What do you call yours?
From John O’Groats to Land’s End there is one thing the UK can agree on: our love for a bacon sandwich. There’s happiness to be taken in it’s power to unite; a shared experience of pleasure regardless of your background or politics. Whilst we all enjoy eating a bacon butty, we are not quite so magnanimous when it comes to deciding how best to make it, or even what to call it.
In fact you could say this is an area of national contention. In researching this article alone, I’ve never come across so many bloggers expressing such fervent passion: for a sandwich. For some the idea of putting red sauce with their bacon should be considered a heinous crime, whilst another went on at length about why it should never be called a bacon roll. Don’t even get me started on the Americans, who find our fascination with HP sauce extremely odd indeed. The most terrifying was for a recipe suggesting the pairing of bacon with… smoked salmon.
Lets go back to the beginning. Food historians generally attribute the creation of the sandwich, meat between two slices of toast, to John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich. Montagu, so the story goes, was particularly fond of gambling and in one particularly long session requested a meal that he could eat that wouldn’t interrupt his game. He could hold it one hand without getting grease on his precious cards.
As for our much loved bacon sandwich it was reportedly the fuel for factory workers in 19th century London seeking a speedy breakfast option. Grabbed from a street vendor on their way to work the soft white bread would contain an egg and meat filling. The meat could vary from sausage to bacon, or when times were really tight simply a spread of sausage fat instead.
Interestingly, soft white bread seems to be the preferred choice of bacon connoisseurs. Some more new age millennials may argue for the merits of sourdough, but they bare no witness here. Where we differ dramatically however is in the naming.
If you are from the capital, you’ll often hear people asking for a bacon sarnie, a simple abbreviation not that dissimilar from the Earl himself. Yet travel a couple of hours north of London to the city of Coventry and the correct way to ask for a bacon sarnie in a local caf is: “Bacon batch, ta”. The meaning of this you might ask? A batch is a small round loaf, similar in both look and taste, but most definitely not to be confused with, a roll.
Then we’ve got bap to contend with. In the South of England, North East and South Wales, you get your bacon in a bap, a soft bread roll with a healthy squish and minimal crust. If you’re in the North West on the other-hand you’re more likely to ask for a barm cake in which to encase your bacon. Not to be confused with something sweet, a barm cake is, you guessed it, also a soft white roll. Crazy.
Fun fact for you: the word barm meaning the froth on top of a fermenting liquid, such as beer or wine, was traditionally used instead of yeast to rise bread.
Even this North East/West divide is somewhat tenuous. To gain some clarity, I rang my Grandma in Lancashire for her opinion on the matter. What ensued was a five minute conversation led down a rabbit hole whilst she explained to me all the different combinations of flavours available. “Yes Grandma, I know it’s extremely good with a fried egg.”
The only conclusive evidence was that “your Grandpa does like eating one on a Saturday lunchtime”. In regards to the name I am none-the-wiser, she calls it a bap, he likes a barm cake and apparently in some posh restaurants they call them floury rolls.
Moving on to the cob. This is the word of choice for those living in the East Midlands and North Wales. The cob has been gaining some clout, ever since the steely blue eyed man with the handshake, Mr Paul Hollywood used it to describe his bacon sandwich.
It gets even more tricky when we head into Scotland, where I’m not sure if this is to believed, apparently it can be called a bacon bridie, buttery or rowie. Really? Anyone from Scotland please feel free to contact me for false representation. Even the order of a sandwich itself seems to defy logic with one being known to ask for a ‘roll and bacon’.
The Belfast Telegraph points me in the direction of a recipe for deep filled bacon and egg muffins, however as the bread doesn’t seem to be of the soft white and entirely round variety unfortunately I have to discount it.
Most strangely given its pleasing alliteration, there doesn’t seem to be that much regional passion around the butty. The dictionary definition simply citing it as ‘a filled or open sandwich’: noun, informal, Northern English. Yet whilst this seems to suggest it is merely a British colloquialism for any kind of sandwich, some say that the word can only be used for hot fillings. Well done bacon.
So there you have it, a potentially painfully inaccurate attempt to prescribe meaning to the idiosyncrasies around the naming of a bacon sandwich.
Here at Le Swine we love how passionate the nation is about the humble bacon sandwich; the territorial turf wars behind each name, as each region claims their own sandwich identity. Even all this naming confusion is inherently charming. To be frank the bacon butty should be up there alongside the queen as one of our national treasures. I mean it’s all well and good protecting all the swans but whose looking after the bacon?
The big question is, have we covered YOUR bacon sandwich or do you call yours something different still? From Brentford to Bradford we want to know, what do you call yours?