These days, it seems like states announce a new official symbol all the time. New York has an official state snack (yogurt), Vermont has an official state flavor (maple), and, oddly, New Mexico has an official state question (“Red or green?”, referring to what kind of chilis one prefers). But of all these seemingly innocuous mascots, one of the most telling of a state’s character and culture is the sandwich. As one of the most versatile kinds of food ever invented, the sandwich offers a great canvas for local innovation – although pride in one’s local favorite can makes choosing the official sandwich a bit contentious. And right now, a war over what New Jersey’s state sandwich should be called is brewing in the state legislature.
The fight is all because of some pork. As the Wall Street Journal’s Heather Haddon reports, New Jersey lawmakers recently decided to declare the ham-egg-and-cheese breakfast sandwich the state’s official sandwich. But while they agreed on the sandwich, now they are fighting over whether it should be called a “pork roll” or a “Taylor ham roll.” As it turns out, there are sharp geographical divisions over the names – people in southern New Jersey prefer the former, while northern New Jersey residents like the latter. However, the northerners may be fighting a losing battle, as legislators seem to grudgingly be giving way to the more generic “pork roll.” Regardless of what it’s called, this sandwich is sure to start the day off right.
While many elected officials have proposed state sandwiches over the years, only a few have made it through the process to official state symbol-hood. Here are four other iconic state sandwiches:
Massachusetts - The Fluffernutter
A mashup between a s’more and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, the Fluffernutter might has deep Massachusetts roots. Almost a century ago, a candy company based out of the town of Lynn introduced Americans across the country to Marshmallow Fluff – a sweet spread that tasted just like marshmallows. Over the years, the Fluffernutter (which replaces the jelly in a PB and J with Fluff) became a popular snack with Bay Staters, and has even inspired a Fluff Festival in the city of Somerville, where Fluff’s inventor first thought up the stuff. But while the Fluffernutter might be beloved throughout Massachusetts, legislation to make it the official state sandwich has been stalled for nearly a decade despite several petitions by Fluff fans, Steve Annear wrote for the Boston Daily.
Washington - Smoked Salmon Sandwich
In 1987, Washington state legislators and their staff sat down in the Capitol building in Olympia for a taste test to decide which of four variations on the smoked salmon sandwich would become an official symbol of the Evergreen State. The sandwiches were all invented by members of the state legislature, and only rules were that the sandwich had to include smoked salmon on whole wheat bread, but the condiments ran the gamut from gouda cheese, Walla Walla sweet onions, wine and garlic sauce and mustard to the classic sweet onions and cream cheese, the Associated Press reported at the time. At the end of the day, though, the judges just couldn’t settle on whose sandwich was the best, and opted to declare the basic smoked salmon on whole wheat the winner. Condiments, they said, could be decided on later.
Maryland - Soft-shell Crab Sandwich
Like so many other almost-official state sandwiches before it, Maryland’s soft-shell crab sandwich had a close call with symbol-hood. In 2013, a Maryland state senator proposed that the sandwich, which is made by deep-frying a soft-shell crab and tossing the whole thing (legs and all) on a bun, was a quintessential, iconic part of Maryland’s culture. While the sandwich may not be the prettiest, the senator argued that it would be good for business, and could be a boon for the state’s crab fishermen, Will Wrigley wrote for the Huffington Post. However, others argued that was the problem: demand would get too high, and the price of crab might go up too much. Alas, the bill was eventually abandoned, and the soft-shell crab sandwich missed its chance to symbolize its home state.
Missouri - The St. Paul Sandwich
First things first: yes, St. Paul is in Minnesota, not Missouri. That title isn’t a typo. Nomenclature aside, the sandwich is actually a native favorite of St. Louis residents, where it is a common item at Chinese restaurants. According to the legends, as Chinese immigrants crossed the United States to find work building the country’s railroads, they brought their cuisine with them. Over time, their dishes shifted to accommodate American tastes and get new customers into their restaurants, Peter Meehan writes for Lucky Peach. The St. Paul sandwich is the apex of this trend. Take some egg foo young (itself an Americanized dish) and shape it into a pancake-like patty. Slap it on some white bread, slather it with mayo, and top it off with lettuce, tomatoes, and pickles. By all accounts, it is a surprisingly delicious sandwich, although how it became associated with St. Paul remains a mystery.