Travel the World with Sandwiches

Sandwiches are the ultimate portable handheld. Given their popularity, they’re also the perfect vehicle for menu innovation, particularly in the area of global flavors and ingredients.

Because sandwiches are such a familiar concept, customers are willing to experiment and sample new varieties. Global classics like the Vietnamese banh mi, Turkish doner, and Cuban medianoche, or Cubano, are a great place to start. As curious diners become increasingly aware of these tasty sandwiches, operators can do something that’s “close in” for their menu concept and customer base and tweak it to create something unique.

Switching up the bread carrier or subbing in a different filling is a mix-and-match way to take advantage of the global sandwich trend. The result might not be authentic, but it will be both appealing and unique to your menu.

For example, the banh mi is traditionally made with meat, such as pâté and cold cuts or barbecued pork, layered on a split baguette with spicy pickled vegetables and fresh cilantro. It’s the crisp, boldly flavored contrast of the vegetables—pickled carrot and daikon, thinly sliced cucumbers, jalapeño, spicy slaw—and cilantro leaves that telegraph the appeal of a banh mi sandwich, giving the kitchen a lot of leeway with the protein component of the filling. Roast or fried chicken, marinated steak, braised pork belly, shrimp, tofu, even a fried or scrambled egg work in a banh mi, as long as the crunchy, pickly, spicy garnish is there.

Did You Know? The banh mi sandwich has experienced four-year growth of 69.8% on menus, according to Datassential.

If you think about it, most of these global sandwiches have a key element—an ingredient, flavor, or technique—that makes them what they are. The Cubano sandwich (roasted pork loin and ham with Swiss cheese, mustard, and pickles in a hoagie roll) is more than just a ham and cheese sandwich because it is griddled or pressed until the bread is toasty and the cheese starts to melt. Also known as a medianoche (Spanish for “middle of the night,” a filling midnight snack after a night on the town), a Cubano can be made with eggplant, fried or grilled chicken, roast beef, pulled pork, steak, chorizo, veal cutlet, turkey and bacon, or hamburger—anything that can stand up to a grill or panini press.

Did You Know? 27% of consumers love or like Cubanos.

Doner kebab, also known as a shawarma or gyro, is typically made with seasoned, sliced lamb and/or beef, pressed onto a vertical, cone-shaped rotisserie, and stuffed into a pita or other flatbread with tomato, onion, lettuce or shredded red cabbage, and the garlicky cucumber-yogurt sauce known as tzatziki. If the sauce, salad, and flatbread remain true to the formula, doner can be made with chicken or pork, grilled portobello mushrooms, falafel, spiced ground beef, meatballs, and more.

There are other sandwich-like global specialties that point to how this works, including the always-popular burrito and taco, which showcase tortillas instead of bread—we’ve all seen these rolled and folded handhelds filled with all kinds of different ingredients. The arepa is another potential sandwich platform; these South American corn pancakes can be a carrier for almost any type of filling, from shredded beef and cheese to spicy black beans. Arepa TX, in Dallas, serves arepas modeled on pulled pork sandwiches, avocado BLTs, fish tacos, cheeseburgers, and even a banh mi arepa stuffed with chicken salad, pickled carrots and jicama, cucumbers, cilantro, jalapeños, and house avocado spread.

Did You Know? 20% of consumers would like to try an arepa.

It’s easy to see where all this versatility is headed:

  • Global sandwiches represent a strategy for differentiation that helps set your menu apart from all the competition, leveraging a familiar and widely popular category
  • Any of these worldly sandwiches can be offered as a customizable platform in which the guest picks the fillings and condiments they want from a curated list of options, much like a top-your-own pizza concept
  • They’re also are a great tool for product cross-utilization of ingredients like braised or barbecued meats, dressings and spreads, unsold daily specials, and other high-labor prep; the last thing you want to do is add 10 new SKUs to the inventory in order to introduce a new sandwich

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Minor’s® has a number of products that work as speed-scratch ingredients to make it easier to leverage the global sandwich trend.

Sources: Datassential SNAP! Banh Mi (2019); Datassential SNAP! Cubano (2019); Datassential On the Menu (April 2016)