Rhode Island Lunch Cafe: The Historical Origin of Sandwiches

South County Commons cafeHave you ever wondered about the origins of your favorite sandwiches in Rhode Island? Who invented the first sandwich? What made them think to put meat, cheese, and veggies between pieces of bread? How did we get the different flavors and types of sandwiches that we serve at our local Rhode Island lunch café? Was there really an Earl of Sandwich who was known for eating sandwiches? We have scoured the internet to find the answers to all of these questions and more! Contact our South County Commons café to order your favorites. We have outdoor dining and curbside takeout in South County, RI, for locals and visitors. See for yourself why Rachel’s Café is the place to be for the very best breakfast, brunch, and dinner in Rhode Island!

Who Made the First Sandwich?

While it is likely that sandwiches were made long before they were recorded in history, the very first sandwich on record was made by a famous Rabbi in the 1st Century B.C. His name was Hillel, the Elder, and he began the Passover custom of creating a sandwich out of a mixture of chopped nuts and apples, blended with spices and wine, served between two matzahs. This particular filling was to be served in memory of the Hebrews who suffered greatly before they were delivered from Egypt. The next time a sandwich made an appearance in history was during the Middle Ages when stale bread was used in place of a plate to stack meats and other foods to be eaten with the hands. The stale bread was perfect for soaking up all of the sauces, grease, and juices from the toppings. Sometimes the bread was not eaten; it was just served as the vehicle for getting the rest of the meal to the mouth.

By the 16th and 17th centuries, other writings included stories about eating bread and meat or bread and cheese – some of which were even written by Shakespeare. However, it wasn’t until 1762 that we see the first documented use of the word “sandwich” in text. It refers to a famous gaming club known as The Cocoa Tree in London where the patrons ate “a bit of cold meat, or a Sandwich,” according to the author. In that same year, another local club in London, the Shakespeare Tavern, claims that they invented the first sandwich, as it is known today. There is no mention of the specific type of bread, meats, cheeses, or other ingredients used, just that their cooks were the first to have invented it. However, since we already know that meats and cheeses had been served on and between pieces of bread throughout history, we know that this was merely a variation of what had already been done previously.

What About the Earl of Sandwich?

Many people believe that the sandwiches in Rhode Island that we eat today here and around the globe were actually named for John Montagu, AKA the 4th Earl of Sandwich. The legend goes that when the Earl was very busy and working at his desk, he would often eat salted beef between two slices of toasted bread. This was noted and written in a travel book from 1765, which is where the credit for inventing the sandwich was given to Montagu. While there is no other information or evidence provided to support his invention of the sandwich, there are other written works that credit it to him as well. By 1840, the sandwich came to America in a cookbook titled “Directions for Cookery,” which included a main dish recipe for Ham Sandwiches made of thin slices of boiled ham between two pieces of buttered bread with a bit of mustard.

By the 1900s, everyone in America knew about the sandwich, when “sliced bread” became common in local bakeries. The occasional nod to the 4th Earl of Sandwich is frequently given whenever sandwiches are discussed, but most people understand that the general idea of sandwiches – meat and cheese served on bread – has been around much longer. You can enjoy our fresh take on sandwiches in Rhode Island when you visit Rachel’s Café. We offer outdoor dining and curbside takeout in South County RI, and we offer a wide range of options at our South County Commons café. Choose from local favorites like the Narragansett Sandwich, Block Island Wrap, and our Portuguese Burger, or enjoy traditional delights, including grilled cheeses, tuna melts, BLTs, and croissant sandwiches. You can contact our Rhode Island lunch café for takeout by calling 401-783-7888 or use our online order link to place your order for breakfast, brunch, and dinner at Rachel’s Café on South County Commons Way.