It’s all about the sandwich

A gambling addiction may have led to the naming of the sandwich.

The muffuletta

The muffuletta

A gambling addiction may have led to the naming of the sandwich. John Montagu, the fourth Earl of Sandwich, was the eighteenth-century English noble who instructed his servants to serve his lunch meat between two slices of bread so that he could eat his meal with one hand without leaving his cards during an all night gambling event.

Although he wasn’t the first man in history to eat this way, he was the one who ultimately gave this lunchtime favourite his name.

In honour of his birthday, citizens of the United States have designated Nov. 3 as National Sandwich Day. It is an auspicious day where sandwich restaurant chains across the country reach out to their customers with wacky sales and promotions and parents across the nation fix PB&J for breakfast, lunch and dinner without guilt.

Although there is no celebration of convenience food in Canada, there ought to be. But even though there is no official designation, you can still embrace the day. For those who wish to really go all out in celebrating the birth of the fourth Earl of Sandwich, here is a look at some places in the world that lay claim to having created their own special sandwich.

Since the original is usually the best, you may have to travel to experience these special sandwiches.

Montreal Smoked Meat Sandwich

With a history dating back more than fifty years, Schwartz’s Hebrew Delicatessen in Montreal lays claim to being the oldest deli in Canada.

One sandwich is pretty much responsible for the deli’s success — the Montreal Smoked Meat Sandwich.

The smoked meat used in the sandwich is basically a beef brisket that has been cured, spiced and smoked.

The meat is sliced thinly and piled high on deli rye bread and served with mustard, a pickle, and coleslaw

People will go to great lengths to get their hands on a good smoked meat sandwich. Even though the dining atmosphere at Schwarz’s is a little reminiscent of the Seinfeld show’s “Soup Nazi” episode, there is a constant line-up outside the door of this deli.

According to local legend, certain top Hollywood actors have paid substantial amounts to have a Montreal smoked meat sandwich hand-delivered from Schwarz’s in Montreal across the border to their New York movie set.

The smoked meat sandwich was originally created by Lithuanian immigrants at a Montreal deli that is no longer in existence, but it can be found on menus throughout the city.

If you want to sample the best smoked meat sandwich in town, most locals agree you should go to Schwarz’s. They also ship smoked meat to various destinations around the world.


Philippe’s Original Beef Dip in Los Angeles

A touch of serendipity was involved in the creation of the French dip sandwich.

Philippe Mathieu had opened a simple delicatessen and sandwich shop in downtown Los Angeles in 1908, but it wasn’t until 1918 that he discovered the sandwich that would make his establishment famous.

According to the Philippe’s Restaurant website, Mathieu was making a beef sandwich for a policeman, when he accidentally dropped the halved French roll into a pan of beef drippings. Mathieu was about to discard the bun, but the policeman said to give him the sandwich anyway.

Today Philippe’s is famous for its beef or pork dip sandwiches. Visiting the restaurant is like stepping back in time. The floor is covered in wood shavings, restaurant staff wear old fashioned hats and aprons, and the dining area consists of long communal tables with worn wooden stools. The place is constantly packed and you can still purchase the famous beef dip sandwich along with fresh coleslaw and a slice of homemade pie. A cup of coffee only costs a dime.


Po’Boy Sandwich

The Po-Boy sandwich is a staple in New Orleans and Louisiana and can be found on many restaurant menus. As with many famous sandwiches, its origins are controversial, but most experts agree that the sandwich was invented by Bennie and Clovis Martin, a pair of retired streetcar conductors originally from Louisiana who opened Martin Brothers Coffee Stand and Restaurant in the French Quarter in 1922.

During a particularly ugly transit strike in 1929, the Martin brothers offered free meals to any members of the striking transit division. In order to fill up the hungry workers, the brothers created a new larger sandwich made on rectangular-shaped French bread. The sandwich was filled with a variety of fillings, depending upon what they had on hand: shrimp, oyster, catfish, soft-shell crabs as well as French fries and ham and cheese.

Bennie Martin once explained how the sandwich came to be known as a po’boy: “We fed those men until the strike ended. Every time we saw one of them coming we’d say ‘Here comes another poor boy.’”

When the Great Depression hit the city, many people continued to purchase the large sandwiches, because they were very filling and inexpensive and the po’boy sandwich became a staple in New Orleans.

The Martin’s restaurant is no longer open, but you can find a po’boy sandwich at many different restaurants around the city. Everyone has their favourite restaurant and fillings, but if you want to sample an original po’boy, try visiting Johnny’s Po-boys on St. Louis in the French Quarter. Johnny’s is the oldest family-owned po’boy restaurant in New Orleans and has been in operation since 1959. The line-up to get inside usually stretches well outside the door, but you can also get your food to go and walk to the levee and watch the boats go by while you eat.



The Muffuletta is also a famous New Orleans invention. Made on a Sicilian-style sesame round bread, the Muffuletta is filled with thin layers of meat such as capicola, salami, mortadella, emmentaler, and provolone cheese. The meat layer is then topped with a marinated olive salad. The olive salad is made from olives, celery, carrot and cauliflower that is spiced and covered in olive oil.

The Muffuletta sandwich was invented at Central Grocery in the French Quarter of New Orleans in the early 1900s. At that time, Central Grocery was in the same area as the farmers’ market and many of the Sicilian farmers would come into the store and order the ingredients separately. By combining the ingredients into a sandwich, Salvatore Lupo, the owner of Central Grocery, made it easier for the farmers to enjoy their lunch.

You can still order a Muffuletta sandwich at Central Grocery. The shop has become a tourist attraction in the city – especially during Mardis Gras when line-ups can stretch down Decatur Street.

Info: Phone 504-523-1620

Make Your Own

If you are unable to travel to celebrate the birth of the Fourth Earl of Sandwich, you can still embrace the day by eating a sandwich on November 3. You might consider making yourself a Fluffernutter, the sandwich that has been proposed as the official Massachusetts state sandwich. This sandwich is made with peanut butter and marshmallow cream. In June 2006, Massachusetts State Senator Jarrett Barrios was widely mocked when he proposed legislation restricting the serving of fluffernutter sandwiches in public schools.

Perhaps this explains why Alberta does not have a provincial sandwich.

Debbie Olsen is a Lacombe-based freelance writer. If you have a travel story you would like to share or know someone with an interesting travel story that we might interview, please email: or write to: Debbie Olsen, c/o Red Deer Advocate, 2950 Bremner Ave., Red Deer, Alta., T4R 1M9.

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