Let’s face it: the best thing since sliced bread is…well, delicious things squished between sliced bread. The origins of the humble sandwich supposedly lie with John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich, in the 1700s. Poor old John was too busy gambling to eat a proper meal so would ask his servants to pop his roast dinner between two slices of bread. For someone who became an earl at age ten, that’s some pretty forward thinking – and to say the sandwich has taken off is probably the understatement of the century.
To celebrate the humble sandwich, here are a few of Europe’s most mouthwatering variations:
The unassuming chip butty is arguably one of Britain’s most triumphant inventions. Originating somewhere in Northern England, whoever had the idea of buttering two pieces of bread, throwing in some hot chips and dousing it in sauce should be named Prime Minister immediately. What a national hero; what a proud moment for Britain.
I mean, it’s basically a fancy toastie, but the Croque Monsieur is a deliciously guilty French staple adorning the menus of adorable street cafés through Paris. With sweet, fluffy brioche bread holding ham and cheese, then fried with an extra layer of cheese on top, the Croque has inspired toasted sandwiches all over the world – and has variations all across France, like the croques provençal, auvergnat and the Croque Madame, with a fried or poached egg plopped on top.
Try one at Pâtisserie Gerard Mulot, Paris
Meaning literally ‘little Frenchie’, the Francesinha is one of the trademark meals of Porto. Stuffing ham, sausage and steak (or another roast meat) between fresh bread, covering it all with a layer of cheese and a tomato-beer sauce then serving with fries; what could go wrong? My arteries are weeping but it’s culture, right?
Try one at Café Santiago, Porto
Literally meaning ‘butter and bread’, the Danish sandwich delicacy is ever so slightly healthier than its Mediterranean counterparts. Consisting of a piece of buttered dark rye bread (Scandinavia’s #cleaneating aesthetic reigning supreme) and a selection of toppings laid out, the idea is that the sandwich consumer will pile on as much meat, eel, pâté, cheese, salads and fish as that rye bread can handle. Delicious AND nutritious…until you realise you’re seventeen slices in and you regret everything.
Try one at Restaurant Schonnemann, Copenhagen
One of two mentions for the Netherlands – apparently Europe’s sandwich capital, you know something’s big when McDonald’s make their own version. What started as a traditional Dutch sandwich sold in restaurants and street stalls and is now the McKroket, the broodje kroket is a meat croquette – a meat ragout covered in breadcrumbs and rolled into a sausage shape – in a bread roll. Simple, but utterly delish.
One to make the vegetarians rejoice , the Zapiekanka is a Polish open-faced sandwich dating back to the 1970s, when the Polish communist regime prompted the opening of many small family-owned food outlets, or mała gastronomia. Slice a long baguette in half, fill it with sautéed button mushrooms and melty cheese, toast or microwave it then splatter with a generous dollop of ketchup, and that’s the zapiekanka. Just try and eat that neatly– I dare you.
Try one at Endzior, Krakow
Another sandwich served on thick, delicious crusty baguette, the bocadillo is Spain’s far more cultured answer to the very American ‘sub’. Filled with omelette, chorizo, cold meats or calimari it’s a simple sandwich that doesn’t pack on the salads, save for perhaps a couple of slices of tomato to moisten the bread. Very classy, Spain.
Try one at: El Brillante, Madrid
Belgium – our self-appointed Land Of The Carbs – doesn’t disappoint on its quest to figure out how many types of starch it can fit into each meal. The mitraillette is another sub-like sandwich (literally named after a sub-machine gun, probably because it will murder your cholesterol levels) in a baguette filled with some sort of fried meat AND fries AND cheese AND some sort of ketchup, mayonnaise or béarnaise sauce. Instant food coma, but this one’s totally worth it.
Try one at Fritland, Brussels
A favourite of cafés the world over, the panino (the singular form of panini) means “small bread” in Italian, and originated in Milan – which explains its trendiness. So universally popular it barely needs explaining, the sandwich uses ciabatta-like bread and can be filled with anything from ham to salami to salads to cheese, before being toasted in a sandwich press and served as a meal or quick take-away snack. Bellissimo!
Try one at Crocetta Panini d’Autore 1982, Milan
Typical Scandinavia, always having to outdo everyone else with their sleekness and style. Of COURSE a Swedish pastry chef (Göran Gunnarsson, if you’d like to build a shrine to him) went and invented a sandwich-cake hybrid. The Smörgåstårta alternates layers of bread and then toppings from meats to caviar to egg to salad, with an impressive and stylish savoury garnish on top – of course. To be honest they seem too beautiful to try and eat: that’s a work of art, not a sandwich!
Gyro, souvlaki, kebab – call it what you like, the Mediterranean delicacy has to be one of the world’s most popular sandwiches. Now the hero of many 4am walks home in most Western countries, the dish consists of meat from a vertical rotisserie filling up a pita bread wrap, accompanied by a salad garnish and tzatziki sauce – and usually a hearty serving of chips or fried potatoes on the side. Don’t even pretend to judge me: we’ve all done it!
Try one at Thanasis, Athens
Feel that sweet tooth kicking in? The Netherlands has you covered, with its incredibly simple-yet-genius hagelslag, which I have definitely not purchased en masse and stored in my cupboard for emergencies. Similar to Australia’s weird and wonderful ‘fairy bread’ tradition, hagelslag sandwiches involve buttering bread, then topping it with chocolate sprinkles. That’s it. Basically a chocolate sandwich. The only downside is that the world hasn’t capitalised on this genius concept yet – bless you, Holland, you legends.
Pick up a box in the cereal aisle of any good Dutch supermarket.