More often than not, when we think of New Orleans we think of the French Quarter and strong creole influence. Gumbo and jambalaya aside, Italians made quite an influence on the culture and cuisine as well. The muffaletta sandwich (also spelled "muffuletta") is a classic in New Orleans, but few people know its origins. What is a muffaletta sandwich, you ask? Here's all you need to know about the wildly popular sandwich, which is surprisingly not a French-based food.

Origins of the Muffaletta Sandwich

The muffaletta sandwich was popularized in New Orleans in the 1900s, but few people know that it actually began as a bread. The sandwich came much later. Sicilian bakers had been making muffaletto bread for centuries, but it wasn’t until Italian immigrants came to New Orleans that the sandwich came to life.

We can thank Salvatore Lupo for this incredible sandwich. He owned Central Grocery Co., and saw his customers buying the muffaletto bread and meats and cheese to eat together and realized an opportunity. Instead of watching customers struggle to hold everything all at once, he made things easier for them and created the muffaletta sandwich. The idea was finalized in 1906, and since then it has become a staple of New Orleans culture.

What's in a Muffaletta? 

The muffaletta is no ordinary sandwich, that's for sure. Made on large rounds of soft, fluffy sesame bread, the sandwich is cut horizontally and covered with layers of olive salad, genoa salami, ham, mortadella, provolone, and Swiss cheese (the exact ingredients may vary depending on who you buy your sandwich from). Is your mouth watering yet? If that isn’t enough, sometimes you can find muffalettas with fresh seafood from the Gulf of Mexico.

Why Is the Muffaletta so Iconic?

So now that you now what a muffaletta is, what is it that makes this sandwich one of New Orlean's most iconic sandwiches? Is it the layers upon layers of meats and cheeses? Is it the smell of the freshly baked bread? While these are all valid answers, the most important aspect to the muffaletta is its historical ties.

Although the sandwich was a rather recent idea made in the United States, the bread recipe has been around for centuries. Generations of Sicilian bakers and families have been making this bread, and it's because of their diligence and hard work that it even arrived to America in the first place. We owe it to the Italians for bringing us this iconic food and for maintaining, and perfecting, such a delicious standard.

What are you waiting for? Make plans to visit New Orleans for Mardi Gras and try as many muffalettas as you can while you’re there. And okay, if that isn’t totally realistic, then check out some recipes on how to make your own muffaletta sandwich. New Orleans has a vibrant food scene for all taste buds. 

Many people may not realize it, but a lot of food is rooted in deep, cultural history and sometimes the more you know the more you appreciate what you're eating. Keep asking questions and try new foods, because you never know when you’ll learn something that you never would have thought of before.