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A sandwich is a food item consisting of one or more types of food, such as sliced cheese or meat, placed on or between slices of bread, or more generally any dish wherein two or more pieces of bread serve as a container or wrapper for some other food.
The sandwich was originally a portable food item or finger food which began to be popular in the Western World. Today sandwiches in various versions are found worldwide.
Sandwiches are a popular type of lunch food, taken to work, school, or picnics to be eaten as part of a packed lunch. The bread can be used plain, or it can be coated with one or more condiments such as mayonnaise or mustard to enhance the flavours and texture. As well as being homemade, sandwiches are also widely sold in restaurants and cafes, and are sometimes served hot as well as cold. There are both savoury sandwiches, such as deli meat sandwiches, and sweet sandwiches, such as a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
The sandwich is considered to be the namesake of John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich, because of the claim that he was the eponymous inventor of this food combination. The Wall Street Journal has described it as Britain’s “biggest contribution to gastronomy”.
The first written usage of the English word appeared in Edward Gibbon’s journal, in longhand, referring to “bits of cold meat” as a “Sandwich”. It was named after John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich, an 18th-century English aristocrat. It is said that he ordered his valet to bring him meat tucked between two pieces of bread, and others began to order “the same as Sandwich!” It is commonly said that Lord Sandwich was fond of this form of food because it allowed him to continue playing cards, particularly cribbage, while eating, without using a fork, and without getting his cards greasy from eating meat with his bare hands.
The rumour in its familiar form appeared in Pierre-Jean Grosley’s Londres (Neichatel, 1770), translated as A Tour to London 1772; Grosley’s impressions had been formed during a year in London in 1765. The sober alternative is provided by Sandwich’s biographer, N. A. M. Rodger, who suggests Sandwich’s commitments to the navy, and to politics and the arts, mean the first sandwich was more likely to have been consumed at his desk.
Before being known as sandwiches, this food combination seems to simply have been known as “bread and meat” or “bread and cheese”.