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At the very least, everyone has probably heard the name of the fourth Earl of Sandwich (born John Montagu), the British statesman whose name is forever affixed to our favorite lunchtime staple. What people may not know is that the foundations of this comfort food were laid long before the Earl's time. In fact, Arabs had already started stuffing meat inside pita bread centuries before the Earl came up with his delicious snack [source: Diefendorf and Randi].
He may not have been the first to eat meat between two slices of bread, but Sandwich did lend the now-famous food his name. According to one account, on Nov. 3, 1762, the Earl was deep into a marathon poker game and couldn't be bothered to leave the gaming table for dinner. As a solution, he asked a servant to bring him a piece of meat -- stuffed between two slices of toast so he wouldn't smear food on his cards.
Another story counters that it was actually work, rather than play, that kept the Earl from the dinner table. Either way, the meat-between-bread idea caught on, and it was dubbed the "sandwich" in the Earl's honor.
Since then, the sandwich has branched out considerably. From its basic beginnings, it has expanded to include a variety of fillings and breads. Everything from salami on rye to filet mignon on ciabatta can claim the name "sandwich," and you can eat one whenever you like.
Wonder where your favorite sandwich originated? Here are the stories behind a few of the more famous sandwich varieties:
- The Reuben: In 1925, Omaha, Neb. grocer Reuben Kulakofsky reportedly came up with the idea of the corned beef and sauerkraut sandwich to feed his fellow poker players. The dish eventually landed on the menu of a local hotel (although Reuben's Restaurant and Delicatessen in New York City claims the sandwich was its own invention).
- The chicken sandwich: In 1946, Atlanta restaurant owner Truett Cathy created an alternative to the hamburger when he placed a piece of boneless grilled chicken inside a bun and dubbed it the "Chick-fil-A." Now more than 70 years and 1,500 restaurants later, Chick-fil-A's slogan is, "We didn't invent the chicken. Just the chicken sandwich."
- The po' boy: New Orleans' version of the sub (or hoagie, depending on which part of the country you hail from) was supposedly invented by French Quarter restaurant owners Clovis and Bennie Martin in 1929. The "poor boys" were the city's striking streetcar conductors, who the Martin brothers fed for free with extra-large sandwiches on rectangular bread.
- The hamburger: Several different inventors have stepped into the spotlight to claim credit for this famous sandwich. One of these claims comes from the Menches brothers, who reportedly sold a ground beef sandwich at the 1885 Erie County Fair in Hamburg, N.Y. Another tale traces the origins of the burger to 15-year-old Charlie Nagreen of Seymour, Wis., who made it easier for his customers at the 1885 Outagamie County Fair to eat his meatballs by stuffing them between bread. The owners of Louis' Lunch in New Haven, Conn. aren't having any of these stories, though. They say the restaurant's founder, Louis Lassen, was actually the first to flip beef patties onto bread back in 1900.
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