Iconic Sandwiches Across the Globe and Why We Eat Them

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If you are a fan of the popular TikTok series Roll for Sandwich then, you too, love this culinary legend.

The sandwich, in its endless variations, is deeply integrated into many cultures around the world, serving as a culinary staple and often reflecting the unique flavors, traditions, and values of a particular region.

Get ready to discover the sandwich treasures that have become culinary legends in their own right, as we delve into the fascinating world of iconic sandwiches across the globe.

Not only will we uncover the mouthwatering ingredients but also explore the  rich histories and cultural significance behind these classic creations.

Why Do People Love Sandwiches?

Convenience and Portability

Sandwiches are often associated with convenience and portability, making them an ideal choice for people on the go. You can take them just about anywhere.

They are commonly packed for school or work lunches, picnics, road trips, and outdoor activities. 

The sandwich’s ability to be eaten without utensils and its self-contained nature have made it a practical and popular choice for meals on the move.

Culinary Adaptation

Sandwiches can be, and often are, made with local ingredients and flavors, leading to the creation of unique regional variations. 

Different cultures have incorporated their traditional ingredients, spices, sauces, and bread types into sandwich recipes.  

The diverse range of flavors and textures allows the sandwich to be a canvas for cultural expression and showcasing local ingredients. 

Going back to our TikTok friend Jake, his loyal sandwich followers have discovered hundreds of ingredient variations. Many they probably have never heard of before. 

Social Eating

Sandwiches, like food often does, bring people together. They facilitate social interaction and communal eating experiences. 

Whether it’s a picnic in the park, a shared meal during a sports event, or a casual gathering among friends, sandwiches are frequently enjoyed in a sociable setting. 

Their versatility and ease of sharing make them a popular choice for collective meals, fostering a sense of togetherness and camaraderie.

Street Food Culture and Affordability

Sandwiches play a significant role in street food culture worldwide. 

From food carts and food trucks to market stalls and roadside vendors, sandwiches are a common street food offering in many countries. 

They provide a quick, satisfying, and affordable meal option for people on the streets. 

One thing I noted while researching was that many of these sandwiches rose in popularity during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. 

That time period struck me as it coincided with the Industrial Revolution occurring across many Western parts of the globe. Clearly connected to the cultural and economic changes that were occurring. 

Culinary Identity and National Pride

In some cases, specific sandwiches have become emblematic of a country’s culinary identity and a source of national pride. 

These sandwiches often embody the nation’s cultural heritage, local ingredients, and traditional cooking techniques. 

They serve as a reflection of the people, their values, and their culinary heritage. Making these iconic sandwiches across the globe a beloved and enduring part of the local cuisine.

Montadillos and beer
Montadillo with Jamon and beers

What Makes Something a Sandwich?

Just for the record, the history of the original sandwich is said to date back to the 1700’s. The Earl of Sandwich was playing poker and wanted to conveniently eat without stopping the game. 

By adding a second slice of bread on top of his meat, it allowed him to continue. Such was the “invention” of the sandwich. 

For this article we will talk about iconic sandwiches across the globe, but many will not strictly adhere to the definition of 2 slices of bread, or even handheld for that matter. 

Iconic Sandwiches from Central and South America

Little Goat Sandwich

In Uruguay the Chivito is a hearty sandwich that typically includes beef tenderloin, bacon, fried egg, ham, cheese, lettuce, tomato, mayo, and sometimes additional ingredients like olives and roasted red peppers.

Yes. It’s a lot, but as you see from this ingredient list there is no goat included as the name would imply.

The story goes that in the 1940s a customer entered a Uruguayan bar asking for a sandwich with goat. Since that meat was not available, thinly sliced beef was used in place and became an instant hit. 

A Chivito is considered the national dish of Uruguay. 

Arepas: Colombia or Venezuela?

Arepas are cornmeal flatbreads that are a culinary staple in both Venezuela and Colombia. 

Each country has their own unique variations of the Arepa, but both reflect their indigenous culinary heritage. 

Arepas are made by mixing cornmeal with water and salt, forming a dough, and then grilling, baking, or frying the flatbreads. They are then split open and filled with a variety of ingredients such as shredded beef, chicken, cheese, avocado, and black beans. 

While Venezuelan arepas are usually savory, Colombian Arepas can be sweet.

What is Choripán Made Of?

As the name suggests, “Choripán” is a combination of “chorizo”, a type of sausage, and “pan”, which is bread. 

The Choripán sandwich is a part of Argentine cuisine that is closely associated with outdoor gatherings, particularly asado (barbecue) events.  

The sandwich features a grilled chorizo sausage served in a crusty bread roll and often topped with chimichurri sauce. 

The Choripán reflects Argentina’s love for meat and grilling traditions. It is a popular street food and can be enjoyed at football matches, festivals, and family gatherings.

Iconic Sandwiches Across the Globe in the United States

Where to Get the Best Cuban Sandwich?

The best Cuban sandwich will be found in either Tampa or Miami, Florida.

The answer will be different depending who you ask.

Ordering a Cuban will get you a sandwich with roast pork, ham, Swiss cheese, mustard, and pickles. The bread may be crusty (Tampa), or toasted and pressed (Miami).

The Tampa cuban often includes sliced salami.

The Cubano sandwich has its roots during the first half of the 20th century as many Cuban workers immigrated to Florida, particularly the Ybor City neighborhood in Tampa.  

Today, it represents the dynamic Cuban-American culture in Florida and has become a beloved sandwich worldwide.

What Kind of Cheese is in a Philly Cheesesteak?

When you order a Philly Cheesesteak in Philadelphia at Pat’s King of Steaks (the originator!) you have a choice of provolone, American, or Cheese Whiz

Although this sandwich didn’t always have cheese on it, today most folks wouldn’t consider it a Philly Cheesesteak without it. The addition of melted cheese became a defining characteristic of the sandwich.

In 1930, Pat and Harry Olivieri, hot dog vendors in South Philadelphia, decided to experiment with thinly sliced beef and grilled onions, serving them on a roll. 

The thinly sliced beefsteak topped with onions served in a long roll quickly gained popularity.

The Philly Cheesesteak has become an iconic symbol of Philadelphia’s food scene. 

Today, Pat’s King of Steaks is still serving them and you could still order one without cheese. But, why would you?

Head’s up. Bring cash because that’s all they take.

What is a Po’ Boy? 

A Po’ Boy is a sandwich made with toasted French bread stuffed to overflowing with fried seafood such as shrimp and oysters, lettuce, tomato, pickles, and spicy remoulade. Meats such as roast beef and chicken are often used as well.

The Po’ Boy sandwich has its roots in New Orleans, Louisiana. A city with a rich history of music, food, and culture.

The story goes that the sandwich was created during a strike of streetcar workers in 1929. Two local restaurant owners, the Martin brothers, served them out to the hungry strikers for free, calling them “poor boys”. 

If you ever travel to New Orleans, trying a poboy for lunch is a must.

How Did the Club Sandwich Get its Name?

Two New York clubhouses claim to have invented the sandwich. The Saratoga Club House in Saratoga Springs and the Union Club in New York City

Did the name stem from this debate between the two clubs? That is still up for debate even a hundred years later. 

The Club Sandwich is a classic American creation that became popular in the late 19th century. 

A triple-decker sandwich with layers of sliced turkey or chicken, bacon, lettuce, tomato, and mayo, all stacked between toasted white bread. 

You can find one in just about any American diner today.

club sandwich

Is the Hamburger a Sandwich?

Yes. Hamburgers are sandwiches and consist of one or two ground beef patties served on a bun with various toppings and condiments. 

The most popular add-ons to hamburgers would be cheese, bacon, pickles, ketchup, mustard, and onions. 

Although some people might debate that the American hamburger is not a sandwich, that sentiment is likely the argument of the hamburger purist. 

Although the debate is sure to continue, everyone would agree this is one of the most iconic of American dishes today. 

American hamburger

Iconic Sandwiches from Africa

So Who Invented the Falafel Pita? 

A debated question in the Middle East, but It is said that falafel was first created by Coptic Christians in Egypt as a meat alternative during Lent. 

Egyptian falafel is made with fava beans, while in the Middle East, falafel sandwiches serve as a staple dish made from ground chickpeas

Over time, falafel spread throughout the Middle East and gained popularity as a street food. 

The falafel balls are typically tucked into a warm pita bread and accompanied by a variety of toppings and sauces such as tahini, pickled vegetables, and fresh herbs. 

The Falafel Pita represents the vegetarian-friendly nature of Middle Eastern cuisine and the region’s rich culinary heritage.

falafel pita sandwich

What is a Gatsby? 

The Gatsby is an iconic fast food sandwich in South Africa. 

Originating from Cape Town, it symbolizes South African street food culture.

The first thing to know is that it is massive. Served on a long sub roll and cut into 4 pieces, it can easily feed four or more hungry people. The Gatsby was actually originally created to feed hungry workers, one of which is said to have created the name.. 

The foremost ingredient is french fries. Then additional various fillings such as masala steak, chicken, or polony (like bologna), cheese, veges, and sauce are added. 

This sandwich is a take away meal and meant to be eaten with your hands. You won’t want to skimp on the napkins.

Iconic Sandwiches from Asia 

What is a Katsu Sando?

A Katsu Sando is a Japanese sandwich that consists of a panko breaded and fried cutlet, usually pork (tonkatsu) or chicken. It is served between slices of white bread, traditionally Hokkaido Milk Bread, with the crust of the bread cut off.  Shredded cabbage slaw and a sweet, tangy, sauce top the cutlet. 

It is believed to have been introduced during the late 19th century when Japan was experiencing a period of modernization and Western influence

A local restaurateur was looking to create a more European type sandwich. 

The Katsu Sando has become a beloved comfort food and is a popular lunchtime option in Japan.

Middle Eastern Shawarma 

Shawarma is a Middle Eastern dish with ancient origins, dating back to the Ottoman Empire, was brought to the region by the Turks.

The technique consists of stacking marinated meat on a vertical spit and slowly roasting it. The process can take days for the meat to be seasoned and cooked.

Originally, lamb was the preferred meat, but today, variations include chicken, goat, beef, or a combination. The most common spices found in shawarma are  turmeric, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, and garlic.

The thinly sliced marinated meat is then rolled in flatbread with tahini sauce, and vegetables such as tomatoes, cucumbers, parsley, and sometimes pickles. 

What is in a Banh Mi Sandwich?

The Banh Mi sandwich from Vietnam is a baguette filled with various ingredients like grilled pork, pâté, pickled vegetables, and fresh herbs such as cilantro.

It reflects the fusion of Vietnamese and French culinary influences.

During the French colonial period, the French introduced baguettes to Vietnam. However, after gaining independence, Vietnam faced economic challenges, including a shortage of wheat flour. To adapt, local bakers began using a combination of wheat and rice flour, creating a unique Vietnamese baguette with a lighter texture. 

Street vendors began selling sandwiches made with these affordable baguettes, combining them with indigenous Vietnamese ingredients to create what is now known as Banh Mi.

bahn mi Vietnamese sandwich

Iconic Sandwiches from Europe

Where can I get a Tramezzino?

Although tramezzini can be found all over Italy, they are very much a part of the Venice food culture.

These triangle-shaped finger sandwiches are commonly filled with tuna, prosciutto, egg, and olives. They are made on soft white bread with the crusts cut off. 

The edges are often pressed down to form a little pocket. This is helpful in keeping the overflowing ingredients from siding out. 

In Venice, you can admire the bacari windows filled with platters of these delicious finger sandwiches. 

Where Should I Try a Bocadillo de Calamares? 

For locals and tourists alike, a popular place to taste a Bocadillo de Calamares, is at Plaza Mayor. 

This iconic squid sandwich originated in Madrid, Spain and is said to have gained popularity in the 19th century when the city’s fishermen started selling fresh calamari in the streets. 

The calamari rings are breaded and deep-fried to perfection and then placed inside a crusty roll. Simply served with aioli, some sea salt, or a squeeze of lemon.

Meeting up to grab a bocadillo reflects the lively street food culture of Spain, where people gather outside of their homes to eat together and share meals and tapas.

Is Smørrebrød a Sandwich?

Smørrebrød is a traditional Danish open-faced sandwich that has been enjoyed for centuries.

It originated as a practical way to utilize stale bread. 

Smørrebrød consists of a slice of dense rye bread topped with various ingredients like pickled herring, smoked salmon, liver pâté, shrimp, or cheese. 

These sandwiches are often beautifully garnished with fresh herbs, vegetables, and sauces. 

Smørrebrød reflects the Danish emphasis on simplicity, quality ingredients, and balance of flavors.

What is the origin of Jambon-Beurre?

The Jambon-Beurre, meaning “ham and butter,” is a simple yet iconic French sandwich. 

It gained popularity in the early 20th century when baguette sandwiches became a convenient and affordable option for French workers. 

The sandwich’s appeal lies in its simplicity and the emphasis on high-quality ingredients, showcasing the French tradition of celebrating the natural flavors of food.

What is the Difference Between a Croque Monsieur and a Croque Madame?

A Croque Monsieur is made with toasted white bread, butter, ham, Gruyère or Emmental Cheese, and topped with a bechamel sauce. Drop a fried egg on top and you’ve made a Croque Madame. 

The Croque Monsieur, translated to Mr. Crunch, is a classic, French toasted ham and cheese sandwich. The sandwich’s name is said to be derived from the sound it makes when bitten into.

This decadent sandwich dates back to the early 20th century and has since continued to gain popularity. It is now a staple in French cafés and bistros, epitomizing French comfort food.

croque monsieur paris

Why is it Called a Chip Butty?

A Chip Butty is a simple sandwich made with thick-cut chips (like steak fries) and buttered (Butty) bread. The name is a shortened, cheeky way to refer to the ingredients.

Some people do like to add ketchup, malt vinegar, or mayonnaise as well. 

It is a uniquely British sandwich that is a cherished part of the nation’s culinary heritage.

Its origins can be traced back to the working-class communities in Northern England, particularly the industrial regions. The sandwich reflects the culture of comfort food and the appreciation for straightforward, no-frills dishes.

The Chip Butty It is often enjoyed as a late-night snack or as a treat at football matches.

To conclude, sandwiches not only showcase the flavors and ingredients specific to their regions but also reflect the cultural values, culinary traditions, and eating habits of the local communities. 

Eating delicious and iconic sandwiches across the globe is a great way to explore cultures through food. 

There is no better excuse to have a picnic.


Baba, Hana. “When It Comes To Falafel, The Flavors Of Home Can Vary.” NPR, 13 Oct. 2012. NPR, https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2012/10/13/158487658/when-it-comes-to-falafel-the-flavors-of-home-can-vary.

Janse, Alejandra Marquez. “What’s the Origin of the Cuban Sandwich? Researchers Set out to Settle the Debate.” NPR, 22 Oct. 2022. NPR, https://www.npr.org/2022/10/22/1130153934/cuban-sandwich-cuba-cubano-miama-tampa-florida-recipe.

Richardson, Heather. Cape Town’s Most Famous Fast Food. https://www.bbc.com/travel/article/20201130-cape-towns-most-famous-fast-food. Accessed 25 May 2023.

Turkey | Location, Geography, People, Economy, Culture, & History | Britannica. 21 May 2023, https://www.britannica.com/place/Turkey.

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