Sandwiches are saddled with the grossly unfair reputation of being mundane (I blame bag lunches), but with the right ingredients and a little bit of care, they are anything but. Yes, there’s a basic formula (two slices of bread plus a filling — I’m a purist in the sense that it must be bread and not something silly, like pickles), but it leaves room for thousands of variations.
I’m proud to say that Jews from around the world have understood the glory of sandwiches for centuries — from those hailing from North Africa, to immigrants fresh of the boat in New York, to modern chefs in Israel. I’ve ranked the gamut of Jewish sandwiches, stomach rumbling relentlessly all the while, and encourage you to try every single one on the list.
This Iraqi Jewish sandwich is perfect. Yes, it’s vegetarian, but the deep-fried eggplant slices and slow-cooked eggs traditionally plucked from the Shabbat stew that are stuffed into a fresh pita are substantial enough to satisfy any stubborn carnivore. Sabich earns extra points for the ability to customize it according to personal taste — add tahini for nutty creaminess; Yemenite hot sauce, zhug, for spice; pickled mango sauce, amba, for funk; and/or chopped salad for freshness.
There’s a reason sabich is as popular as falafel or shwarma among Israelis, and I won’t rest until the rest of the world embraces its wonders.
Unlike other sandwiches (here’s looking at you, pastrami), the bread has to be as good as the filling for this to be a success. I won’t insult you by waxing on about the beauty of a freshly baked bagel — there are no words, anyway. And just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, silky, salty, thrifty lox is thrown in the mix. And then you’re faced with a bunch of glorious choices — which bagel will you choose? Which cream cheese? Capers: yay or nay? These possibilities ensure you’ll never be bored of this sandwich, while always be confident that it will be delicious.
3. Tunisian Fricassee
One of the oldest sandwiches on the list, it’s easy to see how this has survived the test of time. It originated in Tunisia, rumor has it by a Jewish beggar, and when Tunisian Jews left their 2,000 year old community and settled in Israel, the sandwich became a popular street food, albeit with a few changes. The deep-fried bread rolls became larger, and preserved lemons were added to the existing elements of tuna, hard boiled egg, slices of boiled potato, black olives, and harissa. I hardly need explain why this is such a treat — it’s naughty (though you can swap the fried rolls for baguette), hearty, spicy, and totally unique.
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Winning points for generosity, ease, iconic status, and 100% Jewishness (the sandwich was created by Jewish immigrants in New York’s Lower East Side in the 19th and 20th centuries), this is a worthy entry. Obviously, it will only ever be as good as its ingredients: fresh rye bread, spicy brown mustard, and a well seasoned brine for the pastrami are a must. But it’s not too hard to make an excellent version, and it answers many a need — sustenance on a hungover morning, a satisfying late night snack, and, in times gone by, as a method to preserve meat.
5. The Reuben
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It is a high of 27 degrees ( -3 Celsius) outside, snowing and I’m freezing and wondering what happened to Fall 😩 All I want right now is my moms chicken soup or this gorgeous Reuben sandwich, also known as the best sandwich of them all. Sliced corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and here I use a Thousand Island dressing all on gorgeous marble rye bread and grilled to perfection…yeah, it’s truly the best 🥰 . . . . #reubensandwich #reubensandwich #sandwichking #cornedbeef #cornedbeefsandwich
The problem with the Reuben is its potential for disaster. The ingredients need to be absolutely top notch or the sandwich really suffers. Potential problems include: tasteless cheese, under seasoned corned beef, stale bread, and a Thousand Island dressing instead of Russian. I’d argue it also loses points for not being kosher, thus preventing many Jews from enjoying it. It does. however, win back points for backstory; though there are two rumored origins of this sandwich, I love the version set during a weekly poker game.
Not all sandwiches beloved by Jews are Jewish sandwiches. And while Israelis didn’t invent the pita sandwich, they sure refined it. Not only by amalgamating the culinary habits of Jewish immigrants around the world to come up with a killer list of accompaniments to customize each sandwich according to taste (see the sabich entry), but by being endlessly creative with the fillings.
There is one chef behind this trend: Eyal Shani, whose world-famous restaurant chain Miznon only sells stuffed pitas, the most iconic filling being the whole roasted cauliflower. It is the taste of modern Israeli cooking — fresh, innovative, seasonal, and damn delicious.
7. Hillel’s Sandwich
The OG of hoagies, this deserves a spot on the list for persistency, if not for deliciousness — matzah and bitter herbs aren’t the most appetizing combo, though some traditions allow for the addition of sweet haroset to soften the blow. In fairness, Hillel’s original interpretation may have been tasty — matzah (which could have been closer to a pita than a cracker), roasted lamb, and a smattering of bitter herbs to offset the meat’s richness doesn’t sound so bad. Plus, in this age of mindful eating, this wins points for intention: The sandwich is meant to explore the interaction between hardship and freedom, bitterness and pleasure. Deep.