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How Card Games Became the Reason Sandwiches Were Invented


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Today, sandwiches are one of the most loved dishes around the world. Their versatility when it comes to fillings has turned them into comfort food for many.

But have you ever wondered who invented the sandwich and how it became so popular? Let us go back in time to the dawn of civilization to find the answers to that, it’s not what you would think, so get your relish on.

The Sandwich in Ancient Times

The Hillel Sandwich: The first sandwich can be traced back to the 1st Century B.C. There was a famous rabbi named Hillel the Elder who began a new Passover custom. He would mix chopped nuts, spices, fruits, and wine and place the mixture in between two matzoh pieces of bread (a type of Jewish bread). This was meant to be eaten with bitter herbs.

This sandwich held much meaning for Ancient Jews and was supposedly inspired by the following words from the Torah about the Passover lamb: “on Matzah and bitter herbs you shall eat it.” Hillel took these words literally and invented the sandwich.

The rabbi was an important figure in Palestinian Judaism, so the sandwich came to be known after him. Even today, the Hillel sandwich remains popular and makes up an important snack during the Passover seder.

Trenchers: If the Hillel sandwich was the first ever attempt at a sandwich, then the first attempt at an open sandwich happened from the 6th – 16th Century B.C. When people did not have plates, they used to place their vegetables and meat on top of bread that was thick and stale, known as trenchers. The trenchers would then soak up all the juices, sauces, and grease.

People either ate the trenchers, too or fed them to dogs.

From the 16th to 17th Century, the sandwich commonly came to be known as “bread and cheese” or “bread and meat.” Several pieces of literature reference it, including Shakespeare’s “The Merry Wives of Windsor.”

Sandwiches with a Side of Card Games

It was not until the 18th Century that the modern-day sandwich was popularized, and the credit for this goes to a man named John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich in Kent, England.

The Earl was known for his love of card games like those found on Spin Fever, with his sessions sometimes stretching throughout the day. It was during one such long poker session that Montagu asked his chef to whip up something simple for him that he could munch on without leaving the game or putting his cards down. His chef ended up serving him salted beef placed between two pieces of bread.

His chef may have been the one who made the sandwich, but the idea for this dish had come from the Earl himself. Montagu was an avid traveler and had visited several Mediterranean countries where he had seen the Greeks and the Turks eat cheese, dips, and meat – all sandwiched between two pieces of bread. Curious to try it out, he had asked his chef to make it for him. The fact that he could eat this dish during poker without losing concentration was a bonus!

Neither the Earl nor his cook were the first people to think of sandwiches. So, why did the dish come to be named after this town, and how did he get credited with its invention?

The credit for this goes to Edward Gibbon, an English author, historian, and scholar. In his journal, he recorded a scene he had witnessed: several noblemen sitting in a noisy coffee house devouring pieces of bread stuffed with cold meat. He dubbed it the “sandwich.” Since it was the Earl of Sandwich who had first introduced this dish to the aristocrats in England, he came to be known as the inventor of the sandwich.

Over the years, the English introduced the sandwich to the rest of the world. In the 19th Century, Elizabeth Leslie introduced the dish to Americans through her cookbook. In 2004, one of John Montagu’s direct descendants, Orlando Montagu, opened a store in Florida known as “The Earl of Sandwich,” where he sold the “original” recipe. Soon, he was opening franchises in London and Paris, taking the sandwich further.

Today, sandwiches come in different shapes and sizes and are known throughout the world. And it all began with one man’s love for card games.

Benjamin Blair
Benjamin Blair
"Prone to fits of apathy. Introvert. Award-winning internet evangelist. Extreme beer expert."


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