Cape Town's Great Gatsby-Inspired Sandwich Has A Little Of Everything

Asking "who" invented the sandwich is a bit of a silly question. Like a great many things in our expansive and multifaceted world, the idea of nestling meats, vegetables, cheeses, and other ingredients in or on bread probably arose at different times in different cultures around the world, says the History Channel. In the West, much credit is given to wealthy aristocrat, inveterate gambler, rake, and one-time Postmaster General of the Royal Mail, John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich, though it is all but certain he didn't "invent" the sandwich as historical records point to sandwich analogues appearing much earlier.

It's doubtful we will ever be able to say for certain why sandwiches arose, but one thing is certain, they are undeniably convenient. Folks can dispense with utensils, plates, and even a napkin while eating a rather complete handheld meal. For those otherwise occupied with work or leisure activities, a sandwich makes a fabulous on-the-go food, explaining the dominance of sandwiches in fast food — and yes, we're counting hamburgers here.

This was the impetus behind one of South Africa's most famous contributions to the worldwide pantheon of sandwiches, a perplexing, but decidedly delicious combination of ingredients that has become a beloved culinary mainstay of Cape Town and the country.

A meal on a roll

The Gatsby, explains Saveur, was created by Cape Town fish-and-chips shop owner Rashaad Pandy in 1976 when he was faced with a shortage of his signature fish but needed to quickly feed several laborers he'd hired. On hand, he had Portuguese bread, bologna (which he fried), piquant achaar, and chips, aka French fries. The filling and flavorful combination was an instant hit with the workers, who named the sandwich after the 1974 film "The Great Gatsby" (via IMDB.)

As with many popular dishes, the Gatsby was quickly copied by restaurants around Cape Town, and the ingredients grew to include a number of variations that fit local tastes. This is apparent in Cape Town Magazine's profile of the best places to grab a Gatsby. Versions include sandwiches stuffed with masala simmered beef, mutton curry, chicken, cheese, and Russian sausage. The BBC also notes that the original round Portuguese roll is usually swapped out for a long sub-style roll and achaar can be swapped out with other sauces, such as tomato or the South African hot sauce, Piri-Piri.

Interestingly, the U.S. has a similar sandwich with a similar backstory. Pittsburgh's Primanti Bros. is famous for its hearty sandwiches, which come packed with a variety of fillings, from salami to pastrami, but always fries and coleslaw. Though the original clientele for these starch-in-starch marvels consisted of teamsters who needed a meal they could eat with one hand while driving, now everyone in Cape Town can be a beneficiary of Pandy's quick thinking.