The Luardos burrito van: a “wrap craze has engulfed London, following on the heels of a similar one in New York”
Ever since the 1750s, when John Montagu, the fourth Earl of Sandwich, refused to stop for dinner and instead ordered cold beef in toast, those seeking a convenient meal-to-go have needed to look no further than their local sandwich outlet. As Prospect went to press, British Sandwich Week was paying tribute to the Earl’s invention.
The sandwich, one might well argue, is the culinary creation par excellence of western capitalism, an ingenious solution to the inconvenient fact that the need to eat diminishes productivity. Do away with cutlery, and the requirement to dine in a specific place, and suddenly the division between eating and working becomes less clear-cut. “I’m eating at my desk”; “Let’s grab a bite and discuss it”: it is hard to imagine such phrases being uttered had the sandwich not been invented.
In the last decade, however, the dominance of the sandwich has been threatened by a range of new work-friendly foods. For all its convenience, the sandwich has fallen foul of another fixation: the need to be thin. Increasingly, sandwiches seem stodgy and unwieldy, overstuffed with mayo and butter in order to ward off the dryness that tends to result when a salty slice of protein is placed between two slabs of bread. Hence the rise of leaner, carb-light alternatives, from salads in boxes to pots of edamame to Prêt à Manger’s absurd “no bread” sandwiches. And hence, too, the burgeoning popularity of what may just prove the sandwich’s eventual conqueror: the wrap.
The wrap’s recent emergence as a rival to the sandwich is ironic, given that the former predates the latter. Flatbreads are the oldest types of bread, and in places such as the Middle East and Asia have been wrapped round fillings for centuries, if not millennia. (Think of the spring roll, the Turkish/Iranian lavash and the burrito.) But in food, no less than in other areas, the west is skilled at appropriating the inventions of others, and it has contrived to produce a modern version of the wrap that seems utterly divorced from its non-western origins.
This came into being in—where else?—California in the early 1980s when, according to legend, the ex-baseball player (and, more recently, Boston Red Sox manager) Bobby Valentine,…