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How the Deli Sandwich Came to Be December 3, 2018

Chili, Monroe
How the Deli Sandwich Came to Be, Chili, New York

Deli sandwiches are a favorite lunch or dinner treat. They’re delicious, convenient, and versatile, with custom ingredients like hearty meats, crisp vegetables, creamy cheeses, and zesty pickles. Have you ever wondered what culinary genius first dreamed up this tasty classic? Here’s a little history on the deli sandwich. 

Deli Sandwiches: A History 

The Original Sandwich

The precise origins of the sandwich are murky. Some argue that sandwiches existed as early as 110 BC, when Hillel the Elder, a rabbi, recommended eating bitter herbs between two pieces of crisp matzo bread as part of the Jewish Passover celebration. Greeks and Turks served meats, vegetables, and other delicacies stuffed in pita bread. There are also reports of harvesters in medieval France eating meat between slices of black bread

Still, the term “sandwich” did not exist until the late 1700s, when a French writer, Pierre-Jean Grosley, visited England and described John Montagu, the fourth Earl of Sandwich, as eating “a piece of beef, between two slices of toasted bread,” when he did not want to leave his gambling table to consume a proper dinner. “This new dish grew highly in vogue, during my residence in London; it was called by the name of the minister who invented it,” according to Grosley. 

The sandwich continued to be an informal food associated with late-night male revelry, but eventually standardized recipes appeared, and the sandwich began to appear in polite society at tea time and luncheons. English housekeeper Charlotte Mason created the first known recipe for a sandwich in a 1773 cookbook, describing it as “very thin slices of beef” put between “two thin slices of bread and butter” with the edges trimmed off. 


deliThe sandwich eventually left England and appeared abroad. In 1840, English chef Elizabeth Leslie published a cookbook in America that provided instructions for making a ham and mustard sandwich. The sandwich continued to grow in popularity with the invention of the automatic bread slicer. Jewish delis like Katz’s began appearing in the 1920s as immigrants moved to New York. At the time, pastrami on rye was one of the classic sandwiches favored by the lower and middle classes. 

Today’s Sandwich Ingredients

Sandwiches have long held a variety of ingredients, from “oyster loaves” to Russian clubs filled with cream cheese, jam, vegetables, chicken, and banana. Today, there’s more diversity than ever, with a vast array of topping and bread options. From sun-dried tomato wraps to French-dipped sandwiches, delis have grown to cater to changing tastes.


Celebrate the history of the sandwich by ordering your own at Colombini’s Pizza & Deli in Rochester, NY. You’ll find an extensive menu with options ranging from traditional deli cold cuts to create-your-own deluxe panini, all served on fresh-baked bread. Call (585) 889-2213 or visit the website for more information on their specialty pizzas, snacks, and salads perfect for all occasions, whether you need a quick lunch or catering for a large gathering. 

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