Unveiling the history of Sandwich



Unveiling the history of Sandwich:


A universal snack loved by all, the sandwich has an amusing history. Read on to know how the sandwich got its name and how it was eaten during different eras.




The word sandwich will have a lot of varieties popping in your head - Cheese grilled sandwich, meatball sandwich, club sandwich, cheese and jam sandwich and many more.


The sandwich is a universal snack consumed by people all over the world. It is portable and can be adapted to any culture’s gastronomical preferences. In India for instance, we make vegetable sandwich made up of spiced potato mash, cucumbers and green chilli chutney. 


While the popular story suggests that the sandwich became popular when the 4th Earl of Sandwich requested his home chef to make a kind of finger-food. But wait, that’s not the whole truth. The history of the sandwich dates back as far as to the 1st century B.C.


The history of Sandwich:


1st Century B.C:

Hillel the Elder, a famous Rabbi, started the Passover custom of sandwiching a mixture of chopped nuts, apples, spices and wine between two matzoh breads, a Jewish flatbread, to eat with bitter herbs. The filling between these signified the suffering of the Jews before their deliverance from Egypt and represented the mortar used by the Jews during their forced labour constructing Egyptian buildings. Due to his stature in Palestinian Judaism, the Hillel Sandwich is named after him. 


6th to 16th century:

In the absence of plates, meat and vegetables were placed on bread called trenchers. The meat and vegetables were kept open on the thick and stale trenchers which absorbed the juices and sauce. In the end, the trencher too was eaten, or if the hunger was satiated, it was given to the dogs or handed out as alms to the poor. 


The trencher, to an extent, can be called the first attempt at a modern-day open sandwich.


16th to 17th century:

According to Mark Morton’s 2004 article, ‘Bread and Meat for God’s sake,’ he mentions that the sandwich was known as “bread and meat” or “bread and cheese.” To back his assertion, he gives examples of plays where these two phrases were used in tandem. Shakespeare used this phrase in The Merry Wives of Windsor, where Nim declares, “I love not the humour of bread and cheese.” In the 17th century version of Thomas Heywood’s “The Rape of Lucrece” there is a song where the street pedlars cry, “bread and meat - bread and meat.”




The sandwich was popularised in 1762 by John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich, who was a gambler in his private life and wanted to play an uninterrupted game of poker. With that in mind, he requested his chef to make something that he could eat without leaving the card table. Montagu had travelled around to the Mediterranean regions where the Turkish and Greek mezze platters were served. The dips, meats and cheese were all sandwiched between two layers of bread.


He took inspiration from Mediterranean cuisine and asked his chef to make something similar to it. Named after the town where it was invented, this dish began to be popularised with the name Sandwich. 


The first written record of the word Sandwich appeared in Edward Gibbons’ journal, an English author, historian and scholar on November 24, 1762. He recorded his surprising encounter by seeing some men who were seated in a noisy coffee-house devouring sandwiches. 


“I dined at the Cocoa Tree….That respectable body affords every evening a sight truly English. Twenty or thirty of the first men in the kingdom….supping at little tables….upon a bit of cold meat or a Sandwich.”


The Sandwich Comes to America 


From England, the sandwich went to America in 1840 where an English woman called Elizabeth Leslie introduced it in her cookbook. Initially, America was hesitant in accepting its colonizers’ culinary trend, but once the memory faded, it became the most loved and frequently eaten snack among Americans. 


The 11th Earl of Sandwich (a direct descendant of 4th Earl of Sandwich) capitalised the family name by opening a shop called, ‘The Earl of Sandwich’ in Florida in 2004. The franchise locations operate in the United States, London and Paris.


In India, the sandwich was introduced through the British, but in typically Indian fashion we created our own version in the form of Vada pav and Dabeli. 


If you are anything like us at Foodism, by now you too would be craving a juicy sandwich. Head on to our recipes section to find something that can sate your cravings!