Today is National Sandwich Day (and yes, also Election Day) in the US. If there’s one way that humans universally communicate regardless of spoken language it is FOOD.
It would be far too difficult to select just one or two sandwiches as the “best of” America. Sandwiches are kind of a big deal here. From grilled cheese to PB&J to cheeseburgers to chicken biscuits and everything in between and beyond, there’s just too much to choose from. So, let’s think outside the bun…er, border…and see what the rest of the world has to offer in the way of meat, cheese and/or toppings between bread.
WARNING! The following information may cause hunger and extreme sandwich cravings. Be sure to have your favorite delivery service on standby.
Vietnam – Bánh Mì
When France colonized Vietnam, some remarkable things happened much to worldwide foodies’ delights. In this context, French bread and pâté made way for bánh mì, a sandwich of truly delicious proportions. A traditional bánh mì is made by slicing a French baguette lengthwise, and filling it with cold cuts, pâté, pickled veggies, cilantro, jalapeños and creamy mayonnaise. Other options for cold cuts include barbecue pork, lemongrass beef and grilled chicken.
Middle East – Falafel and Shawarma
The exact origin of falafel is unknown and oft disputed. What we do know is that mashed chickpeas and spices formed into little balls, fried and stuffed into a fresh pita with veggies, tahini and hot sauce, is a vegetarian treat that even meat lovers can appreciate.
It wouldn’t be fair to let falafel enjoy the spotlight solo in terms of representing the Middle East. Shawarma traces its origins back to 19th-century Ottoman Turkey, much like doner and gyros. The word shawarma comes from the word “çevirme” when the meat is slow roasted on a vertical spit and shaved off directly onto a pita or other flatbread. Spices and toppings vary by geography, but often include cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, tabbouleh, Fattoush and of course, tahini. Lamb and mutton are common proteins, but beef and chicken are sometimes used.
China – Pork Belly Bao
If you’ve never had a pork belly bun, you are missing out. The gua bao — which translates to “cut bread” and is also known as pork belly bun or pork belly bao — is a prominent Chinese and Taiwanese snack. The bao is composed of smooth, pillow-soft white buns, steamed until warm and fluffy. The buns are then filled with pork belly, pickled mustard greens, ground peanuts, and cilantro. It is truly an adventure of flavor and textures!
France – Croque Monsieur
Creamy, cheesy and oh so rich – what else would you expect from a French sandwich? Did I mention it requires a knife and fork? Of course it does. Originating in Paris around 1910, it’s basically the grilled cheese of your dreams. Gruyère and thin layers of ham are toasted between pain de mie (soft, white or brown bread), and then topped with bechamel sauce and more cheese before heading under the broiler to melt. While not required, a yolky egg placed on top only adds to the deliciousness that is a croque monsieur.
England – Cucumber Sandwich
Everyone’s favorite crustless, tea-time accompaniment, cucumber sandwiches are the most ironic sandwiches on our list. They are made with highly affordable ingredients but are considered fancy, nonetheless. Cucumber sandwiches are usually served on thin white bread, layered with butter and thinly sliced, salted cucumbers. The crusts of the bread are removed and sliced into small triangles because cucumber sandwiches are just that extra. Nowadays butter is often swapped out for cream cheese and items like dill and smoked salmon have been known to join the party.
Greece – Gyro
The vertical, spinning rotisseries for which gyros are known are an all too common sight no matter where in the world you live. Gyro or Γύρος is literally Greek for “spin.” While lamb is traditional, gyros can be made with pork, chicken or beef. They are usually topped with tomatoes, onions, tzatziki sauce and rolled into a pita. Is the gyro dramatically different than shawarma? No, but that doesn’t make gyros any less delicious. Fun fact: the world’s largest manufacturer of gyros is actually based in Chicago and they make 300,000+ gyros a day in the US alone.
Italy – Panino
Americans call these grilled sandwiches paninis, but panini is actually the plural form of the singular panino. For those that don’t get out much, a panino is a grilled sandwich served hot on Italian bread with fillings like meat, cheese and vegetables. It is grilled just until the cheese begins to melt, and the meat is warmed through. Panini presses are common in households these days and are used to get the signature grill marks on the outside of the sandwiches.
Puerto Rico – Mallorca
A Mallorca is a sweet, airy, snail-shaped roll named after the Spanish island of its origination. Dusted with powdered sugar, it’s delicious on its own, but it also makes a great base for a sandwich. Puerto Ricans split them open and serve them hot with ham and cheddar cheese. Sometimes they even add scrambled eggs. This is one sandwich that knows its way around sweet and savory.
Cuba – Medianoche
Havana nights, Cuban cigars, mojitos and medianoche sandwiches…just a few of the things for which Cuba is famous. Fun fact: medianoche was named as such because it became popular with the disco crowd in Havana after late nights of dancing. This Cuban delight includes roasted pork, ham, swiss cheese, pickles and mustard all encased in a doughy, soft, sweet bread. Some liken the bread used in a medianoche to challah, which is the main differentiator between this and the Cuban sandwich that uses a crustier bread.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our world tour of sandwiches. To be honest, this list barely scratches the surface. There are tons of great sandwiches all over the globe. Whether you opt for all-American or something more exotic here on National Sandwich Day or any day, know that choosing a sandwich is always a smart choice. Your taste buds will thank you.
Written by Lynda Walz, Sales Executive