While the West enjoyed their bread sandwiches, India was more than happy with their rotis and chapattis to roll up quick and easy snacks for the longest time.
If you ask me about my fondest memory of sandwiches, it has to be during my school days. As kids, we wanted some light, easy-to-eat and filling snacks to survive the day. My mother used to come up with variegated styles of sandwiches for the same. Sometimes it was egg mayo, sometimes cheese onion (it was the most popular among my friends). I would be in for a surprise each day when I would open my tiffin box to find a new filling between the two slices of bread. What remained constant throughout and I love till date is the bread. Here’s an unpopular opinion that I second, I don’t like parathas. I’ve never been a huge fan of these stuffed flatbreads, instead, I would always prefer the white bread sandwiches over them.
This one remark my grandmother used to make at this preference of mine, “Yeh sab angrezi khaana hai. Paratha khaya karo”, got me thinking one day about the origins of these sandwiches. I wondered how this Western concept landed in the Indian lap and where did all this begin? That’s why I dug out the sandwich story of India.
For those living under a rock, a sandwich is a snack made of bread, where two slices are stuffed with a filling of your choice, which can be eaten directly, toasted or grilled. That’s the concept that the fourth Earl of Sandwich of UK brought into being when his cook devised this form of eating for him so that he could conveniently gamble while satiating his appetite. Do you think Indians blindly borrowed the sandwiches? Not really.
We laid our hands on bread for the first time when the Portuguese settled in Goa. Since they were used to eating bread but couldn’t find any in India, they started baking them in the oven and next thing we knew, we were eating paos for bread (Portuguese referred to them as paos in their native language). From Goa to Maharashtra, the journey of these buns was quite smooth.
This led to the emergence of dishes like keema pav and pav bhaji, where our rotis were substituted by these buns to be eaten with a gravy. However, they were a far cry from sandwiches since they were not stuffed. The closest we came to sandwich was with the vada pav, which is also referred to as the vegetarian hamburger. Replacing the beef with a deep-fried aloo patty (potatoes can also be credited to the Portuguese), the half-sliced bun was slathered with a spicy chutney with the patty in between.
The real deal happened with the introduction of the white loaf of uncut bread by the British in 1960s. Industrial production of bread began in India and we got our first ever Indian sandwich in the same year. Popular till date, the Bombay sandwich is layered with vegetables, butter and chutney and served at several stalls in Mumbai.
With time, several sandwiches started popping up in different parts of the country. While dabeli (a pav stuffed with sev and a sweet chutney but not potatoes) and vada pav continue to be popular in Gujarat and Maharashtra respectively, the basic chutney cheese sandwich is also quite a rage. The coriander leaves are ground with amchur and a few other spices to form a smooth paste. This chutney this then applied to the slices of bread and some grated cheese is sprinkled on it. It is toasted and served hot!
The staple bread-omlette combination which is available at most street stalls and small shops in every nook and corner of the country, is considered to be a delicious way to add protein to the otherwise greasy sandwich.
Another sandwich that is a part of India’s sandwich story is the rava toast. This is an open sandwich where the slices of bread are layered with a batter of rava (semolina), coriander, chilies, onion and yoghurt. Toasted on a pan with a few drops of oil, the crispy toast tastes perfect with tomato ketchup on the side.
Nonetheless, the story doesn’t end here because there might be countless varieties that you have tasted and tried till date. Let us know if we missed out on your top sandwich picks!