When I was growing up in rural Australia in the 80s, it was all about Club Sandwiches.
They were monolithic double-decker “sangas” comprising chicken breast fillet or turkey and ham luncheon meats married with rashers of greasy fried bacon that when you took a bite, it dragged the rest of the filling out, including the egg.
There was a layer of iceberg lettuce (sometimes wilted at the edges depending on where and the time of day you ordered), thick slices of tomato and slathers of mayo sandwiched between lightly-browned white toast (with a third slice in between), all dubiously fastened together with toothpicks that would pierce a lip or gum if you weren’t careful.
Ours were cut up into small triangles in a similar way the ladies’ plates of cucumber, tomato and devilled egg sandwiches were presented at afternoon tea break at the local Saturday tennis fixtures, although not as lovingly plated as theirs under the cling wrap.
And they came with a side of fries (or chips as we called them) that would inevitably spill off the plate onto the floor as the waiter juggled our orders to the table.
Watch: The grandaddy of sandwiches from my youth
We didn’t have them everyday, of course.
They were for special occasions, like when we stayed at a hotel (rarely), had lunch at a surf or leagues club on holidays in Queensland (a couple of times) and I swear I gnashed my way through one at the Pinsent Hotel in Wangaratta once.
Or was it at Yarrawonga?
Anyway, the funny thing is, no one that I know is really interested in the yarn behind the origins of the Club Sandwich (except me), but when it comes to the Reuben Sandwich, well then, that’s a different story.
“I knew there was a K in Nebraska“
It wasn’t until I started travelling in the late 90s and meeting Americans that I heard about Reuben Sandwiches.
I knew what corned beef was, coming from an Irish-Anglo-Scottish background – who didn’t?
And, I think mum even used to make it, but she certainly didn’t serve it up in dark rye bread with Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and Russian dressing and pressed hot on the outside in a frying pan.
Now, that’s a Reuben.
But it’s not just any old sandwich. There’s an intriguing story behind the supposedly “only entirely invented sandwich” and National Sandwich Contest winner!
Writer Elizabeth Weil described it as “the Forrest Gump of sandwiches, a lunch-size window into American life” in a Saveur magazine article dated back to 2016 when in it, she defended the now widely accepted, but still controversial, theory that her grandfather (not Reuben Kulakowsky or Reuben Kay see video below) invented the iconic sandwich during a late night card game in a hotel in Omaha, Nebraska in the 1920s.
Watch: The Reuben sandwich scene from the movie Quiz Show
Being Antipodean, I don’t feel qualified to comment much further on such matters, but I invite you to go ahead and do your own research if you want to get to the bottom of one of culinary America’s most peculiar stories.
But I will say one thing, my personal favourite elucidation of it that I came across while researching this beast of a sandwich – and which made me titter like a school kid – describes it as “the manspread of sandwiches.”
I think I’ll just leave you with that image, right there.
Eat: Stuck at home? Give the Reuben a go yourself!
Saigon’s Reuben Sandwich Scene
So what about Reuben Sandwiches in Saigon? Have they made it all the way here?
Well, hell yeah. But don’t ask me when.
At risk of looking like a fool and damaging what reputation I may have among the hospitality peeps here in Saigon, not to mention potentially sparking my own spot fire about the Reuben’s history here, l would hazard to say that you couldn’t get one in Saigon before 2010, which is when I first landed in Vietnam’s culinary capital.
I could be wrong, so get in touch if you know of any places that did.
In the meantime, here’s where you can get a Reuben Sandwich in Saigon (in no particular order).
Eddie’s New York Deli & Diner
“A great Reuben, like all great dishes, is all about using top quality ingredients with the right balance,” says Brad Segal from Eddie’s. “It starts with great corned beef or pastrami, which we make in-house from imported US beef brisket. The dark caraway rye, the sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and Russian dressing must also be in a perfect ratio.”
Note: Eddie’s has a vegetarian Reuben with smoked, cured and peppered mushroom pastrami.
The Elbow Room Bistro & Diner
“The secret to a great Reuben,” says The Elbow Room owner, Tristan Ngo, “is freshly made sauerkraut and slow-cooked pastrami with lots of spices. We use thick multigrain bread, which is close to a rye, but most people won’t know the difference and not many people can make it like us, either.”
“It’s thinly sliced and well seasoned and spiced corned beef and good marble rye bread,” says Jake Pulkrabek at Jake’s BBQ, when asked what makes a great Reuben. “It’s a rather simple and complex sandwich all in one. For those who have had it, you’ll never forget those flavours. For the first timers, it will create a lasting memory.”
Reuben đã TRỞ LẠI !!!
Rye đá cẩm thạch tự làm ✔️
Thịt bò xào ngô
Phô mai Thụy Sĩ tan chảy ✔️
Dưa bắp cải homemade
Bread & Butter
“We make our Reuben with own dark rye wholewheat sourdough bread, our two-week cured corned beef, our house-made sauerkraut and horseradish dressing with Swiss cheese,” says Bread & Butter co-owner Roman Stratiychuk. “The smokey flavour of the beef tries to win over the spiciness, tanginess and sweetness of the rest of the ingredients making it absolutely sensational.”
Boyer’s American Grill
“The secret is the corned beef,” says Gabe Boyer, who opened his new Saigon establishment this past July and serves up tender house-made Reuben nuggets (pictured below), along with the classic sandwich. “We start with American brisket which we brine for 10 days in our special recipe of spices. We cook it low and slow in a bubbling stock for about five hours giving a final product that’s juicy and tender with a special aroma.”
Tender housemade corned beef brisket, sauerkraut, and swiss cheese is lovingly coated in dark rye bread crumbs and served with Boyer’s real dill pickles and thousand island dressing on the side.
Stoker Woodfired Grill & Bar
Stoker’s executive chef George Bloomfield says the “DNA” of a Reuben – pastrami, rye, sauerkraut, Russian dressing – all has to be right for a great sandwich: “What sets us apart (from the other excellent ones around town) is our pastrami,” he says. “We use navel end wagyu brisket which we brine then smoke over Acacia wood for six hours. Coupled with our rye bread and house-made sauerkraut for that funk, you’ve got a sandwich that will definitely satisfy.”
Thao Tran of District 1’s Malt and District 7’s Malt South says a great Reuben needs to have “tender, smoky, tasty pastrami with a light Thousand Island sauce with a hint of tang, melted Swiss cheese to add complexity, well-cooked sauerkraut to balance out the richness with an earthy dark rye with caraway. Our USDA brisket is brined in our special mix of more than 10 spices for two weeks. Our District 1 version is rubbed with spices then steamed for five hours, while our Malt South version has pastrami that’s smoked for 15 hours.”
Find a Reuben in Saigon on this map:
Words by Matthew Cowan. Follow Matt on Instagram at @mattcowansaigon
Feature photo by Mike Palumbo. Follow Mike on Instagram @mikepalumbo_