Best Sandwiches From Around the World
Let us pause to consider the sandwich, that magnificent unit of consumption, a construction so minimal that its form may be expressed as: Bread. Not-bread. Bread again. A sandwich can be pretty basic: the stale bologna on white you are offered for lunch when a forgotten speeding ticket lands you in jail for an afternoon; the PB&J you tuck in a lunch box for your kid; or the slice of ham on a buttered baguette you pick up in a train station in Lyons.
The existence of the sandwich can be seen as a marker of civilization—this is why ham-on-rye is not on the Paleo diet. There can be no sandwich without mono-crop agriculture, mechanisms to grind flour, fuel for ovens, and tools to slice the bread. The rise of the sandwich is inseparable from its convenience, from its ability to be consumed quickly and neatly while doing something else. Without the sandwich, there is no drive-through window. But a sandwich can also be seen as something close to a universal good. Out of the hopeless French colonization of Indochina came the glorious bánh mì, a sandwich of well-made charcuterie and Vietnamese pickles on a freshly baked baguette; out of U.S. bumbling in Colombia came a unique perro caliente, a hot dog dressed with pineapple, crushed potato chips, and, occasionally, raspberry jam.
A life written in sandwiches might reasonably include the steaming porchetta sandwiches sold from trucks parked at Umbrian crossroads, Iranian lamb’s-tongue sandwiches on lightly toasted bread, a dripping beef on weck in a fragrant Buffalo tavern, omelette-stuffed roti john in a Singapore hawker center, spicy vada pav from a Mumbai street cart, and the garlicky stun-ray of a sliced knoblewurst on rye on New York’s Lower East Side.
Because a sandwich is a blank slate, it can be perfectly evocative of its time and place—the tiny truffled sandwiches eaten at a marble table on an elegant shopping street in Florence after your first visit to the Uffizi; a chip butty in Brighton; or a post-Phillies roast-pork sandwich at Tony Luke’s, with sharp provolone and broccoli rabe cooked down almost into jam. The sandwich and the occasion intertwine, the crimson-stained torta ahogada in Guadalajara’s Mercado Libertad becomes indistinguishable from the fine, white teeth of the woman who bites into it. In the dance-off between sandwiches and lived experience, it is often the sandwich we remember best.
Bánh Mì, Hoi An, Vietnam
“Outside the market in Hoi An there’s a lady selling bánh mì from a stall that’s pretty unbeatable. I get mine with everything on it—including a fried egg. That’s the kicker.” —Anthony Bourdain, chef, author, and host of No Reservations and The Layover
Phuong’s Bánh Mì Shop, Hoang Dieu St.; no phone; $0.50.
Ham and Cheese Baguette, New York
“It’s a crunchy French baguette with salted butter, thinly sliced boiled ham, and Jarlsberg cheese. It satisfies the senses—and it doesn’t drip all over you.” —Martha Stewart, founder of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia and author of Martha’s American Food
Lady M Cake Boutique, 41 E. 78th St.; 212/452-2222; $9.50.
“This classic has a few twists that make it a pleasant surprise. It’s made with jamón ibérico and with mozzarella instead of Gruyère, and is filled with black truffles.” —Adrian Moore, concierge at Mandarin Oriental, Paris, and food blogger
The Big Mack Daddy, New York
“Altogether the best veggie burger in the city. The texture is perfect, the bun is challah-like, and the special sauce is just that—special. I complement this masterpiece with barbecue potato chips. And if this quote ends up on the wall of the restaurant, I will kill everyone at Travel + Leisure.” —Mike Myers, actor
Tiny’s Giant Sandwich Shop, 129 Rivington St.; 212/228-4919; $8.
Hand-Massaged Wagyu Beef on White Bread, Tokyo
“Over-ordering at Shima is inevitable, so the legendary Chef Oshima will carve your excess Wagyu, put it in crustless white bread, and present it in a bento box for you to take home. It’s that little extra that makes Japanese hospitality unparalleled.” —Charles Spreckley, founder of BeBespoke Experience Atelier
Shima, 3-5-12 Nihonbashi, B1, Chuo-ku; 81-3/3271-7889; steaks from $100.
Lobster Roll, Essex, Massachusetts
“The roll is piled high with big, juicy morsels of fresh meat, with just the right amount of melted butter. It’s the ideal summer sandwich by the sea.” —Gail Simmons, Top Chef judge, Food & Wine editor, and author of Talking with My Mouth Full
Roast Pork in a Bridge Roll, London
“I love any pork sandwich, but particularly this one slathered with Bramley-apple sauce and topped with cracklings and Maldon salt. It reminds me of growing up in Birmingham.” —April Bloomfield, chef and author of A Girl and Her Pig
Roast to Go, Borough Market, Stoney St.; 44-845/034-7300; $10.50.
Bocadillo de Calamares en Su Tinta (Squid in Its Own Ink with Aioli), Madrid
“It’s perfect in every way—hot, juicy, crisp, tangy—and great after a night out at the bars.” —Mario Batali, chef and cohost of The Chew
Food stand near the Plaza de Santa Ana; no phone; $10.
The Wilensky’s Special, Montreal
“This tastes like the history of Montreal, especially the Mile End neighborhood. That yellow bread with grilled salami and bologna, served with Swiss or cheddar—and always with mustard—is just delicious.” —David McMillan, chef at Joe Beef
Wilensky’s Light Lunch, 34 Ave. Fairmount Ouest; 514/271-0247; $5.
Chicken Philly Cheesesteak, Philadelphia
“I am a Philly guy, born and bred. My favorite sandwich is, of course, a cheesesteak. I don’t eat red meat, so I opt for chicken with American cheese, onions, sweet peppers, and ketchup.” —Michael A. Nutter, mayor of Philadelphia
Larry’s Steaks, 2459 N. 54th St.; 215/879-1776; $7.20.
The Coronary, Springfield, U.S.A.
“This sandwich contains every kind of meat, every kind of cheese, is battered in beer, and is served on a bed of donuts. I got the recipe from Paula Deen. The secret ingredient is love—the love of eating like a pig. It isn’t available in restaurants, so if you want one you have to order through me.” —Homer Simpson, safety inspector at Springfield’s nuclear power plant