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What Exactly Is a Sandwich?

It seems like a simple enough question, right? One even a very small child could answer. Unfortunately, there were no children on staff at Panera Bread in 2006, when the company sued Qdoba Mexican Grill for building a restaurant near one of theirs–a restaurant which happened to be protected by a “sandwich shop” location exclusivity contract. In other words, Panera sued Qdoba, makers of fine burritos since 1995, for selling “sandwiches” too near their sandwiches. The judge presiding over the case used “common sense” and “a dictionary” to determine that, no, a burrito is not a sandwich. (The “Is Panera trying to look ridiculous?” case was resolved out of court.)

The burrito question may well be determined, but the definition of a sandwich leaves plenty of wiggle room for interpretation. According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, a sandwich comprises “two or more slices of bread or a split roll having a filling in between,” but then continues to include “one slice of bread covered with food.” This would indicate that hotdogs, bruscetta, and even biscuits and gravy are sandwiches.

Let’s take a look at the difference in sandwich conservatives’ and liberals’ opinions on the matter. In the right corner, we have the “two pieces of bread with filling, no variation” group. This excludes commonly accepted sandwich derivatives like stuffed pitas. On a technicality, they also must include the quesadilla unless the decision is made to restrict the sandwich definition to include only leavened bread. A self-described Sandwich Orthodox friend explained to me that any food which requires cooking before sandwiching is not a sandwich, even a hamburger–”If it can’t be made in the woods, it isn’t a sandwich.” What about grilled cheese, dude?

On the other side, there are those who, like Ian Chillag of NPR’s Sandwich Monday, will accept any “protein wrapped in carb.” A close inspection tells us this would be sweeping enough to qualify sushi, fried cheese and those bizarre egg-and-cheese toaster strudel as sandwiches, in addition to any burrito, taco, this thing or Hot Pocket, while excluding traditional sandwiches (like jelly or veggie). How is a hotdog a sandwich if a veggie sub isn’t?

If your definition relies on portability or hand-to-mouth eatability, then out go the Dagwood, Merriam-Webster’s second definition and anything messy enough to require a fork. Likewise, any number of clearly non-sandwich foods could be included here.

Consider also the breadless sandwich: lettuce wraps, vegetable substitutes and *shudder* the KFC Double Down. They’re sandwiched, yes, but are they sandwiches?

Neatoramanauts, settle this debate: What is your definition of a sandwich, and what is definitely not a sandwich?



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October 11th, 2011

Stranger to the World


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