Today may be just another day but there’s a good reason to celebrate. November 3 marks International Sandwich Day, a superb occasion commemorating the birth of the humble lunch-time meal, and we have John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich, to thank.
While the Wall Street Journal dubbed the creation as Britain’s “biggest contribution to gastronomy”, countries across the globe have been dishing out their own incarnations for centuries. Vietnam’s banh mi may be revered worldwide, as is the United States’ Reuben; but we’re celebrating today with a line-up of sandwiches from Sweden to Taiwan that you may not have heard of.
1. Chip Butty – England
When the Earl of Sandwich received his namesake so he had a free hand to take part in a gambling event in the 18th Century, he probably never imagined the filling-between-bread combo could soar to lofty heights of tastiness. Modest and unassuming, England’s famous chip butty is simply hot chips and tomato sauce served between buttered white bread.
This carby concoction is best enjoyed as you soak up the summer sun by the seaside in Brighton, or while you chant along to the ‘Greasy Chip Butty Song’ with the supporters at a Sheffield United football game.
2. Francesinha – Porto, Portugal
Portugal’s gastronomic apex is the francesinha sandwich. Roughly translated as “little French girl”, this sandwich is the country’s answer to the croque-monsieur. Vegetarians beware: oozy cheese and crimson-hued beer gravy smothers layers of cured ham, linguiça sausage and roast beef. The sauce – almost always a secret – is the key to this unabashed helping of meat.
You can find francesinhas in practically every restaurant and bar in Porto, but Cafe Santiago on Rua Passos Manual 226 is regarded as having the best in town. Pull up a stool, tuck in with a knife and fork and order a Portuguese brew to wash it all down.
3. Po’ Boy – Louisiana, USA
The history of the po’ boy dates back 100 years to when labourers, Bennie and Clovis Martin, opened a hole-in-the-wall sub shop in New Orleans during the Great Depression. Initially a ‘poor boy’ food, the baguette filled with fried seafood (oyster and prawn are most common), salad and dressing can now be found all over Louisiana.
Ask anyone in New Orleans on where to get the best po’ boy and they’ll all likely have allegiances to different places. If you happen to be visiting around the 23rd November this year, you can try the best of the bunch at the annual Oak Street Po’ Boy Festival.
4. Bocadillos – Spain
Spain’s contribution comes in the form of rustic, baguette-style barra de pan bread filled with meat, cheese or omelette. This Spanish snack may not sound like much but its simplicity allows the crusty bread and fillings to shine. Jamon and potato omelette are two of the most popular accoutrements.
Spaniards consider sandwiches to be a snack, so you won’t find bocadillos on any restaurant menus. It’s the perfect cheap eat to enjoy on your travels though, whether you’re discovering the beauty of Barcelona on foot or cycling through the alpine landscape of the Picos de Europa mountains.
5. Gua Bao – Taiwan
These Taiwanese hamburgers are popping up in food trucks the world over. Gua bao, with its roots in traditional Chinese cuisine, has been transformed into a soft, sweet and fluffy bun filled with sticky braised pork, pickled greens, crushed peanuts and herbs. Celebrated chef, David Chang, was credited with catapulting these pillowy buns into the culinary spotlight.
Next time you’re in New York City, try Chang’s version for yourself at his illustrious restaurant, Momofuku. In Taipei, seek out the Lan Jia Gua Bao cart near Taipei University, but make sure you get there early before the queue snakes around the block.
6. Smörgåstårta – Sweden
Smoked salmon, prawns, cold meat, eggs, vegetables and mayonnaise – these are just some of the ingredients of the impressive Smörgåstårta. This creamy layered bread cake was a Scandinavian staple in the 1970s, enjoying centre stage at most parties and celebrations.
Today, you can still try this ‘sandwich’ if you’re lucky enough to be invited to a Swedish social gathering. Around Stockholm, you’ll find a number of bakeries and cafes, like Smörgåsbaren, where you can enjoy your own slice of this savoury masterpiece.