Surprising Origins of 10 Iconic Sandwiches (Slideshow)
May 9, 2014
The first sandwich was made with just a piece of beef and two slices of bread
Once called a “banh tay,” meaning “foreign cake," the sandwich now known as the bánh mì was first crafted in the Vietnamese city of Saigon when the French introduced baguettes to Vietnam. It was originally a delicacy eaten only by the upper class of Saigon, who preferred to dip it in sweetened condensed milk.
The existence of the club sandwich is owed to the inventiveness of a line cook named Danny Mears, who worked at the famous Saratoga Club House in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. in the 1800s.
A French myth says that the croque monsieur, otherwise known as a “Crispy Mister,” was accidently discovered when a couple of French workers left their lunch pails full of cheese and ham sandwiches too close to a hot radiator. The sandwich appeared on French café menus around 1910 and was originally made simply with ham and Gruyère cheese, later evolving into other variations like the the croque madame, the croque Provencal, the croque tartiflette, and the Monte Cristo.
The Cubano comes from Cuba, where the sandwich was a popular item on cafeteria and restaurant menus by the 1930s, later making its way to Florida, where it’s now a sandwich icon in Tampa and Miami. Locals like to dispute over which city was the first to serve the sandwich, but it’s widely known that the first Cuban sandwich was served in Tampa’s Columbia Restaurant in 1905.
The grilled cheese sandwich was first widely eaten as a cheap meal during the Great Depression, when money was low and cheese and bread were one of the least expensive food items. During World War II, grilled cheese was a common snack served in the military, and U.S. government cookbooks from the time describe grilled cheese as “American cheese filling sandwiches.”
The makings of the lobster roll trace back to the 19th century, when New England hostesses began preparing lobster salad for their guests. In 1908, the New York Evening Post Cookbook recorded the first time lobster salad was served with toast. Historians aren't sure exactly when or where the lobster roll, a specailty in Maine and Massachusetts made by stuffing cold lobster salad between a hot dog bun drenched in butter, originated. But it may have been a descendant of the Connecticut version of the classic lobster roll, made simply of hot lobster in butter, thought to have been created at a restaurant named Perry’s in Milford, Conn., by restaurant owner Harry Perry. He made the sandwich for a regular customer sometime in the 1920s.
Following the invention of peanut butter in the late 19th century, peanut butter sandwiches with pimentos and watercress were often served with tea and at fancy parties. Then, in 1901, a woman named Julia David Chandler published the first known recipe for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in The Boston Cooking School Magazine of Culinary Science & Domestic Economics.
One day in the 1930s, a hot dog vendor in Philadelphia named Pat Olivieri grilled up some steak and served it on an Italian roll. A passing cab driver caught a whiff of the steak sandwich and asked for one. He spread the word about the sandwich to fellow cab drivers, who came in big numbers to Olivieri to try one. Realizing the steak sandwich was a hit, Olivieri opened a restaurant called Pat's King of Steaks. It wasn’t until the 1940s that cheese was added to the sandwich by Olivieri’s manager Joe Lorenza, creating the Philly Cheesesteak.
Many stories have been invented to tell the origin of the New Orleans po' boy, but the most likely story points to Clovis and Benjamin Martin, former streetcar drivers who opened a restaurant on St. Claude Avenue in the 1920s. When streetcar drivers went on strike in 1929, the brothers created an inexpensive sandwich consisting of gravy and bits of roast beef on French bread that they served unemployed workers out of the back of their restaurant. A worker would come to get one and the restaurant employees would yell, “Here comes another poor boy!” which eventually transferred to the name of the sandwich, “po’ boy.”
In the 1920s during what was called “a midnight lunch,” a man named Reuben Kulakofsky, who was playing poker at the Blackstone Hotel in Omaha, Neb. with his card mates, one of whom was the owner of the hotel, ordered a sandwich with corned beef and sauerkraut. Bernard Schimmel, who was the owner’s son and worked at his father’s hotel, made the sandwich by first draining the sauerkraut and mixing it with Thousand Island dressing before layering it with corned beef and Swiss cheese on dark rye bread. He then grilled the sandwich and served it with it a sliced kosher dill pickle and potato chips.