Voices from Russia

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Anniversary of the Sandwich


Exactly 250 years ago, John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich, playing cards, put meat between two slices of bread. That was the birth of the true English sandwich. According to legend, the Earl of Sandwich became very hungry during a card game. As he was an avid player, he sat at the card table for hours, without even taking a break for dinner. That day, the cook prepared meat sauced with brown gravy. To ensure that the gravy wouldn’t drip on the cards, Sandwich asked his servants to place the meat between two slices of bread. Upon seeing this appetising concoction, the other card players shouted, “We want the same as Sandwich!”

That’s how the sandwich first saw the light of day; it was a relative of the German butterbrot {in Russian, we call it a buterbrodik: editor}, but with an extra slice of bread on top of the butter and meat. This story first appeared in French historian, writer, and traveller Pierre-Jean Grosley‘s book A Tour to London; it was contemporary with the Earl of Sandwich. However, since then, there’s been much discussion whether this story is true or if it’s just a pleasant myth. There’s another, more prosaic version. Allegedly, the Earl wasn’t an avid gambler, but he was an amateur strategist who pored over military maps for hours, snacking on meat between slices of bread. No matter what its real origin is, in Britain, nobody calls the butterbrot anything other than a sandwich. In the UK, the sandwich is probably the most popular food. Traditionally, its luncheon fare, as the British eat a light meal at midday. Sandwiches not only have meat fillings, but they can also contain cheese, seafood, and vegetables instead. For example, some of the most popular sandwiches in London cafés and snack bars are shrimp with avocado and turkey with cranberry sauce.

British supermarkets decided to mark the 250th anniversary of a truly British culinary invention. Next week, they’ll stock sandwiches wrapped in the colours of the British flag under the trademark “Best of British” on their shelves. Amongst them will be a sandwich called the “British Beef and Yorkshire Pudding Wrap”, stuffed with topside beef, roast potatoes, and horseradish sauce, and a Scotch Egg-style sandwich with haslet pork, an egg, and pickle. All throughout the anniversary year, vendors promise to offer buyers some interesting sandwich fillings symbolic of traditional British cuisine. Yet, at the same time, they’ll also have on offer some innovative taste treats, as the British do like to try out new things. For example, last summer, sandwiches with strawberries and cream were a special hit with Tesco supermarket customers at the time of the Wimbledon championships, and a year earlier, they test-marketed a sandwich with an Italian lasagne filling.

12 May 2012

Yelena Balayeva

Voice of Russia World Service



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