It’s Called a Panino, and Other Food Facts I Learned This Week

Listen up foodies and language nerds: If you like food and arguing over semantics, you’ll love The Sporkful podcast.

I just listened to the latest episode, where host Dan Pashman brings on bona fide experts to discuss important topics like the definition of a sandwich, when brunch stops being brunch, and whether sparking water is “water” at all. I left with a hard stance on PB&Js and a bunch of new knowledge.

[custom_headline type=”left” level=”h4″ looks_like=”h6″]Italy Must be Pissed[/custom_headline]

At some point, pressed sandwiches crossed the ocean and made their way to sandwich shops stateside. We called them panini. That’s the right term. For a bunch of ’em. When you want to talk about just one delicious pressed sammy, it’s a panino. And the plural “paninis” is just all kinds of wrong.

[custom_headline type=”left” level=”h4″ looks_like=”h6″]A Burrito Worth Fighting For[/custom_headline]

As far as I know, Massachusetts and New York are the only states to take an official stance on the definition of a sandwich. In a 2006 court case where Panera beefed over turf with Qdoba for exclusive rights to sell sandwiches at a shopping center, Massachusetts Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Locke ruled once and for all that burritos are not sandwiches. New York, however, is a bit more lenient with their definition, allowing for hot dogs and gyros to join the sandwich club (along with the club sandwich). That means the state can tax them

And my personal definition of a sandwich? Here it is:


sand · wich (‘san(d)-wich)

Two or more pieces of bread (or other starchy, carbohydrate-laden foodstuffs) with filling in between, satisfying ALL of the following conditions:

WHEN prepared by a reasonable person, filling can be plainly seen from the outside of the sandwich. This rules out mayo on slices of bread from being called a “sandwich,” but allows for a hearty PB&J or grilled cheese to fit the definition.

IF the “bread” of the sandwich is replaced by another foodstuff, the size of the foodstuff may not be larger in area than a reasonable slice of bread. This removes quesadillas from the definition, but allows for things like waffle sandwiches.

IF the dominant filling of the sandwich is not a sliced product (e.g. a hamburger patty vs. turkey from the deli), it must be presented on “sliced bread” (not a sliced bun) to be considered a sandwich. This rules out hot dogs and hamburgers, but keeps patty melts squarely in the sandwich category.

EDIT: I’m rethinking that last position. Dan Pashman, the host of The Sporkful, pointed out on Twitter that my definition would rule out, for instance, chicken or fish sandwiches. But if a grilled chicken sandwich is a sandwich, then a hamburger is a sandwich. And if I’m willing to grant sandwich status to a lobster roll, maybe it needs to extend to hot dogs, too.


I’ve spent some time thinking about this, clearly.

If you find this linguistic tug of war as fun as I do, give The Sporkful a listen sometime: Stitcher | iTunes | website


  • November 6, 2019 9:59 pm

    I love this food! So delicious!

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