16 of the Most Epic Sandwiches Around the Planet - Atlas Obscura Lists

16 of the Most Epic Sandwiches Around the Planet

From barbecue to bologna, these portable meals would make an Earl happy.

According to lore, the sandwich was invented in 1742 when a compulsive gambler was on a 24-hour hot streak and refused to break for meals. John Montagu, the fourth Earl of Sandwich and a notorious rake, demanded that his servants bring him sliced cold cuts and cheeses in bread, so he could keep playing. The Earl had a number of things named after him during his lifetime and while the Sandwich Islands would later be called Hawai’i, the word for this eminently practical, portable food stuck.

Most food historians believe that specific incident to be a tall tale and acknowledge that others before Montagu surely had the bright idea to put stuff on bread. Nevertheless, the Earl’s descendants are so proud of his legacy that the current John Montague, the 12th Earl of Sandwich and a direct descendent, likes to be referred to as “Lord Sandwich.”

Nowadays, the term “sandwich” extends far beyond the Earl’s rudimentary snack—in fact, reaching a precise consensus of what even constitutes a sandwich is a real challenge. Just ask Barry Enderwick, who’s made hundreds upon hundreds of good, bad, and ugly examples of the genre on his TikTok “Sandwiches of History.” 

Do burgers count? Do hot dogs count? Merriam-Webster says “yes,” but Gastro Obscura is going with “no,” because as podcaster and author John Hodgman maintains, while a hot dog, “really does look a lot like a sandwich… but just because a thing resembles a thing, or even shares similar cultural or literal genetic DNA, that does not make the two things the same thing.

Even if the contents, bread vessel, and presentations may vary, we like to think we know a great sandwich when we see one. The classic ham baguettes, either at Chez Aline in Paris or ALF in New York, feel closely akin to what his Earlship may have enjoyed, while in deli brisket sandwiches, the bread is an afterthought next to the tower of meat contained within.

Danish smørrebrød only contains a single layer of bread, but is indisputably among the global greats. And while it may be humble, on a late-night bender in Nashville, one of the greatest sandwiches of all may be a “Recession Special” fried bologna number, which comes with a PBR, chips, and a Moon Pie, all for six bucks.