Would you believe that Americans eat more than 300 million sandwiches a day? That’s right, every day we consume about as many sandwiches as we have people to eat them. And why not? The sandwich might be the perfect food: portable, open to any interpretation and as simple or as elaborate as the mood permits. The sandwich has a long history, but it hasn’t always been as embraced in America as it is now. It’s hard to imagine, but the sandwich was once thought of as a symbol of a colonial past that most patriotic Americans wanted to forget.
The sandwich as we know it was popularized in England in 1762 by John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich. Legend has it, and most food historians agree, that Montagu had a substantial gambling problem that led him to spend hours on end at the card table. During a particularly long binge, he asked the house cook to bring him something he could eat without getting up from his seat, and the sandwich was born. Montagu enjoyed his meat and bread so much that he ate it constantly, and as the concoction grew popular in London society circles it also took on the Earl’s name.
Of course, John Montagu (or rather, his nameless cook) was hardly the first person to think of putting fillings between slices of bread. In fact, we know exactly where Montagu first got the idea for his creation. Montagu traveled abroad to the Mediterranean, where Turkish and Greek mezze platters were served. Dips, cheeses, and meats were all “sandwiched” between and on layers of bread. In all likelihood Montagu took inspiration from these when he sat at that card table. Read more