is a grilled cheese sandwich, except fried instead of grilled; The choripán is a staple throughout Latin America, with chorizo sausage on a crusty roll; Vietnam’s bánh mì shows a French colonial influence, filling a baguette with meat, fish, or eggs, topped with pickled carrots, cilantro, and peppers; Cuba’s eponymous sandwich manages to combine ham, pork, and salami into a wonderland of meat; Singapore combines fried chicken and fermented shrimp in a har cheong gai burger; Chinese street vendors sell a donkey burger, which is not a euphemism; Trinidad and Tobago’s doubles are curried chickpeas on fried bara bread; the Taiwanese gua bao puts stewed meat between flat steamed bread; Mexico’s guajolota is simply a tamale on a roll, while the mollete is a grilled open sandwich with refried beans, peppers, and cheese; leberkäse roughly translates to “liver cheese,” but the Bavarian sandwich contains neither—it’s essentially meatloaf on a kaiser roll; and the roti john is eaten throughout Southeast Asia, consisting of an omelette on bread.
Best link to elsewhere on Wikipedia: Still hungry? Wikipedia also has a comprehensive list of hamburgers, with everything from the kimchi burger, to the Danish bøfsandwich, to the infamous Luther Vandross, a cheeseburger with glazed donuts for a bun. (The burger was a favorite of the singer, who died at age 54 and donated a large portion of his estate to diabetes research. Surely those facts and the burger are unconnected.)
Further down the wormhole: This list of sandwiches leads to more specific ones including lists of American sandwiches, general bread dishes, and submarine sandwich restaurants. The latter contains a list of sub shop chains familiar and obscure, and a link to another list, of fast food chains that are no longer with us. We’ll look at that greasy bit of history next week.