What's in a sandwich?

The Encyclopedia of Sandwiches serves up history, trivia and tasty-looking food porn.

Quirk Books

What defines a sandwich? The Encyclopedia of Sandwiches (Quirk Books, 2011; $18.95) answers that question and more, chronicling the history and evolution of anything and everything between (with a few exceptions) sliced bread — proving that sandwiches are serious business.

At first glance, this chunky book catches the eye with an enticing visual of a mile-high Dagwood that just screams, "Pick me up!" And put aside all preconceived notions that "encyclopdedia" means "boring." The tips, tricks and facts within these pages will leave the reader looking at the sandwich in a whole new light.

Beginning with a foreword by author Susan Russo, The Encyclopedia of Sandwiches traces the sandwich's humble beginnings as a Passover meal in biblical times to its official "invention" by the Earl of Sandwich (yes, he was a real guy). It also recounts the evolution of this handheld delight in the U.S., from immigrant offering to mass-market meal (thanks to the invention of Wonder Bread), from fast-food staple to high-end culinary fad.

Besides the historical background, Russo also lists hundreds of sandwich recipes — from the "All-in-one Breakfast Sandwich" to the "Walleye" — in every category imaginable, with tempting photos and a brief history and interesting factoids to go with each one. So, besides being a handy resource, The Encyclopedia of Sandwiches also showcases sandwich food porn at its finest.

You can search by ingredient using the categorized index in the front of the book, and by specific sandwich recipe using the back index, which lists every recipe that's, well, sandwiched between these pages.

Of course, the cookbook contains recipes for well-known, simple American icons like the ham sandwich, peanut butter and jelly, the BLT, cheeseburger and hot dog (also considered a sandwich). American regional favorites are also listed, like the lobster roll, Po' Boy, the Kentucky Hot Brown, the Philly cheesesteak, Sloppy Joe and the pineapple and cheese-topped Spamwich (thank Hawaii for that one).

Then there are ethnic creations that have made their way to the states over the years: the Jewish deli favorite pastrami on rye, the Cuban, the French croque monsieur, the tomato-basil-mozzarella Italian Caprese, the Vietnamese bahn mi, and Britain's "Chip Butty" — hot french fries (or "chips") in between two slices of buttered white bread (weird, but intriguing nonetheless).

Not limiting itself as a lunchtime resource, the text also pays due respect to breakfast and dessert sandwiches. Of course, the ice cream and Fluffernutter sandwiches get their spots, along with variations on breakfast sandwiches, including those using breakfast breads, muffins and waffles as vehicles for sweet or savory fillings.

Some of the more interesting offerings include the iconic "Elvis," the doughnut sandwich — filled with lunch meat or a greasy bacon cheeseburger — and the spaghetti and chow mein sandwiches (whose contents speak for themselves).

Then there are others that are too far out there even for my odd tastes. These include the sardine sandwich and the Sandwich Loaf — a three-layer sandwich with various mayonnaise-based salad fillings that is frosted like a cake with cream cheese. But the peanut butter, pickle and potato chip sandwich might take the cake. (See also: the Chip Butty.)

The Encyclopedia of Sandwiches is a fun read that will inspire creativity between sliced bread (or in a bun or pita pocket) and is a great resource to regale your friends with random sandwich facts. If nothing else, it would make a great kitchen table reader.

It will also leave you seriously jonesing for a sandwich.

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