15 Epic Sandwiches From Around the World

Words: Crush

Embark on a taste journey, as we unravel some of the most iconic sandwiches from around the world. From the markets of Vietnam to the streets of South Africa, these 15 sandwiches showcase global cuisine – a tapestry woven with bread, filling, and cultural heritage.

The Origins of Sandwiches

The concept of a sandwich, as we know it today, is attributed to John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich. The story goes that the Earl was an avid gambler and requested his meat to be served between two slices of bread, so that he could continue playing cards without using utensils or getting greasy fingers.

This convenient and portable way of enjoying a meal became popular, and people began ordering “the same as Sandwich.”

While the Earl of Sandwich is often credited for introducing the concept into European mainstream culture in the 18th century, the idea of placing food between bread likely predates this. Various cultures have historical records of using bread as a vessel for other foods, such as the Jewish practice of putting meat between pieces of matzah, and ancient Roman and Middle Eastern cultures eating flatbreads with various fillings.

Sandwiches From Around the World

These iconic sandwiches have won the hearts and stomachs of many across the globe. While most are hugged by slices of bread, some countries enjoy their fillings wrapped in flatbread, loaded in a bun, or served open-faced.

1. Cubano – Cuba

In the heart of Florida’s Cuban community, the Cubano emerged in the late 19th century. Robust flavours of ham, roasted pork, Swiss cheese, pickles, mustard and salami come together between slices of Cuban bread. This sandwich has become a lunchtime favourite, celebrated for its many layers and pressed perfection. While the Cubano takes the spotlight, the Medianoche – a similar delight known as ‘the cousin of the Cubano’ – is equally popular.

2. Philly Cheesesteak – United States

The iconic Philly Cheesesteak hails from the city of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. This sandwich features thinly sliced beefsteak, typically ribeye, griddled to perfection and served on a soft roll. What sets it apart is the melted cheese – usually American or provolone – and optional toppings like onions, bell peppers and mushrooms. The Philly Cheesesteak has become a symbol of American comfort food, enjoyed across the nation.

3. Cemita – Mexico

In the vibrant tapestry of Mexican street food, the Cemita stands tall – a hearty sandwich originating from Puebla. Encased in a sesame seed roll, it features layers of avocado, meat (typically breaded beef or pork), queso fresco, onions and chipotle. This flavour-packed creation offers a satisfying crunch and a symphony of tastes, contributing to Mexico’s diverse sandwich repertoire alongside the iconic Torta.

4. Bauru – Brazil

Brazil’s Bauru, named after the city of Bauru in São Paulo, is a carnivore’s dream. This sandwich combines roast beef, melted cheese, tomatoes and pickles on a French bun. Created in the 1930s, the Bauru has become a beloved part of Brazilian cuisine, celebrated for its hearty combination of flavours. Often enjoyed with a side of cassava fries, it represents the robust and diverse tastes of Brazil.

Image credit: Serious Eats

5. Katsu Sando – Japan

Japan’s Katsu Sando, born in the early 20th century, is a culinary marvel – a breaded, deep-fried pork or chicken cutlet nestled between soft white bread. Accompanied by tonkatsu sauce, it’s a symphony of textures. From bento boxes to street stalls, the Katsu Sando has become a Japanese culinary cornerstone, standing tall alongside Onigirazu (sushi sandwich) and Tamago Sando (Japanese egg sandwich) in the world of sandwiches.

6. Bánh Mì – Vietnam

As Vietnam navigated French colonial influence, the Bánh Mì emerged – a crispy baguette cradling grilled pork, paté, mayo, pickled daikon, carrots and coriander. Beyond its culinary allure, Bánh Mì symbolises resilience, a testament to Vietnam’s intricate history. The roots of the Bánh Mì can be traced back to the period of French colonial rule in Vietnam, which lasted from the mid-19th century until the mid-20th century.

During this time, the French introduced baguettes to Vietnam, influencing local baking practices. Vietnamese bakers embraced the baguette, adapting it to local tastes and creating a unique Vietnamese-French fusion. This street food marvel is one of the most beloved sandwiches from around the world.

bahn mi recipe

For a vegetarian version, try this Báhn Mì Inspired Halloumi Sandwich.

7. Ayam Goreng – Indonesia

Indonesia’s Ayam Goreng is a flavourful twist on the sandwich; this popular street food embodies the vibrant flavours of Indonesian cuisine. Crispy fried chicken is served between slices of bread; infused with Indonesian spices, this handheld delight is often enjoyed with sambal (a spicy chilli sauce/paste).

8. Falafel – Middle East

Falafel, a vegetarian delight made from ground chickpeas or fava beans, are a cherished street food across the Middle East. These deep-fried patties are nestled in a pita pocket and accompanied by fresh vegetables, tahini sauce, and sometimes pickles. Falafel has transcended borders, becoming a global vegetarian sensation celebrated for its crispy exterior and soft, flavourful interior.

Try this vegan version for Beetroot Falafel on Flatbread with Guacamole

9. Gyro – Greece

Gyros are the perfect blend of Mediterranean flavours. This heavenly sandwich features thinly sliced meat, often lamb or chicken, wrapped in pita bread. Gyros are often complemented by a medley of tomatoes, onions, and a generous dollop of tzatziki.

10. Panino con Mozzarella e Pomodoro – Italy

One of the most popular sandwiches in Italy is the Panino con Mozzarella e Pomodoro – a simple yet exquisite creation. This classic features mozzarella cheese, juicy tomatoes, and basil, all drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper. The sandwich is typically assembled on a crusty Italian bread such as ciabatta. Known for its lightness and the celebration of seasonal produce, the Panino con Mozzarella e Pomodoro captures the essence of Italian culinary philosophy – letting the natural flavours of quality ingredients shine. It is a popular choice in cafés, street food stalls, and households across Italy.

11. Smørrebrød – Denmark

Denmark’s Smørrebrød is not just a sandwich, it’s a canvas of culinary art. Rooted in medieval traditions, this open-faced delight features buttered rye bread adorned with herring, smoked salmon, or liver pâté. Enjoyed during festive occasions, each Smørrebrød bite is a celebration of flavours. Accompanied by Akvavit, a traditional spirit, it shares the limelight with the Frikadeller sandwich, where succulent meatballs steal the show.

12. Ploughman’s Sandwich – United Kingdom

Besides cucumber sarmies and the humble chip butty, the Ploughman’s Sandwich stands out as a Brit fave. This sandwich consists of thick slices of crusty bread with sharp cheddar cheese, lettuce and Branston pickle – a sweet-sour relish made from vegetables and spices.

Its origins can be traced to the idea of a Ploughman’s Lunch – a meal enjoyed by farm labourers during their midday break. Often served with a side of crisps (potato chips) and a refreshing pint of ale, the Ploughman’s Sandwich is a great part of British pub fare.

13. Croque-Monsieur – France

France, the epitome of culinary finesse, presents the Croque-Monsieur – a classic sandwich that elevates ham and cheese to gourmet heights. Two slices of crusty bread encapsulate a layer of béchamel, Gruyère cheese, Dijon mustard and ham, creating a delightful union. Often savoured as a quick lunch or snack, it has a sophisticated counterpart, the Croque-Madame, crowned with a luscious fried egg.

Oven Baked Triple Decker Croque Monsieur with French Fries

Try our stacked version with French fries, Oven Baked Triple Decker Croque Monsieur, which uses Mornay instead of béchamel sauce for those who love Dijon mustard.

14. Montadito – Spain

The Montadito remains a bite-sized symphony for the people of Spain. Baguette slices are topped with ham, chorizo, cheese, or grilled vegetables – there are no rules when it comes to this sandwich. Originating in Andalusia, it embodies Spanish conviviality and is often enjoyed with a glass of sangria. Others might argue that the Bocadillo, a traditional baguette sandwich featuring an array of ingredients from Serrano ham to calamari, is just as good.

15. Gatsby – South Africa:

When it comes to South African street food, the Gatsby takes centre stage – a colossal sandwich with many versions. The long list of fillings includes polony, vienna sausages, accompanied by shredded lettuce, fresh tomato slices, slap tjips (soft fried potato chips with salt and vinegar) and sauce, all hugged a roll large enough to hold everything.

Among the many types, the masala steak Gatsby is arguably the most popular and delicious; more ambitious folk might say that the Full House Gatsby with steak, egg and cheese reigns supreme. Whether enjoyed at social gatherings or as a late-night indulgence, the Gatsby shares the spotlight with Bunny Chow, another South African gem that ingeniously transforms a loaf of bread into a delectable curry vessel.

Image credit: Hungry for Halaal

Try this Chicken Liver Peri Peri Gatsby.

Want more? Try these Seriously Good Sandwich Recipes. Still hungry? Read our interview with chef Hilde-lee Olivier from Stellenbosch sandwich shop, Toebroodjie.

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