Sandwiches are a very popular meal or snack, depending on where you are from and which age group you belong to. My earliest memories of sandwiches come in the form of the oil-smeared brown bags my mother bought from the bakery on her way back home from work. She also used to try to make one with tomatoes, cabbage and eggs occasionally. As I grew older, a sandwich became one of the first things I learned to make (after the crowd favourite Maggi, of course!). Putting things between two slices of bread is not rocket science.
The sandwich became popular precisely due to this convenience. It’s easy to make and it’s not as messy as eating rice with ten different curries! In fact, in America, people eat more than 300 million sandwiches every day!
In this edition of our origin series, we talk not about how the sandwich originated, but how the word originated. We love food, but we love words just a little more! However, the two stories are interconnected, so we will tell you both. Slices of bread stuffed with meat and vegetables were popularized in England in 1762 by John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich, an English politician and nobleman.
Click here to read our article on the origin of the phrase 'Going Dutch'.
John Montagu loved gambling. He loved it so much that he didn’t want to move away from his gambling table to eat food. During one such long gambling stint, Montagu asked his cook to bring him something that he could eat at his cards table with his hands, without creating much of a mess. Stuffed bread ticked all these boxes and that’s what Montagu’s unidentified cook gave him. This doesn’t mean that they were responsible for inventing this dish. Montagu had travelled extensively in the Mediterranean, where Turkish and Greek platters often sported meat and cheese on bread or in between bread. This might have inspired him to introduce the dish in his own household.
His fellow gamblers soon began to ask for the same dish. They would ask for the “same dish as Sandwich (John Montagu),” and later they would contract it to “a sandwich”. Some people who were more favourably inclined to Montagu have claimed that he ate the sandwich only to attend to his political commitments from his table! But whether it was for gambling or if it was because Montagu was a committed politician, stuffed bread soared in popularity in England and it was named after Montagu’s title.
Around the same time a man by the name of Edward Gibbon, mentioned the sandwich by its name in a diary entry. He wrote that he had seen twenty of thirty Englishmen eating a sandwich in a restaurant.
This story shows the power of words and vocabulary. The sandwich’s legacy came to be associated with an Englishman who it was named after, even though he merely borrowed the idea from other nations. Its heritage became popular because it could be narrated as a story. The story of how the dish originated in the Mediterranean remains unknown. The legacy of the sandwich shows the power of storytelling and narration. Everything sustains longer when it is presented in a story format!
Pro Tip: As usual, share this story with your children! If they love sandwiches, they will gobble up this story happily!