Traveling the world is something that our grandparents could only dream about. Now, barring recent times, of course, foreign travel is something most of us have experienced or will experience at least once in our lives.
And what's the first thing someone wants to know about a country you’ve visited?
Stories abound here. Yak butter tea in Tibet, garlic n' chili fried crickets in Thailand, tortilla de patata in Spain, smørrebrød in Denmark, kitchari in India, banh mi in Vietnam, kisir in Turkey, gado gado in Indonesia… the list goes on!
I even had the delightful experience of encountering a Yac Donald's high up in the Nepalese Himalayas! Alas, the momos at the quaint tea houses had me hooked, so I didn't try a yak burger.
In our grandparents', even parents' generation, exotic cuisine didn't make its way across international borders as prolifically as it does now. We are fortunate to have tasted food from most corners of the world. Much of it is available on our supermarket shelves or at various international restaurants dotted throughout whatever place we call home.
There's one food item that many countries have in common––the sandwich, and they're as diverse as the countries that make them. Our team collected favorites from their travels and included them here in no particular order. Why are sandwiches so good? They're classic, sink-your-teeth-into-it snacks, meals, and edible pastimes in nearly every part of the world.
The Classic Hamburger - USA
Hamburg, Germany was the inspiration for the hamburger because it produced famous beef from pasture-raised cows. But it still deserves great credit for the classic American hamburger that was purportedly conceptualized in 1900 in the United States by a Dutch immigrant name Louis Lassen. He made the simple act of slapping a meat patty between two slices of bread––sounds about right. Whether or not he coined the term "hamburger" is unknown. Its popularity spread at The World's Fair. While there are myriad international variations, America ranks as one of the world’s best hamburger spots on the planet for its classic beef patty topped with lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, and condiments such as mayo, mustard, ketchup, and relish.
Croque Madame - France
Literally “Mrs. Crunch,” Croque madame is a French-inspired ham and cheese melt topped with a poached or sunnyside-up fried egg. Originally from France, this classic ham and cheese melt sandwich has gained popularity the world over, and it’s testament to how significant one ingredient can be. Its S.O., Croque monsieur, is the same arrangement without the egg, which makes the Mrs more substantial. The runny yolk adds an abundant sauce-like element. The audible crunch of thick, crisp toasted sourdough bread is music to many a morning-lover's ears.
Francesinha - Portugal
The first time I tried francesinha was in a tiny mom-and-pop-type restaurant in a small village somewhere between Lisbon and Porto. Two words come to mind when I recall that first taste: rich and heavy. It was served with a side of French fries and a cold beer (truth be told, I ordered the beer separately). Francesinha (pronounced france-sez-EEN-ya) consists of toasted bread, meat––usually beef or pork plus sausage and ham––cheese, and a smothering of beer-based tomato sauce. It’s not one of those tourist dishes either. Most of the locals in the place had the same open-face stack in front of them. I’d hate to think about how my heart would react if I ate it every day, but an occasional indulgence when I’m in Portugal is allowed.
Montreal Smoked Meat Sandwich - Canada
Pastrami comes from Romania, but the Quebecois make viande fumé, a pastrami-like meat that is more substantial and boasts a deeper smoky flavor. It takes 10 days for the prime beef brisket to achieve perfection. It’s marinated in a delightful herb-spice fusion. Then it’s smoked, hand-sliced, and served upon character rye. Classic accompaniments include: French fries, pickles, mustard, pepper, coleslaw, or olives.
Gyros - Greece
Succulent ground lamb or beef are seasoned with herbs and spices, forming this Greek winner’s base. What makes the meat so succulent? It’s slow-roasted on a vertical rotisserie, much like donar or shawarma. With hand-made gyros, the meat is cut into round, thin, flat slices, then stacked on a spit and seasoned with herbs like cumin, oregano, and rosemary. It remains on the spit until the time of order, so the meat maintains its mouthwatering freshness. The seasoned, slow-cooked meat is piled into a thick pita. Tomato, shredded lettuce, onion, feta cheese, and garlicky tzatziki are common, traditional toppings.
Ta'ameya - Egypt
This street food delicacy is similar to falafel, but it consists of fava beans, not chickpeas. Dried, ground fava beans are blended with herbs and spices, shaped into balls, rolled in sesame seeds, and deep-fried to a golden crunch. Then, they’re stuffed into doughy pita halves and served with tomatoes, onions, and tahini. And it all happens in street food carts, whipped together in a matter of minutes.
Banh Mi - Vietnam
I was on a veritable roll with banh mi when in Hoi An for two weeks, eating it nearly every day for breakfast and washing it down with a thick, sweet, strong coffee. Banh mi is one of Asia’s best-kept secrets. It’s not well known in the West, though it's popular all over South East Asia. Classic banh mi is a baguette or similar-type bread roll that's smeared with pork pate, pickled vegetables, hot chilis, mayo, green onion, coriander, and drizzled seasoning. Quite the combination of ingredients, but somehow it all works into this chewy, crunchy, tangy, herby, spicy blissful arrangement of flavor. There's nothing in the world quite like banh mi.
Bocadillo de Jamón - Spain
These hearty baguette sandwiches saved me while walking the Camino de Santiago. By the time lunch rolled around each day, I could pretty much attack a bread roll stuffed with anything, and Spain has a delightful number of options. But jamón––a special type of ham––is divine, especially con queso (with cheese), aceite de olivia (olive oil), and tomate, which is rubbed into the bread’s interior, rather than sliced. Either Serrano or Iberian jamón is used, denoting the region it's produced. The Iberian variety is said to be the best and most expensive ham in the world. Bocadillo de jamón might very well be the best thing since sliced bread, so imagine those two hall-of-famers together!
Smørrebrød - Denmark
Denmark's lesser known claim to fame, after the Danish. It's not unlike a smorgasbord, which actually originated in Sweden from the smörgåsbord, a buffet of small dish delights. The difference is that they all occur as toppings on buttered rye bread. Some classic toppings include cheeses, cold cuts, caviar, various spreads, meatballs, and condiments. It was a 19th-century Scandinavian farmer's inventive use of the previous day’s leftovers. Today, it's a special-occasion food served up as an appetizer, main course, or dessert.
Peanut Butter & Jelly - North America
There's really no place like home. I recently made a PB & J sandwich for a British friend. She was hesitant to eat it, preferring yeast-based Marmite to thick, creamy, stick-to-your-ribs peanut butter. But she agreed to try it. She took a slow and thoughtful chew, and her eyes lit up in delightful surprise. "I like it!" she exclaimed (and anyone who has ever tried it). With crunchy or smooth peanut butter, jelly or jam, this combo rocks classic white bread or wholesome multigrain. It's the stuff of childhood lunch boxes and adults' on-the-go indulgences.
What's your favorite sandwich? Share your recipe with us, and we'll feature it on our blog and Facebook page. But don't sandwich yourself between the favored and familiar––try this collection and let us know what you think!
From our kitchen to yours, happy sandwiching all summer long!