“Oh God, we have to talk about British food again?”
~AFFotD’s Resident Food Critic
We all know the stereotypes about the English when it comes to food. British food is bland, boring, weird, bad, and their teeth are snaggled as fuck. Granted, the teeth thing has nothing to do with their cuisine, but any time you have the opportunity to make a British dentistry joke, you make it, ‘cause that country’s got some broke-ass grills. Now, it’s never good to encourage or propagate stereotypes…except for the fact that, as we’ve previously established, British food absolutely adheres to these stereotypes.
That isn’t to say that all British food is bad, or that they haven’t contributed some important culinary traditions to America. On the contrary, they’re responsible for one of the best portable meal options that Americans have at their disposal—the sandwich. Yes, referred to by some as the Britain’s most noteworthy creation, Americans have the English to thank for all their best bread-laden treats. Jimmy Johns, Jersey Mikes, yes, even Subway for those among us lost their taste buds in a fireworks accident, none of these lunch and sometimes sad, lonely dinner options would be available to us if not for the motherland to our east.
Truly, the existence of sandwiches (for America to, naturally, improve upon) is a gift, and to return the favor, we are here to list an extensive list of British sandwiches, ranked from their best offerings to their saddest, most pathetic. Because if we wanted to write an article just about good British food, well, that article would have to be real fucking short, wouldn’t it?
British Sandwiches, Ranked From Best to Worst
Before we get started with our list, which will start out oh so promising and end oh so distressing, just be aware, this is in no way going to be a complete list. We just simply don’t have the time (or the drive) to try to dig up a complete list of every single British sandwich, because there are so fucking many of them. And frankly, there are a lot of English sandwich varieties out there you shouldn’t even have to read about. We mean, just look at this shit.
The history of the sandwich is long and murky. So we won’t go into it here. We could go on about the relation between bread and meats, how the word first came into the English language, and how the 4th Earl of Sandwich, John Montagu, possibly invented it as a way to eat without using a fork, and without getting his hands greasy, as he played cribbage. Or, or, we can just establish our general premise, which states that sandwiches are fucking delicious, except for when they are a travesty. And England has plenty that fit in both camps.
Shockingly, the bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich, something we all assumed was an American invention, first originated overseas. We’re blown away. Granted, America’s BLTs are noticeably better for reasons we’ll get into with our next entry, but yes, the BLT came about in post-WWII England, and the sandwich game has really never been the same since. Like many of the best things we eat, the ingredients existed for ages separately before one enterprising soul, nay, hero decided to be the first to combine them together in perfect harmony. If you wonder why no one was eating straight-up BLTs until the 1940s, we’re right there with you. Previous sandwich recipes exist from the early 20th century that use bacon, lettuce, and tomatoes, but that usually served in a club-like situation, to enhance a separate meat. If we had to guess, we’d say that most people viewed putting bacon on a sandwiches as more of an addition, rather than the main show. You put bacon on other sandwiches to add that bacon flavor to chicken or what have you, but you don’t make sandwiches only using bacon. Until someone did, and rightfully chastised us all for not thinking of making a bacon sandwich earlier.
Although, speaking of bacon sandwiches…
You might think that a bacon sandwich deserves take the top spot, since there’s no “vegetables” that are “in theory a little healthy” to get in the way of all that bacon goodness. But we have a few legitimate reasons for bumping this down a bit, which mostly has to do with England’s inability to do bacon right. First of all, the sandwich is served with hot, freshly cooked bacon (good start), typically on bread or toasted bread that has butter spread on it (fantastic), though sometimes brown sauce (gross?) or ketchup (GROSS) is added. But beyond all that, if you look closely at the pictured sandwich, you might think there’s something a bit weird looking about that bacon. And you wouldn’t be wrong. While American bacon comes from fatty, magical pork belly meat that has been lovingly smoked, the Brits use cured, seasoned and (gasp) unsmoked pork loin for their bacon. The result is a thicker, chewier, less flavorful bacon that’s basically like a cold-cut version of pork tenderloin. So what you see here consists of a warm, buttered pork sandwich that people occasionally ruin with ketchup. Which, while still delicious, definitely misses out on the kind of potential we’d like to see from a bacon sandwich.
Oh, and because this is England and every word they use is silly, a bacon sandwich also goes by the names bacon butty, bacon bap, or a bacon sarnie. Groan.
Ham and Cheese Sandwich
A ham and cheese sandwich is a perfectly delicious, if safe, sandwich to order, but it’s also a pretty obvious and straightforward. The idea that it had to be invented seems kind of ridiculous. But, invented it was, and while there’s no clear consensus of its origins, the first description of a ham and cheese (or at least ham and cheese adjacent sandwich) comes from lovely England. Now the British, being how they are, tend to add pickle to their ham and cheese. If that were a regular pickle, we’d be fine with that, you’re basically describing a Cuban sandwich. But in England, sweet pickle is a random chutney of pickled vegetables and fruits. Yes, fruits. It’s sweet, and they put it on their ham and cheese sandwiches, and that upsets us. But as far as a regular sandwich, a ham and cheese is very good, and even though the British try to ruin it, they at least brought it into the world for us. So thanks, we guess.
A cucumber sandwich, in pure theory, could be the perfect stand in for England’s penchant for bland, boring food. If you’re taking just slices of cucumber, the vegetable best known for making water taste slightly more watery, and putting it between white bread, you are describing a cry for help. And in fact, that’s how this sandwich originated—the first cucumber sandwiches emerged in the mid-19th century, and were little more than cucumbers on buttered bread eaten primarily by the upper class during afternoon tea. If they stayed that way, we’d be putting this way down on the list.
But the thing is, most modern recipes for cucumber sandwiches are much better, and much more delicious, because they’re also just absolutely awful for you. Allrecipes, for example, provides a version of the cucumber sandwich that involves dill, mayonnaise and cream cheese, and if you add mayonnaise and cream cheese to anything it’s automatically going to be delicious. We have to imagine that America had something to do with this presentation, but we’ll give England credit and list this in the “good sandwich” section of the article.
Hog Roast Bap
Okay so before we talk about this pork, gravy, and sage roll, let’s talk about the word bap. Apparently the British call rolls “baps” because while the English invented the language, there clearly were some growing pains that got ironed out by the time we took it over. Bap is a ridiculous word for anything other than “a noise a baby makes” or maybe what you involuntarily say when you hit your dog’s nose with a rolled up newspaper. But England likes to make silly words, and the unfortunate end result of the War of 1812 means we can’t stop them, so bap it is. Anyway, this is a meat sandwich with gravy, which as far as we are concerned gives you three of the main food groups, so we can fully get behind this, silly name and all.
An egg sandwich can be a lot of things, but all of those things are both British and, oxymoronically, tasty. Fried egg sandwiches were popular among World War I troops (called the “egg banjo” in case you had forgotten how bad the English are at naming things), and sandwiches made from hard-boiled eggs appear in cookbooks from as early as 1905. And, of course, you have the egg salad sandwich, easily the most ubiquitous of egg sandwiches, and the English claim that as well, since they’ve been making egg salad since all the way back in the 1700s.
Ham and English Mustard
Yeah, we know that we basically just put up an ad for Colman’s Mustard up there, and we can see the gears turning in your heads. You think that we’ve sold out, that some reps from Colman’s backed a dump trunk full of money to our office and told us to tout their product in our British sandwich article. Just so you know that’s not the case, we’ll go on the record here—fuck you, Colman’s, you’re a trash mustard as far as we’re concerned. We’ve never frankly tried your mustard, and just now googled who the hell you are to determine you’ve been around since the early 1800s, but whatever, fuck out of Colman’s, you’re name is missing a goddamn E. There.
(But seriously, Colman’s, if you want to sponsor this article by backing up a dump trunk full of money to our office, we can totally edit that last paragraph.)
Anyway, this is another sandwich that falls in the category of “not exactly reinventing the wheel, but hey it tastes fine.” The idea of putting mustard on ham on a sandwich was invented in Britain, though we’d have to imagine that once the sandwich itself was invented, this was like the third or fourth thing to come out of the sandwich research labs. This feels like it’s such a self-explanatory sandwich it barely deserves to be listed as it’s own variety. It’s about as generic as ordering a cold cuts sandwich.
What are you, fucking Paddington? That said, marmalade sandwiches are tasty, if not exactly the most substantial thing in the world. It’s just sweet (though a little bitter) fruit preserve between two pieces of bread. It’s not like you’re breaking down boundaries with a trumped up jelly sandwich, but it’s still a perfectly acceptable, if not overly exceptional, sandwich brought into the world by the Brits. By the way, this is the exact midpoint of this list—everything above this? Is pretty good. Everything below? Is bad, depressing, or probably both.
Coronation Chicken Sandwich
Once England “visited” India and “borrowed” some of their culinary traditions, they learned that most of their food, which normally tastes like “sad blandness”, might develop some actual “flavor” if you put a bunch of curry in there. You can pretty much sum up the entire history of Great Britain’s awful imperialism and equally awful culinary traditions with the single phrase “curried mayonnaise.”
Which brings us to coronation chicken, a dish we might describe as “a chicken salad sandwich if the chicken salad was bright yellow and made with a shitton of curry.” It was created in 1953 by Constance Spry and Rosemary Hume for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, which is a sentence that, at least for us, raises dozens of questions. Why did it take two people to discover this sandwich? Would it seem less vaguely gross or more so if it used warm, cooked chicken instead of cold chicken? They decided to celebrate a coronation by making a fucking sandwich? Why does that upset us so much? Most of these questions are rhetorical, especially the biggest question of “why did people decide to keep eating this sandwich for the last 65 years?”
Fish Finger Sandwich
There are two ways that sandwich fillings can be so depressing so as to shake you to the very core, two things that just exude an aura of “I’ve worn the same pair of boxers for two days, but I’m too sad to do the laundry so I’ll try to stretch that for at least a third.” One involves removing the bread from the equation. If you see a man put four pieces of cold cut turkey on a plate and silently eat it with his hands, a little part of your soul dies. The other, almost equally upsetting, involves taking items that are, themselves, already a carb-forward snack or food item that do not require bread, and sticking it between two pieces of bread anyway.
The fish finger sandwich naturally falls into the latter category, but it still is something we are not okay with. Eating fish sticks already gives the impression that you’ve sort of given up on the day, but taking those same fish sticks and turning them into a lazy sandwich makes it about tenfold worse. Yet the British do just that. Quite literally—while you can add tartare sauce or mayonnaise or, ugh, ketchup, you can also just serve it entirely plain as a reminder that someone out there is at least having a worse day than you. Because, oof. That’s just rough. In fact, the next two sandwiches on our list join the fish finger sandwich in what we like to call “first two weeks after a hard divorce” meals.
Yes, a fairly popular sandwich in England consists entirely of putting some potato chips in between some bread to announce to the world that, listen, you just aren’t doing so hot right now. It’s origin story is exactly what you would imagine—an Irish lady with 18 kids had her oven stop working, so she just got a bunch of potato chips, put it in bread, and fed it to her kids. When the story of the creation of a food item could double as a story line from Angela’s Ashes, you really shouldn’t be too proud of it. Needless to say we expect about a dozen angry British people to litter the comments section insisting this “if Kirk Van Houten was a sandwich” tastes good, because compared to stargazy pie, it probably is. That doesn’t make it real food.
Sigh. Yup, of course the English also have a sandwich that’s just fucking French fries between bread, because why just have starch when you can have starched dryly wedged inside more starch. The thought of trying to eat French fries and bread at the same time makes us actively uncomfortable. Some of our staffers are actually drinking water, instead of our customary mid-afternoon boilermakers, because the existence of the chip butty (stupid name by the way) is making our mouths drier than sandpaper. Now, the bread is typically buttered when the sandwich is assembled, meaning there is some lubrication being provided but, and we can’t believe we’re saying this, adding butter to this simply isn’t enough. We can appreciate a sandwich that was clearly invented by someone in Liverpool who was nine drinks into the night at the time, but that doesn’t mean we have to like it.
Cheese and Pickle Sandwich
Like in our ham and cheese write up, the pickle here is not a true American pickle, which admittedly would also be gross on a sandwich. The combination of cheese (usually cheddar) and a sweet-yet-vinegary chutney is, apparently, Britain’s favorite sandwich, which better be a goddamn lie. No one on our staff has tried this, and we know that’s going to make actual English people fucking livid (they might even tut-tut us) because they probably think it tastes pretty good, but we’re here to insult British culinary sensibilities, and the name “cheese and pickle sandwich” is enough for us to make fun of it. Plus, this opens the door to a whole slew of mixing savory jellies with cheese on a sandwich and, philosophically, we can’t support it.
You might be wondering what you’re looking at. You know it looks…worrisome, but it’s something you’ve never seen before, and you have some theories. What could it be? Folks, that is a pie barm, which is a savory pie…sandwich. Just, a whole savory pie, in a bun. That’s a thing that exists, and is real (pretty much just in in Wigan, a town of about 100,000 in Greater Manchester). You see, in Wigan, pies are a big deal. They eat meat pies all the time, which is a weird flex but we’ll let them have it. So at some point they decided that hand pies, those portable savory pies that are already encased in a bread-like substance, were not quite portable enough. So why not stick that pie between two pieces of bread and pretend that the world isn’t the howling cesspool it apparently is.
Those who actually eat pie barms say that the bread insulates ones hands from the heat of the pie, and soaks up any gravy that might seep out as you eat it. The other 99% of the world say that eating a pie sandwich is objectively fucking nuts, what is wrong with you Wigan? But while this makes the list simply because it’s the ideas of a crazy person, we’re sure it doesn’t actively taste bad. The same can’t be said for…
Jesus. Do you want to know why we make fun of British cooking so much? Because of shit like this. Various British companies make meat pastes that are more or less meant for sandwiches. In general, you never want to see the word “paste” used to describe food. Like, “don’t eat paste” is something you’d expect to say to a two-year-old toddler, not adult Brits making sandwiches. Just adding the word “paste” to the end of any word makes something that was formerly appealing sound horrific. Like you could take the best things, and if you follow that up with the word “paste” you’ve entered a waking nightmare. Beer paste. Pizza paste. Sex paste. Oh God.
One of the more prominent makers of these sandwich spreads is Princes, and we might as well put a trigger warning here because we’re going to list all the types of pastes they offer in reverse order of how horrific they sound. Ready? Here’s hell.
1: Tuna & Mayo Paste- This is the closest we have to a paste that doesn’t make us immediately start throwing up in our mouths, but that’s because it’s basically just tuna salad by the sounds of it. Still not great.
2: Salmon Paste– Oh God. Why?
3: Sardine Paste– We’re honestly not sure if it’s better or worse that these come in cans instead of tubes. That’s sort of like asking if you’d rather be stabbed or shot to death, though, we suppose.
4: Beef Paste– You know you’re in a bad way when pureed beef sludge is only the third most objectionable option you can choose from in a sandwich topping.
5: Chicken Paste- If someone reached out to us and said, “I actually eat chicken paste sandwiches quite regularly” we would drop everything to write an article about them, if only to give the profilers something to go off of when the killing spree starts.
6: Chicken and Ham Paste– Fuck you, England.
Somehow, somehow, this isn’t even the worst, most distressing and depressing sandwich offered on the isle of Britain. That “honor” goes to…
Jesus Christ, England. Jesus Christ. We can assure you that this is real, but we fully understand why you would need us to go on the record with saying that we did not make this sandwich up as a joke. Like, “British food is so bad they have a sandwich that is literally a piece of toast jammed between two slices of untoasted bread” sounds like a joke. Technically it is a joke, but one of those jokes that are real things that exist in real life, like the platypus or people who have more than two bumper stickers on their car.
This first appeared in 1861 in the Book of Household Management by Isabella Beeton, who put it in a section on cooking for sick people, which apparently is a thing the Brits were writing about in the 19th century. So it was never really a culturally relevant recipe, though it was somewhat jokingly “revived” during the Great Recession by the Royal Society of Chemistry who calculated that it was the “country’s most economical lunch,” because, duh. The only thing cheaper than toast sandwich would be air sandwich, though admittedly an air sandwich would at least be better than a chicken and ham paste sandwich.
So the next time you sit down to enjoy a fine hogie, or a French dip, or any of the multitudes of incredible American sandwiches out there, be thankful. Because if we were still a part of England, our sandwiches would just be toast and paste.