What, Exactly, is a “Sandwich”?

A “sandwich” as we know of it today, is composed of two slices of bread chucked with in-betweens:


Image Credit: thesandwichguide.com

As Merriam-Webster puts it:

“A sandwich is a food item consisting of one or more types of food, such as vegetables, sliced cheese or meat, placed on or between slices of bread, or more generally any dish wherein two or more pieces of bread serve as a container or wrapper for some other food.” 

But did you know that the humble sandwich as we know of it today is far different from what it was before the Great Sandwich War of 1958?

First let us go back to the 1950s to the 1960s dubbed as The Golden Age of Flying, when traveling by air was a total luxury. Although flights today are still expensive, they are a total bargain if we compare them to this era. Imagine, back in the ’50s, a one-way ticket from New York to Geneva could cost you anywhere from 328.10 to 2,775 USD!

Back then, too, European airlines brought air travel to a whole new level when they extended their  open-faced, European-style sandwiches to all flights. A sandwich menu on Scandinavian Air System flights went like this: “five slices of ox tongue, a lettuce heart, asparagus and sliced carrots—on a slice of bread.” Other European airlines like Swiss Air, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines and Air France also had the same extravagant sandwich selections.


A European-style sandwich. Image Credit: oldeuropean-restaurant.com

Compared to their American counterparts, sandwich served in U.S. airlines were more simple and on-the-go: exactly how a sandwich is defined today.


An American-style sandwich. Image Credit: guff.com

It’s obvious who emerged winning the Great Sandwich War. With the economic downturns of the century though, many airlines had to downgrade and a choice between a lavish open-faced European sandwich, and a simple American sandwich, carried with it a hefty price.

It’s interesting to know a simple “sandwich” could bring European and American airlines to court, to define and redefine what their own cultural definition of a “sandwich” should legally be brought to the world.

So the next time you savor a sandwich, you can now give meaning as to why sandwiches are now defined the way they do. I bet you will take more time to munch each bite 🙂