BLT: British, lousy and tasteless

British don't use their loaf over sandwiches, say Americans

The Sandwich Industry Awards Dinner last night should have been a festive occasion. Men and women dedicated to placing bits of food between slices of bread had gathered to watch the restaurateur Michel Roux judge the Innovative Sandwich Recipe of the Year. But a dark cloud hung over the evening.

Earlier this week the reputation of the British sandwich had been subjected to a savage attack. The Wall Street Journal, esteemed organ of the American financial world, ran a front-page article which claimed that "barely edible sandwiches dominate the landscape" in Britain. It said Britain's "biggest contribution to gastronomy" had been reduced to factory-produced, film- wrapped bread containing fillings "so similar in taste that they were barely distinguishable to an American palate".

For the cream of the British sandwich establishment, this proved hard to stomach. It was here that the product was invented, when the 4th Earl of Sandwich absent-mindedly shoved a piece of beef between two slices of toast during a 24-hour gambling session. True, there was a time when the best that British catering could muster was two limp slices of white Mother's Pride smeared thickly with margarine, with a sliver of cadaver- coloured ham inside.

Back then, aficionados would gaze longingly across the Atlantic, where a sandwich meant a triple-decker pastrami on rye, with dill pickles on the side and "hold the mayonnaise". It meant 10 varieties of bread stuffed generously with a wide choice of succulent fillings. A square meal, in fact.

But times have changed, argue the likes of Jim Winchip, director of the British Sandwich Association. He believes that the advent of freshly made supermarket sandwiches, such as Marks & Spencer's hugely popular range, and of outlets such as Pret a Manger, with their exotic fillings, means that the British industry can hold its head high.

The food critic Egon Ronay is another defender of the British sandwich. "Ridiculous," he spluttered yesterday, dismissing the Wall Street Journal's attack. "Coming from the home of junk food, I find this quite extraordinary."

But there are still some who believe that, with the exception of the "gourmet" chains, there has been little evolution since the days when the British Rail sandwich was staple fodder for stand-up comedians.

In the London office of the New York Times, Sarah Lyall, a staff correspondent, gave her considered opinion. "British sandwiches are repulsive," she said. "You walk into a sandwich shop and see a glass case containing glutinised lumps of stuff with crusty bits on top.

"They use the same spoon for all the ingredients, so you get prawns leaking into your ham or tuna. Some of the mixtures are gross. Why do you guys put corn in everything? And to be honest, I've evolved past white bread. The ingredients in America are much fresher and they're not disguised with a whole bunch of sauce slopped over them."

The difference in products, Ms Lyall believes, is a reflection of the British and American psyches. "You English have a tendency to be grateful for what you're given. Americans are much more demanding. They believe they have a right to fresh, good food." But Bill Bryson, the American author, had an unexpectedly kind word for the British sandwich. Mr Bryson, who criss-crossed the country by train for his travelogue, Notes from a Small Island, said: "When I was travelling across the Western Highlands, I couldn't help but notice British Rail's very fine chicken tikka sandwich. The British sandwich is something you can be very proud of now."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
Google celebrates the 126th anniversary of the Eiffel Tower opening its doors to the public for the first time
techGoogle celebrates Paris's iconic landmark, which opened to the public 126 years ago today
News
Cleopatra the tortoise suffers from a painful disease that causes her shell to disintegrate; her new prosthetic one has been custom-made for her using 3D printing technology
newsCleopatra had been suffering from 'pyramiding'
Life and Style
Baroness Lane-Fox warned that large companies such as have become so powerful that governments and regulators are left behind
techTech giants have left governments and regulators behind
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Coachella and Lollapalooza festivals have both listed the selfie stick devices as “prohibited items”
music
Sport
Nigel Owens was targeted on Twitter because of his sexuality during the Six Nations finale between England and France earlier this month
rugbyReferee Nigel Owens on coming out, and homophobic Twitter abuse
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin visits her 1990s work ‘My Bed’ at Tate Britain in London, where it is back on display from today
artsBut how does the iconic work stand up, 16 years on?
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Web Designer / Front End Developer

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast expanding web managem...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor