The sandwich: so simple, so delicious, so diverse. Travel the world, and you’ll discover that two pieces of bread can encompass an incredible variety of tastes, from crispy fried shrimp in a traditional N’awlins po’boy to steak with mozzarella, egg and bacon in Uruguay’s national dish, the chivito.
We’ve tasted our way around the globe to choose the world’s best sandwiches (it’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it!).
1. New Orleans, U.S.A.: Po’boy
The pride of New Orleans, the po’boy sandwich dates back to the late 1920s, when a couple of restaurant owners supported striking streetcar workers by providing these “poor boys” with free sandwiches. The secret to a classic po’boy is the French bread, crusty on the outside, light and airy on the inside. The two most popular fillings are roast beef with gravy, and fried shrimp. Some restaurants add French fries to the sandwich too.
2. Denmark: Smorrebrod
It’s difficult to get through a trip to Demark without eating this classic open-face sandwich at least once. The word smorrebrod comes from the Danish words for butter and bread, and these are the minimum requirements — but the sandwich typically also includes toppings such as pickled herring, thin slices of meat, cheese and smoked salmon, garnished with fresh herbs or onions. If you’re eating multiple sandwiches, it’s local custom to start with herring, followed by other fish, then meat and finally cheese.
3. Florida, U.S.A.: Cuban
Despite its name, the Cuban sandwich probably didn’t originate on the Caribbean island at all. Historians now believe that the sandwich — which consists of ham, pork, Swiss cheese, mustard and dill pickles — may have been created in the Ybor City neighborhood of Tampa by Cuban cigar workers. Today you can get great Cuban sandwiches in Miami too, as well as other U.S. cities with large Cuban populations.
4. Middle East: Shawarma
A close relative of Turkish doner kebab and Greek gyros, shawarma consists of marinated meat (typically lamb, turkey or chicken) slowly cooked on a spit, then enfolded in pita bread along with hummus, tahini, garlicky mayonnaise and/or pickled vegetables. You’ll find it in destinations across the Middle East, including Israel, Jordan and Egypt.
5. France: Croque Monsieur
France may be known for Michelin-starred restaurants and haute cuisine, but this simple sandwich is the epitome of comfort food. It consists of thinly sliced ham and cheese — usually Emmental or Gruyere — on toasted bread, topped with creamy bechamel sauce and warmed under a broiler. (Throw a poached or fried egg on top and you get a common variant, the croque madame.) You’ll find the croque monsieur at cafes and restaurants all over France.
6. South Africa: Gatsby
Want to try Cape Town’s famous Gatsby sandwich? Bring a friend or two: This footlong sub stuffed with meat and French fries is meant to be shared. A variety of fillings are available, but one common combination is polony (similar to bologna), fries and piri-piri hot sauce.
7. Vietnam: Banh Mi
The banh mi (pronounced “bun me”) is a delectable marriage of Vietnamese and French flavors. It starts with a crusty French baguette, spread with liver pate and topped with pork (or another protein), as well as cucumber, pickled vegetables, fresh cilantro and spicy peppers. It’s an explosion of flavor that you can find in restaurants and street food stalls all over Vietnam.
8. Uruguay: Chivito
Chivito is Spanish for “little goat,” but you won’t find any goat meat in this Uruguayan sandwich. Legend has it that it was first put together by a restaurant owner who didn’t have any goat meat on hand when a tourist walked in and requested it, so he made a sandwich out of beef, ham, cheese and other ingredients he had lying around. It’s turned into Uruguay’s most popular meal. There are many variants served today, sometimes featuring bacon, olives and/or fried or hardboiled eggs.
9. Mumbai, India: Vada Pav
Vada pav is a common vegetarian snack sold all over Mumbai. The pav is the bread, while the vada is the spicy fried potato patty in the middle of the sandwich, seasoned with turmeric, curry leaves, coriander and chilies. It’s typically served with chutneys in various colors and flavors.