The Origin of
By Kirsten Hawkins
Edited by CreativeHomeStyle.com
In most of the
United States, the Sloppy Joe sandwich is a lunchroom staple,
consisting of skillet-cooked ground meat - usually beef - spicy
tomato sauce or tomato paste, and bread or a bun. Sometimes greasy
and oversweet, the Sloppy Joe has been served in school cafeterias
for years. Today most people associate Sloppy Joes with the
commercially available ready-made versions that are available in
supermarkets; "Manwich", as one example, is seasoned beef
and sauce in a can, ready to be heated and poured over a bun.
Ideally, the meat
in the Sloppy Joe is both sweet and spicy at the same time,
and is heavily sautéed to give the sauce thickness -
far from the cold, greasy monstrosity often served to school kids. It
has become, in some more fashionable delis, an experiment in bringing
diners back to their youth with combinations that go well beyond
tomato paste and beef.
selection, for example, is pork in tomato sauce with ginger, garlic,
and chili sauce. Or with cheddar cheese and on a freshly baked Kaiser
roll, topped with fresh spices, it's a long way from something on a
hamburger bun served by a lady in a hairnet.
In New Jersey,
however, the Sloppy Joe is something completely different. Instead of
ground beef, it contains some kind of deli lunch meat, for example,
turkey, ham, roast beef, or even sliced cow tongue. It is served on
rye bread, often "double-decker" or
"triple-decker." The sandwich is dressed with Swiss cheese,
cole slaw, and Russian dressing, similar to a reuben sandwich.
One theory of the
beginnings of the "Sloppy Joe" style sandwhich is that it
was the invention of Sloppy Joe 's Bar in Havanna. The New Jersey
version, however, first appeared on the menu of the Town Hall Deli in
South Orange, New Jersey in 1936. To this day, that version, called
the Original Sloppy Joe, is a triple-decker sandwich with layers of
ham, tongue, and Swiss cheese, with Russian dressing served on long,
thin slices of buttered rye and cut into quarters. Another version is
made with smoked salmon, creamed cheese and egg salad. Yet others
include corned beef.
evidence of the Cuban connection to the Sloppy Joe is seen in a
sandwich served in the West Village of New York City. It is
essentially a Cuban ropa vieja sandwich, which is based on a
marinated pulled skirt steak that is then stewed in a combination of
tomato sauce with garlic, cumin, tomatoes, peppers and chilies. This
particular iteration is then served on a steam-oven bun.
The New Jersey
version of the sandwich, legend has it, was brought back to the
states from Havana by the mayor of Maplewood, New Jersey in 1934 or
1935. Of course, given all the versions of the sandwich, there are
many explanations for it's invention and name. Some hold that it
originated in Sloppy Joe's bar in Cuba. Others attribute it to Sloppy
Joe's in Key Wes, Florida - a favorite hangout of Earnest
Hemmingway - which is responsible for the first known appearance of
the name "Sloppy Joe in print. Still another attributes the
ground-meat form of the sandwich to a diner in Iowa, or to the
depression-era habit of making almost anything out of hamburger.
origin, the Sloppy Joe, staple of school cafeterias and New Jersey
delis, remains a favorite of all ages, with wide regional variations
- all of them delicious.
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