Why Does Your Sandwich Come With a Pickle?

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By Dylan Lehotsky

With any sandwich you buy in the United States you will receive an all too familiar side dish without any explanation. The pickle. But why? How did the pickle become such an iconic part of our deli experience? Even the  character Tevye pondered this question in Fiddler on the Roof. Where did the pickle come from, and more importantly, why does one always come with your sandwich?

Pickles have been around for thousands of years and were considered a delicacy as early as 2400 BC. The pickle became popular in the U.S. though when the first Jewish immigrants came to New York from eastern Europe. Famous for their unique combinations of meat, Jewish delis in the city used the pickle as a palate cleanser. The acidity allows you to experience the sharp contrast in flavors and more fully appreciate the taste of your sandwich. The specific deli that was first to place a pickle alongside a sandwich is unknown, but the practice quickly spread beyond Jewish delis.

Across the city of New York, the pickle’s popularity grew and by the 1930s entrepreneurs became pickle vendors across the Lower East Side. In fact, there were famous “Pickle Wars” that occurred between the vendors competing for a monopoly on the sour sensation. Today the pickle has even been given its own festival in New York that is celebrated in October.

Once the pickle became a staple in New York, the tradition of including the pickle with a deli sandwich grew in appeal and it quickly became a popular choice for an easy-to-prepare side dish across the U.S. In fact, the pickle is now the most commonly used side dish for a sandwich and the combination makes up the majority of all pickle consumption. It has become so standard that restaurants no longer list it on the menu. Originally a Jewish tradition, the pickle has grown into a deli staple that has made its way onto every sandwich plate across America.

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