By now everybody has probably heard the familiar story about how John Montagu, the Fourth Earl of Sandwich, invented the ubiquitous food item that bears his earldom’s name. In case not: Reluctant to leave the gaming tables to which he was addicted, even to eat, Montagu is said to have asked his valet to bring him a piece of meat tucked between two pieces of bread, thus starting a fad soon taken up by his peers and eventually the whole world.
Of course, connecting bread with some form of protein or vegetable is an obvious idea, and when Shakespeare and other 16th and 17th English people referred to “bread and meat” or “bread and cheese,” a sandwich is likely what they were describing.
In America today, we eat sandwiches of many kinds — a great many of them still involving meat and/or cheese. Some studies have calculated that as a nation, we consume more than 300 million sandwiches a day — a staggering statistic if true since the current U.S. population is only about 330 million.
How many kinds of sandwiches are there in this country? That’s impossible to estimate, because sandwiches from other cultures — Vietnam’s bánh mi, Mexico’s tortas and cemitas, Argentina’s choripán, etc. — get added to our menus constantly, and American sandwich shops invent new combinations almost daily.
Some sandwiches though are classics, essential parts of the American diet. 24/7 Tempo has scoured restaurant industry studies, online “best sandwich” lists, and sandwich shop and deli menus to come up with a list of 20 of America’s most popular sandwiches.
This is hardly an exhaustive list. It doesn’t include regional specialties like the beef on weck or spiedie of upstate New York, Missouri’s St. Paul sandwich, or the muffuletta and assorted po’ boys of New Orleans. Missing, too, apart from two brief mention, are open-face sandwiches.
Hot dogs and hamburgers are left out, too: Many thousands of words have been written debating whether or not they actually fit into the sandwich category. The consensus seems to be that they are not, despite the fact that Merriam-Webster defines “sandwich” as “two or more slices of bread or a split roll having a filling in between,” and they obviously fit the bill.
What is here, however, is an array of diverse and delicious sandwiches with varying origins and an undisputed place in American gastronomic life.