Society Sandwiches

A hero among sandwiches ... the pork belly sandwich from Earl Canteen.

A hero among sandwiches ... the pork belly sandwich from Earl Canteen. Photo: Eddie Jim

When did sandwiches get to be $10 plus? Or perhaps the real question should be — when did sandwiches divide themselves up into social classes?

Laugh if you will, but I have strong and fond memories of a very humble tomato and cheese white-bread sandwich with a smear of very commercial mayonnaise, made to order, and for which I paid about $3 at a corner store/milk bar down the road from an old Bris-Vegas workplace years ago. A proud and honest working-class sandwich. And what about the staunch salad roll: wholemeal or white, grated cheese and carrot, beetroot and lettuce, tomato, perhaps some ham or chicken. Does anyone still make one? Did we lose something intrinsically Australian when we discovered baguettes and focaccias, panini and wraps and turned sandwiches into status symbols?

Could there be starker evidence of the sandwich social divide than the situation in our work canteen, operated by George Gregan’s catering company, GG Espresso? One cold cabinet with five buck  “Grab and Go” packs: ham, cheese and tomato; chicken, lettuce and mayonnaise; egg and lettuce. And then, looking down their haughty noses at their bread-and-butter brethren, the sandwiches on Sonoma bread in a separate swish cabinet: smoked turkey, lemon-pepper chicken, pastrami on light rye. All around the $8 mark. The “organic wholemeal healthy salad” wrap at $10.

But really, with all due respect to Mr Gregan, his sandwiches are not in the upper echelons of sandwich society. The nobility of sandwiches are found elsewhere; at places such as Earl Canteen in Bourke Street, Melbourne, where the big seller is crisp skin free-range pork belly with apple, cabbage & fennel coleslaw and wilted silverbeet (“we make sandwiches, just not as you know it”), and Neil Perry’s Spice Temple (“the guangxi pork sandwich at Spice Temple is simply incredible,” chef Dan Hong tells me on Twitter. No comment needs to be made about the recurring ingredient here…)


So highbrow have sandwiches become that they’ve made it on to restaurant menus across the land. Matt Wilkinson has made a special feature of them at Pope Joan in Melbourne’s East Brunswick. Think “the Cuban” (pulled pork, pickles n cheese), “the Cornish” (Milawa chook, stuffing, jalapeno) and a vitello tonnato number (tuna, veal, peppers and capers). “World-title-winning”, says regular correspondent @onetui of Wilkinson’s sandwich work.

And Twitter comes alive when you mention the word. Among the enthusiastic responses:


“the white anchovy bocadillo with piquillo peppers and aioli at #encasadeli is delicious!” (@eatdrinkntweet)


“Not a sandwich per se, Kingfish Pastrami w/ slaw on Rye (open sambo) @carringtonhotel is THE BEST THING since sliced bread.” (@MissPiggyEats)


“Eggplant, romesco, provolone at Sonoma; jaw-lock-inducing roast veg with lemon-chive mayo & basil oil at Big Bite. So great” (@leetranlam)


“The open sandwiches at Luxbite are a cracker” (@berrytravels)


“Greek lamb with salad at Big Bite on Pitt - biggest, yummiest sandwich ever! It's enough for two meals. Go Con & Maria!” (@VanityFare1)


“Technically a roll but N TRAN in Chapel St makes a great Vietnamese pork roll...can be big queues + only $7.50” (@ladrorestaurant)


“The tramezzini at Belli Bar, Leichhardt, esp the 1 w/ fritatta. As good as in Italy” (@ambradambra)


We have some way to go in the sandwich stakes. To the best of my knowledge, no one in Australia is slapping together a sanger of house-smoked goat. Or serving a beef tongue sandwich with borscht.

Still, I’ll cope. I’ll find a little milk-bar somewhere with a little old lady making working-class cheese and tomato sandwiches on white bread. And it won’t cost me $10.


My Chicken Sandwiches

For a slightly posh picnic addition these chicken sandwiches are brilliant, herby delights.

Poached chicken:

4 skinless, preferably organic, chicken breasts
2 large onions
2 sticks celery
2 sprigs thyme
3 bay leaves
2 cinnamon sticks
1 lemon
1 ½ teaspoons white peppercorns
1 ½ teaspoons allspice berries

160ml good mayonnaise (S&M or Best’s – more if necessary)
½ cup chervil, lightly chopped
½ cup parsley, chopped
½ cup chives, chopped
a few leaves of basil, chopped
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 loaf of white bread or white sourdough
unsalted butter

To poach the chicken: Put the chicken and aromatics in a large saucepan with enough water to cover. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer gently for 7 minutes. Turn off the heat and leave for about 25 minutes in the hot stock to complete the cooking. (I've stolen this brilliant poaching technique from a recipe for Upside-Down Chicken and Eggplant Pilaf in Greg and Lucy Malouf's Saha, Hardie Grant, 2005)
To make the sandwiches: Remove the chicken from poaching liquid and lightly chop. Combine with mayonnaise, chopped herbs and salt and pepper.
Remove crusts from bread by using bread knife to saw off each of six sides. Slice and butter fairly thinly. Spread chicken mixture on slices to form sandwiches.
Slice sandwiches in desired shapes (triangles, fingers, squares or something fat, satisfying and rustic) and serve sprinkled with finely chopped chives.


Follow Stephanie Wood on Twitter: @StephanieAWood1


Tell us about your favourite sandwich!



  • My favourite sandwiches at the moment is the ones Bourke St Bakery are doing. That bread with ANYTHING! Yes please.

    Date and time
    April 19, 2012, 10:36AM
    • I live for the poached chicken on sourdough at Sonoma in Paddo

      Date and time
      April 19, 2012, 10:38AM
      • Do the pork belly sliders at Ms Gs count??

        Date and time
        April 19, 2012, 10:40AM
        • I too have a workplace canteen with the same social divide - the gourmets and the non gourmet sambos and I always say, sure they're gourmet - in RELATION to the other sandwiches. One thin spread of hummus does not turn a crappy old wrap into a gourmet delight!

          Sydney city
          Date and time
          April 19, 2012, 10:40AM
          • Hi Sheba, I wish there is a 'like' button in the comments section because what you said is SO SPOT ON. 'Gourmet' is definitely a relative concept when it comes to lunch/ sandwich choices. I am starting to think of "anything that doesn't make me feel sick" from the work cafe as 'gourmet'.

            lunch lady
            Date and time
            April 19, 2012, 11:40AM
        • I reccommend the steak sandwich as Morso. Classic at it's best.

          Felicia, Pyrmont
          Date and time
          April 19, 2012, 10:41AM
          • It's not just the $10 sandwich. Overall food prices in Australia are way to high. When you see a Pizza which costs no more than $2 to make being sold for $20 or more you have to wonder.

            What's worse the majority of food we have in this country is out right mediocre at best.

            Having been in kitchens from Tetsuyas right down to the local sandwich shop I have to say the degustation at Tetsuyas seems outright cheap.

            There is a local noodle bar I know that repacks caged eggs into free range cartons so customer think they get served quality produce.

            As for sandwiches, Burke Street bakery's sandwiches are good and mid range as far as price is concerned. Sonoma does good sandwiches but the price isn't right. And don't get me started on that slider rubbish.

            Date and time
            April 19, 2012, 10:53AM
            • Not very snobby are we steve? How many restaurants have you tried over the years steve? All over Australia? You must have to be able to make the comment about most food in Australia being mediocre.

              Date and time
              April 19, 2012, 6:13PM
          • For a basic crunchy bread roll with options of all sorts of salads and meats for a few dollars try the hot bread shops in Smith St. Collingwood (and probably many others)

            Date and time
            April 19, 2012, 11:26AM
            • You know what, I can't go past a proper farmhouse type sandiwch - thick bread, good cheese and pickles! Lots of pickles! On the flip side, is there anything more disappointing than a soggy sandwich? I think not.

              Date and time
              April 19, 2012, 11:29AM

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