The World of Sandwiches: Culinary Canvas for your Desired Taste

When you are craving something delicious, you order your favourite sandwich; for morning breakfast, a sandwich is good; for a meaty lunch, the sandwich is just perfect. Whether you are lazy or busy, dining out or travelling, a sandwich is always an acceptable and often celebrated piece of meal to depend on.

A simple dish that stuffs a few good ingredients between two slices of bread is one of the most popular dishes and is prepared in unlimited ways worldwide. It has to do with the simplicity of the preparation, which can allow various culinary expressions to be embraced in the warmth of two slices of sandwich bread and make the sandwich a canvas for your desired taste.

It is not merely the ease of cooking that makes a sandwich stand out, but also the ease of eating. A sandwich can be eaten with hands without a fork, knife or spoon. This distinction led an 18th Century British aristocrat, John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich, to order meat between two slices of bread as he plays Cribbage (A card game) and can eat without spoiling his hands or the cards. And, from this lore came the name ‘Sandwich.’

What is more important for a good sandwich? Is it the bread, the stuffing, or the sauces? This one is a little tough to answer as it seems bread is the primary and decisive ingredient of a sandwich, and without it stands no identity of the dish, the stuffings, be it the meat, cheeses, sauces, vegetables, the method of cooking the meat, the cuts used, the seasonings applied, and even the way the bread is treated gastronomically, all of it decides the fate of a good sandwich. With people's diverse tastes and dietary preferences worldwide, the sandwich has evolved into a culinary concept that showcases innovation, traditional cooking styles, baking skills, fresh indigenous produce, and, most prominently, the local flavour.

Internationally, only a few sandwiches match the popularity of a BLT (Bacon, Lettuce, Tomato), marking the preference for crispy bacon, fresh in-season tomatoes, mayonnaise, and the simplicity of the construct, which appeals to all classes. A Club Sandwich is a more complex and decorated version of a BLT. Believed to have originated in the union club of New York City, Club sandwich today is a must-feature dish on the menu of all coffee shops, especially in 5-star hotels. Three layers of toasted bread encase crispy Bacon, lettuce, tomatoes, and poultry meat (Chicken or turkey) and often contain eggs and mayonnaise. A club sandwich is a wholesome meal and is a favourite of many food lovers worldwide.

A peanut Butter and Jelly sandwich that can be made toasted or with plain slices of bread is a quick and comfortable meal for many. Grilled, Plain or Toasted sandwiches worldwide include many delicious stuffings and combinations. Chicken and cheese, Ham and cheese, Beef and cheese, Tomato and mozzarella, and Vegetables and cheese are some of the common sandwich stuffings. Tuna sandwiches, sloppy Joe, Croque monsieur, Croque Madame, Vietnamese Banh-Mi, an egg Salad Sandwich, a Reuben sandwich etc., are some of the classic sandwiches.

A variety of bread is used for sandwiches. Panini, Baguette, Bagel, Sourdough, Pita, Ciabatta, Croissant, Pumpernickel, Focaccia, Tortilla, Brioche, and many more are stuffed with meats or vegetable stuffings, cheeses and sauces., Butter is often used as a spread on the inside slices of bread and smeared on top slices while grilling the sandwich to perfect crispness.

While many of these sandwiches are available in high-end cafes, restaurants, and coffee shops, a popular concept of creating your own sandwich, with choices of meat, vegetables, and sauces to create an American submarine sandwich, caught the fancy of the world. With the sub or submarine sandwiches gaining popularity across various geographies, a popular chain of restaurants called Subway became the largest chain of restaurants worldwide, with over 40000 different outlets and 595 outlets in India.

In India, the advent of European colonial powers brought the concept of baked bread. With Pavs being baked across the western shore. First in Goa, then in Maharashtra, and after that, like in other world geographies, baking bread in ovens in different shapes and sizes became a norm. The British era brought the loaf of white bread to India. A few decades later, the popularity of the white bread loaf, sliced into pieces, became a norm in many urban households. Bread Loaf and Pavs are both used to prepare sandwiches in India. The Bombay Masala Sandwich, with the stuffing of tempered potatoes and grilled in a sandwich toaster, is a popular street food item in Mumbai. Plain bread is smeared with chutney and butter to prepare a chutney sandwich, often stuffed with slices of boiled potatoes, onion, cucumber and tomatoes. Innovative Indian Street food vendors go on to stuff different vegetables and sauces and grate a generous amount of cheese to prepare decadent sandwiches.

The dishes prepared with Pavs are the most exciting use of bread in India. In Maharashtra, Vada pav is an undisputed leader among the state’s delicious snacks. Fried potato balls stuffed inside the soft pavs with the chilli kick of the spicy, garlicky chutney and often enjoyed with tempered green chillies are the pride of the region and are a lifeline for many urban city dwellers looking for a quick and delicious snack. Kutchi Dabeli from Gujarat, Omelette Pavs, Samosa Pav, Bhajjia Pav, Bread Omelette, Bun Kebabs etc., are a few exciting ways pavs or bread are used to prepare sandwich-like dishes in India to provide a quick snack with local flavours.

From Impressive cafes and coffee shops to Canteens and street food vendors, a sandwich is a suitable dish to order. An easily customisable culinary product, the sandwich’s popularity is among all classes of diners, vegetarian or meat lovers, vegan or health-conscious, someone looking for a quick and cheap meal, or for a big gourmet meal; a sandwich can be prepared in so many ways, and can easily satisfy cravings. A quick fix midnight meal at home, or a part of the packed picnic lunch, college canteens, to trendy cafes, the taste of a sandwich can rekindle many memories and experiences. Sandwich indeed is a gastronomical delight, and, as simple as it is, it is astounding the culinary stature sandwich has attained.

Sidharth Bhan Gupta, Founder of 361 Degrees Hospitality, is a Hospitality / Food and Beverage / Restaurant Consultant, Travelling across India on a Cultural and Culinary Exploration.