The US and France are temperamentally different countries, one brash and exuberant and the other the epitome of sophistication. You can see this in American movies — think of all those American car chases and explosions — and French books — is there anything more elegant than Proust and his madeleines? The differences even show up in sandwiches—Americans are unruly while the French are refined. Let’s look at a few of these deli duels.
The Classic: PB&J vs. Jambon-Beurre
Is any sandwich more American than Peanut Butter and Jelly? A good PB&J is a gooey, overstuffed handful of deliciousness. And like many things in American life, it gives us choices: smooth or chunky? Grape or strawberry? Whole wheat or Wonder Bread? It goes on and on.
The French classic is simplicity itself: a jambon-buerre is just baguette plus butter plus ham. French chefs have found a perfect balance of ingredients that allows for no exceptions. Curse the person who adds lettuce or a pickle!
The Hot: Hamburger vs. Croque-Madame
The all-American hamburger has conquered the world, and today you can find them from San Francisco to Sao Paulo to Seoul. But the best still come from the US-of-A and here you can make them as you like: with one patty or two, with any kind of cheese, with ketchup, with barbecue sauce, with bacon… You can even add raw onion but that’s not recommended if you’re on a date.
Americans consider the hamburger the ultimate hot sandwich but the French beg to differ. No, for them it’s the Croque-Madame, a marriage of bread, ham, cheese and béchamel sauce, grilled to golden perfection and topped with an egg sunny side up. Try one of these and your mind will be blown.
The Messy: Italian Sub vs. Pan Bagnat
Now things get complicated for the Americans because we can’t even agree on what to call this: is it a submarine sandwich, a hoagie, a grinder, a poorboy, a hero or something else? Whatever it is, the Italian version is a riot of ham, salami, mortadella, capicola, provolone, lettuce, tomato, onion, oil, vinegar, peppers, and whatever else you want, all stuffed into a long sliced roll (or bun). Enjoy it while the juice runs down your chin!
Meanwhile, the pan bagnat starts with a round loaf of pain de campagne cut in half. The two slices are drizzled with olive oil — the more the better — then layered with tuna, anchovies, hard-boiled eggs, olives, onions, peppers, tomatoes, and any other vegetables that strike your fancy. It’s like a really good salade niçoise on bread. This bad boy is hard to control so some people recommend you wrap it up and squish it together, then store it in the fridge until it settles down. But who can wait for that? Just dig in and enjoy the mess!