The Reuben Sandwich Has a Cousin and It’s Just As Good

The Rachel sandwich has been in the Reuben's shadow for far too long.

I’ve always thought the pinnacle of cool is having a first name that’s also the title of a song. A well-known song, of course, one that would haunt ex-boyfriends, or cause everyone to point drunkenly at you if it came on at a club. Growing up, I listened to Clapton’s “Layla” on repeat and wished with all my might that I was also named Layla. I would have also accepted Ruby (thanks to the Kaiser Chiefs), Caroline (Neil Diamond), or even Lola (The Kinks).

Alas, I have never found a satisfactory song called “Rachel,” but I did recently discover that I share a name with a pretty famous sandwich. As a lifelong fan of the ‘wich, I consider this almost as good. 

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The Reuben 🍞🙌🏼 Credit: @jasoneats #NYC🍴

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The Rachel sandwich is the cousin sandwich to the Reuben — that American Jewish deli staple made with rye bread, corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, and Russian dressing (although, these days, you’re just as likely to find it made with Thousand Island). 

Instead of corned beef, the Rachel calls for pastrami, and subs coleslaw for the sauerkraut. That’s already a win for me — pastrami’s bold spicing is always welcome in any sandwich.

Some argue that the Rachel can also be made with turkey — either sliced from the deli counter or from a roasted bird. In some states, like Michigan, a turkey Reuben is known as a “Georgia Reuben” or a “California Reuben,” instead — in some cases, barbecue sauce or French dressing replace the Russian. Others say that a Rachel swaps rye for white sourdough, though I consider this a step too far. 

Despite some intense research, I haven’t been able to find out much about the origins of the Rachel (it’s a man’s world). Some suggest that a traditional children’s song written in the 1870s by Harry Birch and Willam Gooch called “Reuben and Rachel” might explain it. 

The Reuben, on the other hand, has two competing origin stories. Some claim it was created by Arnold Reuben, the owner of Reuben’s restaurant in NYC, in 1914. He made it with Virginia ham, roast turkey, Swiss cheese, coleslaw, and Russian dressing on rye bread. (Sounds more like a Rachel to me!)

Others say it was named after Nebraskan grocer Reuben Kulakofsky in 1922, who fancied a snack during his weekly poker game — you can read the fascinating story of the various characters involved in this story here. His version involved corn beef, Emmental cheese, sauerkraut, and Russian dressing on pumpernickel bread. 

Regardless of the true history, each and every variation of the Reuben — even this veggie one sounds delicious to me. But the Rachel will always have a special place in my heart. 

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