Not since the 4th Earl of Sandwich called for two pieces of bread and a slab of meat to eat at his card table has there been a better time to enjoy a sarnie. And if you’re the sort of person who tends to grab a sad ham and cheese roll on the run for your lunch, then you are really missing a trick. The sandwich has had quite a makeover.
Forget the questionable egg mayo and Coronation chicken triangles you’ll find festering away in your local shop, because all over the country increasingly outrageous offerings are being peddled: pork banh mi from Vietnam, lobster rolls, giant Reubens and meatball subs. And they’ve got bigger; half the time you’ll find a knife and fork is required to actually tackle them. Usually thought of as being a cheap, deskbound snack, this new generation of sandwiches is often served up in high-end joints (and often with prices to match). Nor are these creations destined solely for lunch; people are gorging on them for dinner, too.
So why has the sandwich gone all decadent (not to mention international)? Helen Graves, author of the new book 101 Sandwiches: A Collection of the Finest Sandwiches from Around the World, suggests that this sandwich renaissance is in part down to recent food trends.
“I think US television programmes such as Man v. Food really introduced the public to these giant creations. People were saying, ‘Oh, Americans really do sandwiches differently’. That sort of food then became very popular and fashionable. There was a lot of so-called ‘dude food’ about, restaurants such as MEATLiquor. The street-food trend made a big difference, too: you can hold on to sandwiches and they’re easy to eat while standing.”
The rise of street food certainly should be held accountable: the popular food trucks that do well go on to become proper restaurants. Then, before you know it, everyone is eating variations of sandwiches while dining out. There is also the sheer array of sandwiches from around the globe, introducing the hungry to all types of exotic fillings and breads.
Chefs are keen to experiment, too. Recent eye-popping creations include the ramen noodle burger and the mac-and-cheese burger (in this carb wonder, the noodles and macaroni are transformed into the bun). And, yes, burgers are counted as sandwiches. “Really I would say that anything enclosed in bread is a sandwich,” says Graves. “But I am quite flexible. I would argue that a burrito is a sandwich, and I have included a recipe for one in the book. A hot dog is, too. A calzone, however, is not. But I don’t mind letting certain things in. For instance, I put in a recipe for an open sandwich because in Scandinavia they are a classic. We shouldn’t be too uptight about what qualifies as a sandwich.”