Food News

So, What Exactly is a Sandwich, Anyway?

I wasn't able to spend Thanksgiving with my family this year, but my brother made sure I didn't miss out on the heated squabbling that always accompanies the Millers' post-dinner board game session.

"Mom wants to play 'hot dog' as a type of sandwich in Scattergories," he texted me on Thanksgiving night. "Ruling?"

My relatives apparently relented and awarded the point before I could commit my sandwich theories to text, but I come down on the non-sandwich side. A hot dog is an American classic and delicious at a ball game -- but it doesn't meet sandwich standards.

Strangely, Sharon Herbst's Food Lover's Companion, the authority on all matters of culinary terminology, doesn't have a sandwich entry. In American Sandwich, a compendium of sandwich recipes, Becky Mercuri doesn't bother to define the term either, although she lists the essential elements of a basic sandwich: "bread, spread, filling and garnish."

A well-dressed hot dog has all four components, but I'm not sure that's sufficient grounds for granting sandwich status. I feel (and, please note, I don't know, believe or insist) that a sandwich requires two slices of unhinged bread. A hamburger is a sandwich. A hot dog is not. A Massachusetts court in 2006 reached pretty much the same conclusion. Asked to decide whether Qdoba Mexican Grill could move into a shopping center where Panera Bread had signed a no-compete lease, the court ruled a sandwich must be made with two slices of bread. "Under this definition and as dictated by common sense, this court finds that the term 'sandwich' is not commonly understood to include burritos, tacos, and quesadillas, which are typically made with a single tortilla," Judge Jeffrey A. Locke wrote.

Still, the two-slice approach isn't perfect. It takes turkey wraps, falafels tucked in pita pockets and open-faced roast beef out of the sandwich running. And, if we're being nitpicky, it excludes the subs served at Subway, since the fast-food chain doesn't clean cut its rolls. Sure, the rolls could be divided in two -- but so could hot dog buns.

What do you think? Is a hot dog a sandwich? Do you have a sandwich definition that makes better sense?

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Hanna Raskin
Contact: Hanna Raskin

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