OK, hotshot, riddle me this: Is a burrito a sandwich?
Before you rush to answer, know this has been a lunchtime debate raging for the past several months at the office. It’s forced us to pierce the veil of the unknown, stare into the abyss, and enter the mouth of madness.
It’s a real toughy.
The whole affair started with hamburgers. Are they sandwiches? Of course they are — any rational person would agree.
The question gave rise, though, to another: What about hot dogs? Never have I heard anyone, anywhere, in any situation claim a hot dog as a sandwich, but functionally it is. Throwing fuel on the fire, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was asked the weighty question this spring by late night host Stephen Colbert and gave her ruling: Hot dogs are sandwiches.
As I write this, I’m chomping down on a really good burrito from Agave in downtown Oberlin. I asked two people there whether it qualifies as a sandwich — one emphatically said no (“Sandwiches don’t have rice,” she was certain) and the other was open to the idea.
What is a sandwich? At one point I would have claimed there are absolutist rules that referee the definition. No longer. Here’s the one and only point the news staff can agree on: The outside of a sandwich must be rigid so as to hold in the ingredients.
All other so-called rules are up for grabs. Like “a sandwich must be eaten using your hands” or “a sandwich has to enclose other ingredients,” both posited by reporter Laurie Hamame — and both discarded because there are open-faced, knife-and-fork sandwiches.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines a sandwich as “a meat or poultry filling between two slices of bread, a bun, or a biscuit,” which is a clear example of the government being wrong, wrong, wrong. We enter as evidence the good ol’ peanut butter and jelly as well as grilled cheese.
It also begs the question of what is “bread.” Liberally construed, flour and even corn tortillas are “bread,” which opens the door to burritos, tacos, and quesadillas. What is the measurable difference, pray tell, between a taco and a flatbread sub? Likewise, consider the gyro, which is served on pita but structurally resembles a taco. And if a wrap is a sandwich, then why not a burrito?
What if there’s only one piece of bread? If you accept the premise of open-faced turkey or pot roast sandwiches, you could just as well say a bagel slice loaded with cream cheese and lox is maybe a sandwich. And that opens the door to the great pizza-is-a-sandwich debate.
Let’s even throw bread out of the equation entirely. KFC has in the past promoted a “naked chicken” sandwich where two flattened pieces of fried chicken replace the bun. It’s a heart attack waiting to happen — but is it a sandwich?
Now we get into dangerous territory: What about calzones? They’re made with dough enclosing any number of ingredients, usually pepperoni and cheese, which seems to check off the requisite “sandwich” boxes. But as reporter Jon Delozier has argued, the calzone is fully enclosed with no open sides, making it a whole other animal. “If calzone is a sandwich, then ravioli is a bunch of mini-sandwiches,” he said. Does that make Smucker’s Uncrustables ravioli, then?
Logically, Jon would stand his ground that stromboli, Hot Pockets, and even Pop-Tarts cannot be sandwiches, even though a talented semanticist could make a convincing argument for each. And if a hot dog is a sandwich, what about a corn dog?
Another rule proposed by Laurie: A sandwich has to function as an entree, not just a snack. This excludes ice cream sandwiches, which I cannot accept (it’s right there in the name!). S’mores could also theoretically qualify as having sandwich construction. Yet no one would consider pie a sandwich, even though it’s filling between crust on bottom and top.
The gray area extends to biscuits: By itself, a biscuit is not a sandwich, but load it with an egg, bacon, and cheese and I’d say it meets the requirements. Problem: Is spreading jelly between two halves of a biscuit enough to elevate its definition?
We are boggled. This is an existentialist nightmare. Let us know which side you’re on in the Great Sandwich War of 2018.