Dispatches from the South: Sandwiches

When people ask me what is different about Britain and I tell them, “everything,” they think I’m exaggerating. But when something as simple and ubiquitous as a sandwich can cause confusion, you know you are dealing with decidedly disparate cultures.

John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich

John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich

First of all, the British have no concept of the Peanut butter and Jelly Sandwich. That’s right, PB&J does not exist here, and when you explain what it is, the idea leaves them slightly horrified. And when you get to my next point, you’ll see why.

To a Brit, making a sandwich involves these three steps, from which they rarely waver: 1) take two slices of bread, 2) butter both of them, 3) put something between them. The culture is so steeped in this “bread and butter” routine that they appear unable to break it. I once ordered a chicken sandwich at a deli and asked the lady if I could have mayonnaise on it. “Of course,” she said. She then proceeded to butter my bread and then put mayonnaise on it. So you can appreciate how the idea of peanut butter and jelly might be a bit disturbing; frankly, it disturbs me in that context.

The upside is, what they put between the slices, is good, imaginative and tasty. And, if like me, you are partial to butter, the odd fixation they have with this dairy-based spread, while jarring at first, does not detract from the overall effect. Branston Pickle, a sort of heavy relish, is commonly used as a compliment to the filling in sandwiches, or as the filling itself. Cucumber sandwiches are tasty, as are bacon butties and fish finger sandwiches (these are fish sticks, for you easily-startled Americans).

Branston Pickle - sorta like relish

Branston Pickle - sorta like relish

But my all time favourite (for bizarreness, not tastiness) is the chip buttie. This is, quite simply, a French fry sandwich, with buttered bread, naturally. They’re quite popular with the pub crowd, though not as popular at the kebab. This is only Sandwiches 101, however, so we’re not going to mention them

Chip buttie - a French Fry sandwich.  For the love of all that is holy, why?

Chip buttie - a French Fry sandwich. For the love of all that is holy, why?


  1. avatarLisa says

    Thank god PB&J is not common here. You can ask my mother, I was probably the only American kid (other than the ones with peanut allergies) who wouldn’t eat PB&J. I was just straight PB between bread.

    I do find the butter thing a bit overkill, especially on burgers and hot dogs. I can see maybe buttering your burger bun every once in awhile for an indulgent treat but my husband insists on buttering his burger buns every time. Luckily we use Flora spread (similar to Smart Balance) so its not going to mean instant coronary. I think maybe this might date back to days of drier bread. Bread these days is so soft and rich, but I am sure it hasn’t always been like this and liberal amounts of butter were probably necessary at one time.

  2. avatar says

    Mmm a French Fry Sandwich. Tempting.

    I don’t know what I’d do if I lived in Britain – PBJ is pretty much my standard sack lunch. I couldn’t live without it. I’d have to smuggle Jiff and Apple Jelly into the country.

  3. avatar says

    Totally PB straight for me, thanks!

    But I had a Chip buttie for the first time on my trip there last September. I’d been 4 times before but never had one. Oh wow, awesomeness! Definitely something to try if you ever see one.

  4. avatar says

    Lisa: No P&J? You are an American, right ;)

    Jonathan: You wouldn’t have to smuggle anything over–the jelly here (called jam, jelly is Jell-o) is fine, and the UK peanut butter is better than American peanut butter.

    Brit and Mark: I actually like chip butties, it’s just the idea of a french fry sandwich that I find strange.

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