The Sandwich Revolution

A boy with a very tall sandwichI usually just listen to Radio 4 for news and the comedy programmes like News Quiz and Just A Minute and then switch off, suitably cheered, but this Sunday I stayed listening as the Food Programme followed with an episode all about the almighty sandwich and what the contributors termed the Sandwich Revolution.

I thoroughly recommend giving the programme a listen. Here’s a rundown of highlights:

  • Bee Wilson, author of “Sandwich: A Global History” (might put that on the wish list!),  shares her knowledge, from the account of Henry Mayhew in 1851 making 436 sandwiches a day, made of crusty bread, boiled ham and a touch of mustard and selling at one penny a go
  • to Marks & Spencer’s more recent launch of  the 75p jam sandwich, described as a “delusional” attempt at a nourishing meal
  • Tim Hayward, editor of food writing magazine Fire and Knives, shared memories of eating “nan’s corn beef and pickle” sarnies whilst watching Doctor Who, bemoaned the lamentable British picnic of soggy pre-made bits of bread and cheese (as compared to the continental wonders of fresh ingredients) and talked of eating the same packed lunch of sardines and tomato paste every day for seven years (I’d go bonkers!) until the toastie revolutionised his lunchtimes
  • Sainsbury’s sells about 50 million sandwiches a year, sells 30% in the morning and 30% in the evening, so only 40% at lunchtime
  • Mass production of sandwiches in factories – Buckingham Foods of the Adelie Food Group produces over one million sandwiches a week with a range of 500 varieties (or should that be variants in sandwich manufacturing lingo?). Hearing the CEO describe the whole production process and ideas behind it is jaw-dropping and imagining the logistics and costs involved is mind-boggling. However, just hearing about the engineering and clinical preparation of  even simple ingredients such as lettuce, tomatoes and bread, does put you off ever going near a mass-produced sandwich ever again (do check out the websites just for their humble accounts of their huge industrial output and their simple sandwich recipes).
  • One commentator adds to these thoughts suggests that if you were to pick any sandwich at a supermarket, you’d have a hard time discerning any flavours or differences between sandwiches
  • The top 10 selling sandwiches include the BLT, chicken salad, prawn mayo, “cheese variant” and “ham variant”.

From the industrial side of sandwiches, the programme goes on to the much more exciting prospect of a “sandwich revolution” in Britain, with entrepreneurs inspired by lunchtime habits from abroad, opening food shops and sharing their inventive and tasty creations with the British public.

The idea of international influence on the wholesome British sandwich is exactly what I had in mind when I began writing about lunches and sandwiches. I want to know what people are eating for lunch around the world. The idea that the melting pot of London may very well be turning into a centre for the globalised sandwich is truly exciting.

And the programme provides insights into “new generation of sandwich makers” in London to try:

Mooli's menu 





Mooli's menu - "divine street cuisine"
  • Moolis – authentic Indian street food based on the roti – full of flavours and fresh ingredients.  Their tag line says it all – “divine street cuisine“.
  • Moo Grill – originating from Cordoba, Argentina, the owners described their favourite Lomito – stuffed with steak, lettuce, tomato, ham, cheese and egg in a grilled light bun (I like the balance of heavy and light)
  • Bánhmì11 – operating from a stall in Broadway Markets – a Franco-Vietnamese sandwich made with toasted baguette and a mouth-watering choice of fillings. I can’t wait to try the one described in the programme – mayo, steamed pork in banana leaves, roasted pork belly, pate, chilli sauce, carrot pickle, cucumber and coriander, all freshly made. I might have to try to persuade them to set up a stall at Hammersmith Thursday food market.

I will definitely be on the look out for these places and other global lunchtime fineries.

You can listen to this packed show as long as it’s kept on BBC Radio 4 – The Food Programme – The Sandwich.