The name “collard sandwich” doesn’t do it justice. In place of bread stand two crispy corn bread patties, thin-edged and soft in the middle. The filling: a savory slab of fried pork fat melting into a heap of tender, bittersweet greens. The whole creation is often topped with two more pieces of fatback—a bacon-like cut of fat from the back of a pig that’s dry-cured with salt. It’s served with a side of hot, pickled relish called chow-chow.
Over the last decade, this combination has become a staple at fairs and festivals in Robeson County, North Carolina. But the sandwich originates with the area’s Lumbee tribe, a group with 50,000 current members. Their predecessors saw corn, collards, and pork as year-round staples. Now, you can swap a vendor five bucks for a steaming tinfoil pouch of the same ingredients, in a serving about the size of your hands.
Locals line up at tents selling collard sandwiches during events, but outside the county, not many Southerners have heard of the fair food—even those who regularly eat the same ingredients in other configurations. Still, Malinda Lowery, a University of North Carolina professor and member of the Lumbee tribe, says that it’s not as if the sandwich is a Lumbee secret. Perhaps it’s only a matter of time before the local favorite gains fans elsewhere. In addition to its accessible ingredients, Lowery notes one very convenient feature: “When you put the collards between pieces of bread, you don’t have to use a fork.”
Where to Try It
Robeson County Fair3750 Martin Luther King Jr Dr , Lumberton, North Carolina, 28358, United States
The annual fair features rides, livestock, and plenty of local food.