I remember as a kid, my mother would make a sandwich and wrap it in saran wrap for me to pack to primary school as lunch. It would always be either one of two recipes - Ham & Cheese, or Egg Mayo. As I grew older, this nostalgic food brought about my love affair with Subway sandwiches and I make it a sort of tradition to source for interesting deli sandwiches whenever I travel overseas too.
The sandwich might be the perfect food: Easy to pack, open to anything a creative mind would like to stack it with, and it can be as simple or as elaborate as your mood allows.
Ever wondered who invented the sandwich? I did. And I thought I knew the answer. But turned out, I was wrong!
The humble origin story
The sandwich as we know it was popularized in England in 1762. The popular story goes that John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich, was a notorious gambler who so hated to leave the card table to eat that he instructed a servant to bring him some meat and bread. He then stacked the meat together between two pieces of bread to form an easy-to-eat meal, all without disrupting his beloved gambling sessions.
The Earl enjoyed his meat and bread so much that he ate it constantly, and others in London's society circles soon started eating it too. And the concoction took on the Earl's name as The Sandwich.
Hence, the sandwich was born.
Or did it?
The great sandwich origin story may not have much truth to it after all. The story was first recorded in the early 1770s by a French writer named Pierre-Jean Grosley. The incident supposedly happened while Grosley was on a tour of London and he wrote it in his book 'Lourdes' (published in English as 'Tour to London').
But something smelt fishy. It was the idea that the Earl of Sandwich was a notorious gambler who would be up all night playing cards and not even stopping to have a meal that rang hollow. Historians pointed to the fact that the Earl was acting as a cabinet minister at the time - his duties would have left him little chance for all-night gambling sprees.
To crack another hole in that story, the Earl was also in the middle of revamping the entire British Naval Administration during that year. It was the type of job that would require a good night's sleep to be achieved.
Another slightly more embarrassing piece of evidence came from biographers who stated that the Earl couldn't have had a gambling habit as he did not have much money to gamble with in the first place, as he was one of the lower class members of British upper class royalty in that time.
So, who should we credit the sandwich to?
While the Earl of Sandwich is credited with giving the sandwich its name, the first description of what we actually known as a sandwich came 2,000 years ago.
The Jewish Rabbi Hillel the Elder was born in the first century BC in what was then known as Babylonia. He later traveled to Jerusalem to devote himself to the studying of the Torah, and at a time when Jewish law was still hotly debated, it was his interpretations of the Jewish text that became the most popular among believers then.
His work on a verse in the book of Exodus could be said to have been the birth of the sandwich. Exodus 12:8 states, “Eat the meat on this night, roasted over fire. With matzah and bitter herbs you shall eat it.” This verse was describing a traditional Passover meal made from placing the meat of a lamb, mixed nuts and herbs between two pieces of unleavened bread, and shared among family and friends.
At the time, this was called a korech, which comes from the Hebrew word meaning “to wrap.” While it’s not recorded how the ancient sandwich was put together, we can deduce that he stacked the meat and herbs and bound it all together with the bread.
Now we know the true origins of the sandwich, but I'm glad we ended up calling it the sandwich instead of the korech. Ordering a Teriyaki Chicken korech at Subway just doesn't roll off the tongue quite as nicely.