From Bánh Mì to Cubanos: A History of Classic Sandwiches

Where do we even get the idea, and name, for a sandwich? The idea of eating meat piled between two slices of bread is credited to a man named John Montagu, otherwise known as the Earl of Sandwich. The story goes that in the 1700s, Montagu, who was a minister of state in London, was so wrapped up in a gambling session that he refused to leave the table and had his dinner beef piled between two slices of thick bread for ease of eating while at the gaming table. The birth of the term “sandwich” is credited to Montagu’s gambling binge, where the popularity of this portable, handheld meal caught on.

The first recipe for a sandwich appeared in an American cookbook in 1816 and revealed the dish was no longer limited to just a meat filling like Montagu’s creation. Fruit, cheeses, and vegetables were now included in the items that could be put between two slices of bread. The sandwich would gain ground over the next 100 years all over the world much in the same way Montagu’s first experience was created — people wanting a handheld, portable way to eat a variety of tastes and textures in one bite.

A Vietnamese bánh mì sandwich encapsulates the history of Vietnam. Meaning “all kinds of bread,” the sandwich was created in the 1950s after the end of French colonization. However, there are hallmarks of French cuisine littered throughout the sandwich and its creation. The French baguette is the shell of this savory sandwich, a remnant of the French colonization that Vietnamese eaters quickly embraced. In the communist north of Vietnam, the sandwich was quite simple: bread, meat, salt and pepper. However, in the democratic south, you’d see a mix of Vietnamese influences such as basil, jalapeños and pickled vegetables to provide several contrasts: chewy and crisp, sweet and sour, spicy and cooling. Another French influence sometimes included in this sandwich is the traditional French pâté, which adds another layer of texture and a rich, mineral-like taste. At Fork & Truck, our protein of choice is duck, with the addition of cooling cucumbers to offset the fiery jalapeños — it’s our modern take on a Vietnamese classic.

The Cuban, or Cubano, sandwich is a pork lover’s delight. The Cubano first made its appearance in Cuban sugar mills and cigar factories as a quick, handheld meal for workers. As these workers left Cuba for southern Florida, they brought their favorite lunchtime sandwich with them, where its popularity made it a signature dish in Tampa and Miami. The key to this sandwich’s popularity in such a hot climate is its play on contrasts. The layers of ham and slow-roasted pork are salty, fatty and savory. This is juxtaposed with pungent Swiss cheese, vinegary pickles and tangy mustard to cut through the salty pork flavors. The combination of flavors is amplified at Fork & Truck by the addition of banana peppers to add another briny, spicy kick to complement the rich pork products.

A classic American diner staple, the BLT sandwich has remained popular for over 60 years because of its simplistic beauty. The sandwich’s popularity skyrocketed after World War II, when shoppers were able to source tomatoes year-round instead of just seasonally. Toasted bread slathered in mayonnaise houses warm, crispy bacon that is nestled between crunchy iceberg lettuce and acidic tomatoes. The combination of flavors at Fork & Truck is cleverly re-imagined with fried green tomatoes in place of standard red tomatoes and thick slabs of Texas toast used for the bread.

As our tastes evolve to include more experience with food from around the world, sandwiches will surely be on the list of foods that will continue to change. At Fork & Truck, we’re already putting our own twist on classic sandwiches that could have easily extended the Earl’s winning streak at his gambling table.