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The History of Sandwiches

The History of Sandwiches

  • by Gary Briscoe

Sandwiches have become a key part of the British culinary experience and have been a part of our culture for over 300 years

In the 1st Century BC a famous rabbi, Hillel the Elder, made the first recorded 'sandwich' by mixing some nuts, apples, and spices with some wine, and placing it between two matzohs (pieces of flat bread)

However the name sandwich is credited to John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich® created the meal that changed dining forever in 1762. Apparently, the Earl was playing cards and did not want to leave the gaming table and asked for a serving of roast beef to be placed between two slices of bread so he could eat with his hands while continuing to play.

In 1837 An American writer, Eliza Leslie, introduced sandwiches to America when she wrote a cookbook, ‘Directions for Cookery’ which contained a recipe for ham sandwiches: ‘Cut some thin slices of bread and ham. Butter the bread and put the ham between two slices with some mustard”

The sandwich's popularity in England increased dramatically during the nineteenth century, when the rise of industrial society and the working classes made fast, portable, and inexpensive meals essential. In London, for example, at least seventy street vendors were selling ham sandwiches by 1850.

Sandwiches have been widely sold in cafes, railway stations, pubs and diners since the invention of sliced bread in the 1920s. In the early days, sandwiches were kept on sale unwrapped with drying up bread and edges curling, until they were sold.Canteens in railway stations and trains were notoriously bad and the term "British Rail Sandwich" was often used satirically.           

In 1979, Marks & Spencer introduced a small range of chilled, pre-made sandwiches sold in wedge-shaped boxes that were sealed to keep them fresh. As they proved popular, a small experiment involving five stores rapidly grew to cover more than one hundred stores. Within a year, the store was looking for ways to manufacture sandwiches at an industrial scale.

By the end of the decade, the British sandwich industry had become worth over £1billion and by 2017, the British sandwich industry made and sold £8 billion worth of sandwiches.

As far as sandwich fillings go, it’s certainly humble but the classic chicken sarnie has emerged as Britain’s most popular.

The discovery was made after meal kit company Hello Fresh analysed search interest from Google, Instagram posts and Tik Tok views.

Chicken was found to be the most treasured sandwich, ranking in first place with more than two billion hits, followed by a breakfast sarnie with 135 million online searches, and egg which came in third with 101m (see full list below).

Other classic ingredients to make the top five included ham, which placed fourth, followed by cheese. Fancy fillings didn’t score so favourably, with the avocado sandwich languishing in 18th place with 1.8m hits and notably, 65% of the top sandwiches were meat-based.

Here’s the full top 20 list of the nation’s favourite sandwiches:

  1. Chicken      
  2. Breakfast
  3. Egg
  4. Ham
  5. Cheese
  6. Club
  7. Grilled cheese
  8. Ham & cheese
  9. Pulled pork
  10. Steak
  11. Cuban
  12. Bacon
  13. Turkey
  14. Pastrami
  15. BLT
  16. McChicken
  17. Tuna
  18. Avocado
  19. Bombay
  20. Reuben

(Source Bristish Sandwich Week  - 21 May 2021)


As we have embraced other cultures, many new sandwich types and styles have been adopted as we search for new culinary sandwich experiences. The introduction of baguettes, tortillas, bagels. paninis, burgers, wraps and other international variations together with many new exotic fillings have added spice and variety to further tantalise our tastebuds.  



Also known as a sandwich tray, a sandwich platter is a serving platter that is arranged with different types of sandwiches. In many instances, the presentation of the sandwiches on the platter is augmented with the inclusion of different types of condiments and side dishes to go with the sandwiches, such as pickles and a variety of chips. The idea behind a sandwich platter is to create a casual dining experience that allows everyone at the table to pick and choose different sandwiches to enjoy, dressing them with individual choices of condiments.


Over the past decade sandwich platters or catering platters have grown in popularity as companies involved in catering and events wanted to create ways of displaying and protecting food for parties, buffets, weddings, corporate events and hospitality functions.

The most popular platters are made from recyclable rpet plastic and can be washed and reused. The sandwich platters offer great protection for food and with a firm clip closure they keep the contents fresher for longer.

With their black bases and clear lids the platters look great and are a great way to present and display party food and are also robust enough to transport. 

There are also new variations of platters available such as 6 cavity platters which feature different compartments for selections of sandwiches for afternoon teas or Christmas party spreads as well as Party Dips trays for nachos, crisps and crudities with haloumi and cheese dips



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