Sandwiches are serious business. Between the rivalries among New York Pastrami Delis, the economic impact of the Big Mac Index and the fiery debate over which hamburger chain is best, it is perfectly clear that people care quite a bit about sandwiches. This book seeks to explore and analyze the different types of sandwiches in a clear and concise manner. Upon closing the final page, it is my sincere hope that you will have a solid understanding of the vast sandwich landscape, as well as a deeper connection to the beautiful world of sandwich artistry.
Let’s begin with a simple question:
“What is a Sandwich?”
In general, a sandwich is a constructed item containing of multiple layers of food. There are a few basic requirements for the layers, and it helps to use consistent terminology. A sandwich follows this basic structure.
The exterior shell must be constructed with a human hand friendly product. This requirement stems back to the initial coining of the word “sandwich”. The story goes that the Earl of Sandwich, an avid gambler and a bit of a lush, was having too incredible of a winning streak to leave for dinner. Thinking quickly and in the interest of expediency, he demanded his aid bring him a thick slab of meat nestled between two thick pieces of bread. The need for a quick, delicious and utensil free meal was the primary motivators behind this discovery, and this philosophy finds its path into every sandwich today.
Sandwiches are a perfect example of human centered design. One of the core aspects that define mankind is our need for individuality and expression. A sandwich represents a repeatable constructed food item that can be made very specifically to fill the needs of the individual. In addition, a wide variety of bread is specifically designed to be held by hand, and the design requirement of being usable in sandwiches lurks in the mind of every baker. This combination of emotional fulfillment and physical efficiency makes for a creation that resonates deeply with the human soul.
Let’s explore the dominant sandwich types.
1. The Hamburger
Hamburgers are an incredibly popular sandwich format, so popular that there are chain restaurants that exclusively sell this variety. The sheer diversity of the hamburger has resulted in a huge industry of experimentation. Your basic hamburger contains a special type of circular cut bread known as a hamburger bun, a circular beef patty, mayonnaise, lettuce, pickles, and a tomato.
2. The Hoagie
Hoagie is the proper name for a “submarine sandwich”, a long, cylindrical sandwich format heavily popularized by the chain, Subway. Hoagies consist of a roll, sliced almost all the way through leaving a living hinge on one side of the bread. The goal of a hoagie is to essentially fit as much meat, cheese, vegetables and sauces into the roll as possible before it is infeasible to carry.
Pastrami is one of the great inventions of humanity. First, you take a fine brisket, and brine it with spices for anywhere between a few days and several weeks. This process creates a well known meat known more commonly as, “corned beef”. Once you have obtained said corned beef, you proceed to place it in a smoker for a day, and then a steamer before it is served piping hot. The process, while rigorous and time consuming, is immensely worthwhile. The resulting meat is so tender and delicious, that people will travel for hundreds of miles for an excellent pastrami sandwich. Pastrami is often served on dark rye bread, with nothing else.
4. Po’ Boy
The po’ boy or Poor Boy sandwich, while technically a subset of the Hoagie, deserves its own category due to its wildly unusual ingredient list. While a Hoagie tends toward the deli meats and sliced cheeses, the Po’ Boy is an altogether different animal, literally. Po’ Boys often contain wacky things like fried alligator, crawfish, deep fried shrimp, oysters, clams, roast beef and a myriad other set of ingredients.
5. Banh Mi
The Banh Mi, like the Po Boy, is a type of hoagie sandwich. That said, it has such a classically defined identity, and a rich history that it also is its own category. Originally introduced by the French to Vietnam, the Banh Mi is a sort of “Best of Both Worlds” creation. Take a French baguette, Vietnamese meat, hot peppers, spiced carrots, and cilantro and you have a Banh Mi.
The torta is a fun sandwich, originally from Mexico that is oddly reminiscent of a tortoise. Served on a square or circular bread with a high top, the sandwich often contains Mexican spiced meats like Machacha, Carne Asada, or Lengua. These are sloppy, meaty andwiches that definitely have earned their place in the sandwich kingdom.
7. Lobster Roll
The Lobster Roll is an East Coast invention that basically creates a simpler and more effective way to consume a delicious lobster. The bread is often similar to a hot dog bun, and the sandwich is usually overflowing with lobster, lemon, butter, celery, pepper, and mayonnaise. This unique flavor profile does not exist in any other sandwich category, and this is a sort of sandwich that you can find at places that decidedly do not serve any other sandwich.
8. Club Sandwich
The club sandwich has evolved from a hastily put together sandwich for a good “Club Man”, to that of a double layer sandwich with 3 slices of bread, bacon, turkey, lettuce, and tomato. This is a fantastic sandwich that explores the concept of utilizing bread as a tool to help in biting through more food more easily.
9. Philly Cheesesteak
The Philly Cheesesteak is a hotly debated item. There exist two, authentic Cheesesteak manufacturers in Philadelphia, Pat’s King of Steaks, and Geno’s Steaks. Both of these are top notch Philly producers, and use thinly sliced ribeye, cheese whiz, and onions on a toasted roll as their primary menu item. The Philly Cheesesteak is a very well defined sandwich, and actually is so rigid in its construction that it may actually limit the growth and expansion of the sandwich’s popularity.