Around the world in sandwiches

Chefs and sandwich aficionado are happily experimenting with the next level of the light meal. We get to the bottom of the slice of bread, baguette, torta, et al

By Purva Grover; Visuals by Shihab, M Sajjad

Published: Fri 5 Aug 2022, 9:19 PM

Last updated: Tue 9 Aug 2022, 7:06 PM

Quiz question, what are the three main components of the simple, unassuming, and convenient sandwich? The bread, the spread, and the filling. Now, that was easy, wasn’t it? We’ve all spread the peanut butter and jam on bread or added extra cheese between two slices.

Of course, a sandwich can be prepared with a blend of just about any batch of ingredients lying at home from a jar of pineapple marmalade to leftover grilled meat bites, fresh lettuce to a block of cheese, ketchup to a can of black beans, and beyond. In ordinary delis and fancy eateries, the sandwiches get re-defined with truffle, provolone, lemongrass, et al. In short, it’s hard to imagine a world without sandwiches.

And, if you’ve been in the region long enough, then you’ve grabbed a bite of the Regag, one of the most well-known breads in Emirati culture.

“It’s made of three simple ingredients and is served with toppings such as cheese, eggs, or honey. I believe it became popular for its simplicity,” said Nabil El Kourdy, senior marketing manager, Feels Juice Bar & Kitchen, Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

Yes, we’ve been eating sandwiches for as long as we can remember. In Dubai, a multicultural city, we have variations from the local favourite shawarmas to artisanal bread rolls.

What do you call it? A sub, a shawarma, a bánh mì, a torta or toast? Irrespective of the christening, none of us can get enough of the sandwich. Also, we wear its existence like a cultural badge on the sleeve, reach out to it when in a hurry, and are particular about how it is prepared. It’s almost outrageous how the humble sandwich is grabbing larger spaces on the menus, tell experts. Before we reach out to grab one, let’s rewind a bit.

So, how, and when was the sandwich born?

Sandwiches have been around for a long time, the first dates to 18th century England, where John Montagu, Earl of Sandwich, asked to be served some slices of roast beef between two slices of bread, and thus the sandwich was born.

“In Mexico, tortas i.e. the Mexican sandwiches were first documented in 1864 in a newspaper and are said to be the result of people needing something tasty, easy to transport, nutritious and economical. Either from Mexico City or the city of Puebla, they were created by the availability of a simple salty bread that served as a wrapper for any other food type or leftovers. A quintessential street food and a complement to our beloved pre-Hispanic tacos; tortas are one of the greatest inventions,” said Mercedes Torres Lagarde, manager and partner, Copala, DIFC.

The evolution of the sandwich

You’d think it’s the bread that holds everything together, i.e. if you’re still biting on to the oh-so-old sandwich for now the latest avatars of the handheld meal staple has evolved and we are happily eating the closed and the open-faced kind too.

“The sandwich was invented with the objective of being easy to eat. With time people started getting creative with the convenience, which triggered the development of new recipes and flavours. Then, came the role of culture and each culture wanted to create their own take on convenient eating through different sandwiches,” added Nabil.

“My favourite from what we serve is the Bao Cubano, replacing the bread for an Asian bao bun, a fusion of Latin American cuisine with Asian inspiration,” said Juan Pablo, group executive chef, Hotel Cartagena, JW Marriott Hotel, Dubai.

The window to multiculturalism and flavours

“A sandwich is 100 per cent a reflection of our culture. There are many examples where sandwiches can reflect culture, it’s all specific to the individual ingredients and elements used, like the bread and the seasoning. For example, in Latin cuisine, it’s all about the bread used, for tacos we have soft tortillas or hard shells, and then comes the filling,” said Juan.

“Tortas are stuffed with anything/ everything people have available, which in turn depends on geography, culture, and habits. For instance, the Tecolota responds to the need of being able to eat chilaquiles (traditional breakfast in Mexico) on the go. Why not put it all inside a bolillo bread, grab and go? The same applies to the Pambazo that allows people with little time to pack an entire lunch between two slices of ‘soaked’ bread. Why restrain oneself to a plain sandwich when one can pack a real satiating powerhouse available at will?” asked Adan Naranjo, head chef and partner, Copala, DIFC.

Now, we are aware of how important bread is to French culture, and how the average Frenchman in the late 1700s was reported to eat three pounds of bread a day! French baguettes are quite popular with everyone, with simple baguette sandwiches sold in boulangeries, food stands, and cafés throughout France, and even in Dubai. It’s interesting to note how the Vietnamese took the baguette and transformed it into something distinctly Vietnamese.

So, what is bánh mì? “In Vietnam, bánh mì is eaten at breakfast and reflects Vietnamese culinary tradition, the fillings vary but are always distinctly Vietnamese with crisp fresh vegetables, aromatic herbs and often, perfectly seasoned protein,” said Lily Hoa Nguyen, founder and executive Chef, Vietnamese Foodies, Dubai. At Vietnamese Foodies, all of these are made on light and airy 24-hour proofed bread.

Another example of the French connection is the Choripan at Cartagena, two slices of toasted French baguette (added to the Argentinean culture by the French immigration after the Second World War) with grilled chorizo criollo and the emblematic chimichurri sauce.

Globally, the sandwich consumption is on the rise, and it’s also been touted as one of the trendiest food items to get your hands on, we’d not want you to miss on that, so we’re leaving you with a menu of must-try out sandwiches.

Must-try standout sandwiches

>> Bao Cubano, with pulled lamb and beef mix, pickle cucumber dijon mustard and Japanese mayo; Dh65, Hotel Cartagen, JW Marriott Hotel

>> Carne Asada, with braised beef, guacamole, black beans, asadero, abd chilli morita salsa; Dh40, Hotel Cartagena, JW Marriott Hotel

>> De Puebla Taco, with crispy chicken, salsa verde, daikon radish; Dh30, Hotel Cartagena, JW Marriott Hotel

>> Grilled Chicken & Cheese, with free range chicken, organic cheese and a special sauce; Dh49, Feels Juice Bar & Kitchen

>> Tuna Spicy Sandwich with tuna, vegan mayo, kale pesto, avocado and organic cheese; Dh48, Feels Juice Bar & Kitchen

>> Steak & Cheese, with glazed tenderloin beef, mixed veggie slaw, mushrooms and organic cheese on white/multigrain bread; Dh59, Feels Juice Bar & Kitchen

>> Lemongrass Grilled Chicken Bánh Mì, with crisp fresh and pickled vegetables, herbs, homemade mayonnaise and Vietnamese peanut sauce; starts at Dh27 (six-inch), Dh38 (12-inch), Vietnamese Foodies

>> Lemongrass Grilled Beef Tenderloin Bánh Mì with crisp fresh and pickled vegetables, herbs, homemade mayonnaise and Vietnamese pepper sauce; starts at Dh27 (6-inch), Dh38 (12-inch), Vietnamese Foodies

>> Crispy Breaded Cream Dory Fish Bánh Mì with crisp fresh and pickled vegetables, herbs, homemade mayonnaise, and Vietnamese pesto sauce; starts at Dh27 (6-inch), Dh38 (12-inch), Vietnamese Foodies

>> Pambazo, with pambazo bread dipped and fried in a red guajillo pepper sauce, traditionally filled with chorizo (marinated minced meat) and potatoes, cream, cheese, lettuce and avocado; Dh79-99, Copala

>> Tecolota, with bolillo bread, chilaquiles (crispy tortilla chips in red or green salsa), pulled chicken or beef, cheese, cream, sunny-side-up eggs, coriander and onion; Dh79-99, Copala

>> Cemita, with traditional cemita bun sprinkled with sesame seeds and stuffed with breaded chicken breast, Oaxaca string cheese, avocado, black refired beans, chipotle chili and papalo; Dh79-99, Copala

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