by Kate Heyhoe
Every game day, basketball superstar Shaquille O'Neal has a longstanding tradition: he eats three club sandwiches and a large Pepsi before suiting up. He's been doing this his entire career, and he even stole a hotel chef to be his personal cook—based on the quality of the chef's club sandwich.
Simple, satisfying, and more portable as a Palm Pilot, the sandwich has been around for centuries, in some form or other, all around the globe. Before the English term "sandwich" came about, Middle Eastern countries were packing lamb, chickpeas and other foods into pita breads, and everyone from Aztecs to Africans have wrapped flatbreads (like tortillas and injera) around food for eating.
Pizza is said to be the most popular food in the world today, but if you take all the various types of sandwiches and lump them together, my guess is that sandwiches rule. Think about it: how many sandwiches do you eat per week, vs. the numbers of pizzas you consume? According to smartbread.com, the average American eats 193 sandwiches per year. That's nearly four sandwiches per week, and ham is reportedly the all-time favorite, though I'm not sure it hasn't been replaced in more recent times by turkey.
As we enter the picnic season, I dug up some facts and trivia in honor of the Great Global Sandwich Tradition:
Believe it or not, McDonald's did not invent the hamburger. Nor did White Castle, who started selling their burgers in 1921. But the issue of exactly who did create the world's most popular sandwich is debatable. The three leading contenders are:
Submarines, Hoagies, Poor Boys, Dagwoods—all names for the same thing: an American sandwich filled with stacked ingredients, using a long roll. But culinary geniuses around the globe have also created these classic sandwiches:
Philadelphia Cheese Steak—Accidents and necessity being the parents of invention, they also yielded the original Philly Cheese Steak. During the Depression, Pat Olivieri's hot dog cart was suffering and to top things off, the butcher delivered beef instead of hot dogs. Pat decided to use it for his own lunch, slicing the beef thin, grilling it with onions and slathering it on a hotdog bun. A passing cabbie smelled it, ordered one for a nickel, and soon a wave of cabbies began cruising South Philly for their own steak and onion sandwiches. Some 20 years later a cook at Pat's got inspired (some say he was just bored) and plopped cheese on the grilling meat and onions, and thus the Cheese Steak was born.
Croque Monsieur—The original grilled cheese sandwich, born in France, consisting of Gruyere cheese and lean ham between two slices of crustless bread, fried in clarified butter. First served in 1910 in a Paris café, it remains a popular snack or casual meal throughout France and Switzerland.
Monte Cristo—A San Francisco creation of the 1950's, in which two slices of white bread containing ham, turkey or chicken, and a slice of cheese are dipped in beaten egg and fried in butter.
Panini—Not a particular sandwich, but rather a class of sandwiches from Italy. A panino (roll) is stuffed with ingredients ranging from meats and cheeses to grilled vegetables, then pressed and cooked in a special waffle-like iron (without ridges). It's traditionally served with a crisp white paper napkin wrapped around the bottom end. Unlike Hoagies or subs, panini are typically not overly stuffed, instead allowing the fresh flavors of the ingredients to be savored more distinctly.
Banh Mi Sandwiches—Created during the French occupation, "Banh mi" is a type of Vietnamese baguette that marries rice flour with wheat flour to create a much lighter loaf. Vietnamese may typically fill their banh mi sandwiches with paté slices, torn fresh herbs, shredded carrots, radishes, cucumber and chili sauce. Or, grilled meats or curries. These inspiring combinations are the quintessential "east meets west" sandwiches.
Cuban Sandwich—As popular in Miami as it is in Cuba, a Cuban Sandwich consists of roasted pork loin, ham and Swiss cheese, with mustard and pickle, in a Cuban bread or French bread loaf. The sandwich is grilled with a weight on top until the bread is toasted. (See the recipe below.)
Muffaletta—A New Orleans specialty, in which a round loaf is filled with layers of salami, ham, provolone and most importantly, a robust olive salad, and is then cut into wedges and served. The Central Grocery claims to have originated the sandwich around 1900. But it is believed that before being served there, Italian workers at the New Orleans markets would habitually scoop out the broken olives from the barrels and add them to their "muffs," the round loaves of bread, thus creating the first muffalettas.
The list of world-famous sandwiches is extensive...Reuben, felafel, gyros, BLT, quesadilla, the French Dip, Sloppy Joe, and so on, all with variations.
Even the Club Sandwich, cherished for being simple but elegant enough to serve at upper-crust clubs and clubhouses, has undergone periodic remakes, such as a $25 Lobster Club at New York's Arcadia restaurant.
But I'm guessing that most of us still prefer, on a regular basis, the classic Club Sandwich—a combination of bacon, lettuce, tomato and chicken or turkey, stacked within three layers of crisp, mayonnaise-slathered toast. If it's good enough for basketball's "most valuable player," it's certainly good enough for me.
Kate's Global Kitchen for May, 2001:05/05/01 Energy Synergy: Beating the Power Crunch
Copyright © 2001, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.
This page created May 2001
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