This is a very British expression. Non-Brits often complain that we don’t say things directly, and it’s true: we like to wrap our insults up in the sort of witty expression most other people don’t understand, and here is an example of this. If we say you are ‘one sandwich short of a picnic‘ we mean…you’re not very clever. Something’s missing, you see. It is a gentler, more British way of calling you stupid.
Why a ‘sandwich?’
John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich was a quite serious gambler. Rather than get his portly bottom up from the gambling table to go to dinner, he had his servants bring him some cold meat, between two slices of bread. His fellow gamblers, keen not to miss a hand, declared ‘I’ll have the same as Sandwich’. And thus, apparently, the Sandwich was born.
The chances are, the dear old Earl probably ate it at his desk, like the committed workaholic he was, but the gambling story is much more interesting. It does explain, though, why so many sandwiches are eaten at work desks around the country, indeed the world to this day.
The Good and the Gourmet
We Brits love a sandwich. We spend £7.85 billion on them every year, we have a British Sandwich Week (14th – 20th May), and the hotly-contested Sammies awards. Yes, that really is a thing.
Traditional British favourites include the bacon sandwich, tuna and sweetcorn, good old cheese (preferably with pickle), ham, and a real ‘Brit’ dish – roast beef with horseradish and watercress. See, seasonal British eating, even in the sandwich world.
Odder ones in contention for Sandwich Design of the Year (yes, really) this year include; Pulled Duck Kerala with Rhubarb and Ginger Compote, Kraut Monsieur, Hand Pulled Chicken Stottie Wedge (which just sounds painful) and the rather dubious Apple Crumble Open Flatbread. Nope. No thanks.
Our own (not terribly scientific) study reveals the current favourite sandwich in Britain (or at least our lovely followers on Facebook):
In joint first:
- Cheddar cheese and pickle (but must be the Nation’s favourite, Branston)
- Bacon (also called a bacon sarnie or barm in the North)
- Crisps, with or without salad cream. Honestly. Try salt and vinegar crisps – heavenly.
In joint second:
- Ham and cheese (again, must be cheddar, some add Branston pickle)
- Rare roast beef, horseradish and fresh watercress, (on a really good crusty white loaf)
- Cucumber – terribly traditional, with salted butter, and the crusts of the bread cut off
In joint third
- Chip butty, or barm. Everyone agreed that you couldn’t call it a sandwich, which is just not Northern enough
- Salmon and cucumber. Again, must get rid of those pesky crusts
- Jam – even adults still love this
- Marmite, with or without Cheddar
- Pease Pudding stottie*. Really.
Sandwiches – the Reality
As much as we would all like to pretend that the modern ‘British Sandwich’ is a gourmet delight, served on a wooden platter, bursting with fresh ingredients (preferably in the pub with a pint), more often than not, this is what we end up with – the fluorescent-lit chiller cabinet of doom, and the ever-present ‘meal-deal’.
So often seen in petrol station shops (motorway services have improved, thank the lord) and the local corner shop, we end up rushing for lunch, selecting our uninspiring ‘meal-deal’, paying an extra 5p for the plastic bag to take it away in, and then rushing back to our desks to drop crumbs on the keyboard.
Joy, in a triangular packet.
*Pease pudding is a sort of savoury porridge, left to go cold and firm, and often served with ham. A stottie is a round, flat cakey-bread. It is MUCH nicer than all of that sounds.