Just about anywhere in the world you go, you’re almost certain to find a sandwich.
And folks everywhere love to talk about their favorite sandwiches — from PB&J to tuna fish, from the many variations on the hamburger to regional favorites like cheesesteaks and lobster rolls, along with breakfast sandwiches, sloppy Joes, and other cultures’ contributions: gyro, panini, muffuletta, croque-monsieur, banh mi, Cuban sandwiches and pita.
Of course, likes and dislikes can differ. Darrell Huckaby was telling me his wife ridiculed him for loving pineapple sandwiches, which brought to mind the mountainous platter of sandwiches my mom used to serve for Saturday lunch. Pineapple was included, but I didn’t like them, preferring banana. My middle brother was the reverse.
Then, there was the woman my wife worked with, who was aghast at Southerners’ penchant for tomato sandwiches. However, Allan Kozinn, who grew up in New York, also likes them. “I didn’t know they were Southern,” he said. “I thought I invented them by not having anything else to put on them and being too lazy to go get some.”
Everyone has a favorite fast-food sandwich, too, whether it’s McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish drowned in tartar sauce or one of the contenders in the recent chicken sandwich wars.
Or they lament the loss of a sandwich that’s no longer around, like Good Ole Days’ flowerpot sandwiches, or Chick-fil-A’s chicken salad sandwich.
When I first moved to Atlanta, I fell in love with the too-wide-for-your-mouth deli offerings at Harold’s, downtown. Howard Pousner also was a Harold’s devotee. “I don’t know how Harold made any money,” he said, “because he couldn’t possibly charge enough for those enormous sandwiches.”
Nowadays, my favorite is the smoked salmon BLT with lemon dill aioli, served on sourdough bread at The Station at Person Street, in Raleigh, North Carolina, near where my son and daughter-in-law live. I have to have one every time I visit them.
My daughter said that a very popular item these days is the subway sandwich from Publix, fondly known as a “Pub sub.”
Brigid Choi, who grew up in Atlanta, but now lives in Seattle, lamented that, out there, “We don’t have Publix, so Pub subs aren’t a thing!”
Meanwhile, David Gibson is partial to the classic grilled cheese — “the ultimate comfort food.”
Ironically, the U.S. Department of Agriculture doesn’t even consider the grilled cheese to be a “sandwich,” which they define as “a meat or poultry filling between two slices of bread, a bun, or a biscuit.” But, then again, they once tried to convince us ketchup is a vegetable!
For many folks, favorite sandwich memories involve childhood concoctions. Recalled Mark Gunter: “Every day, when I got home from school, I’d fix a butter and sugar sandwich,” which involved two slices of white bread, butter and white sugar.
Likewise, Steve Oney said, “My favorite childhood sandwich belongs in a Jeff Foxworthy routine: ‘You might be a redneck if … your favorite childhood sandwich was mayo on white bread.’”
Of course, most Southerners are partial to barbecue sandwiches. Jim Auchmutey, author of “Smokelore: A Short History of Barbecue in America,” said his favorite growing up was the sliced beef sandwich at Old Hickory House. “I know, I know … we’re in Georgia, and barbecue is supposed to be pig meat,” he said, but the “sliced beef sammie was really good.”
Sandwiches rule up North, too. “You can’t be a true New Jerseyan unless a Taylor ham (a brand of pork roll), egg and cheese is your go-to breakfast sandwich,” Tom Frangione said, adding that Mick Jagger praised the classic dish during a concert there.
Of course, food is serious business in New Orleans, where native Bruce Spizer noted “the po’boy is the most popular sandwich, although the muffuletta is also well-known due to the city’s large Italian American population.” The city has a po’boy festival each November.
In Los Angeles, Rip Rense said, the sandwich experience focuses on the French dip at Philippe’s Downtown, while, in Montana, John Firehammer recommends a small chain called the Staggering Ox, “which specializes in ‘clubfoot sandwiches.’ The bread is baked in a tin can, creating an opening, which you can stuff with ingredients.”
It seems you can’t escape sandwiches. Choi recently encountered an entire shelf of them in a convenience store in Japan.
And then there’s the U.K., which gave the sandwich its name, thanks to the 18th-century Earl of Sandwich, who reputedly asked for some beef to be served between two slices of bread to avoid having to leave a gambling table.
The Brits often call sandwiches butties or sarnies. Miranda Rehm, an Atlanta native who moved to Britain in the mid-1980s, said, “One of my earliest experiences when I moved here involved being asked to go out and buy someone a ‘sarnie.’ … It took me a moment to realize they were asking for a sandwich!”
The offerings can range from the quintessential British sandwich — cucumber, egg, cress, butter, often served at afternoon tea — to a plebeian bacon sarnie or chip butty (french fries in a roll).
My first cousin Lyndon Parry, who lives in Nottingham, said, “The thing you have to keep in mind with us Brits is we can put anything between two slices of bread.”
Breakfast sandwiches are big in the U.K., Lyndon said. Usually, it’s a bacon or sausage sandwich, frequently involving a fried egg.
But the ultimate, he said, features a full English breakfast (bacon, sausage, egg, mushrooms, black pudding, baked beans and/or tinned tomatoes) on a soft roll. “It’s a taste sensation, but very messy.”
When Doug Hall was a boy in Middle Georgia, he loved mashed potato sandwiches. He had not experienced them in years, he said. Then, after moving to Mexico City, “imagine my surprise when I sat down at Quesadillas Lucha, in the Coyoacan Market, and saw on the menu ‘quesadillas de papa.’” That’s a doubled-over corn tortilla filled with mashed potatoes and cheese, then deep-fried. “I try my best to limit myself to only a few a year. But, my goodness, they are wonderful.”
Rosa Song, a native of Beijing now living in Arizona, told me sandwiches are pretty much the same in China, including the traditional dish rou jia mo, which is “only meat and a little bit of veggies” in a roll.
Rosa’s favorite sandwich when she lived in China? “I only remember Subway,” she said with a laugh.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.