In the Local Palate’s Spring travel issue, our editors explore the South through its iconic sandwiches. Here, we head to the Big Easy for our first stop.
Stop One: The Muffuletta | New Orleans
The muffuletta is not the only sandwich that traces its roots back to New Orleans (count the po’ boy in there, too), but it does come the closest to shouting, “You’re in the Big Easy!” Its origin story is well told: Creator Salvatore Lupo was one of nearly 300,000 Sicilian immigrants who landed in New Orleans between the 1880s and the 1920s.
Lupo set up his shop, Central Grocery, in the French Market in 1906, alongside other Sicilian grocery and pushcart owners, in an area known as “Little Palermo.” This flood of immigrants brought ingredients and traditions of the Old Country, one being the flat, round, spongy loaves of bread called muffuletto that were usually made during religious holidays like All Soul’s Day and sold in paper wrapping marked with their name. When Lupo noticed that his customers, many of whom were farmers selling at the market, were buying the muffuletto loaves, plus ham, cheese, salami, and olive salad separately, he allegedly came up with the idea to slice the bread in half and put all of those items together as a sandwich, which he wrapped in the bread’s original paper (hence the name).
Other vendors took up the trend, including a “muffuletto man,” Frank Di Nicola, who used to sell them from street to street. Now a distinct New Orleans specialty, the sandwiches are widely available around town—but the question now is: hot or not? Napoleon House, a bar that’s been open since 1914, started serving food in the 1970s and claims to have introduced the hot muffuletta trend, which binds all of the goodness together by melting the provolone and swiss cheeses. Today, you’ll find both variations, with New Orleanians taking a strong preference to one or the other.
Four Key Components to the Muffuletta Sandwich
This is what gave the sandwich its name and is essential to its construction. Shaped into a round loaf, the bread is traditionally coated with sesame seeds. Its spongy exterior helps soak up the oil and seasonings from the olive salad.
Provolone is the standard but swiss is a fine substitute, especially for those who go hot—these cheeses are easily meltable, which helps keep the whole stack together.
The key is thinly sliced here, as several slices of genoa salami, ham, and mortadella are traditionally layered atop one another to give the sandwich some height.
Packed in oil, this chopped vegetable condiment usually includes cauliflower, carrots, kalamata olives, red bell peppers, capers, and pepperoncini, to give it a kick. The rough chop allows the peppery spices to infuse the sandwich with a zesty salinity
Where to Find a Muffuletta in New Orleans
There’s no beating the paper-wrapped original. Although Central Grocery is currently closed for renovations, the team is still making muffulettas and selling them at Zuppardo’s Family Market in Metairie. They also ship nationwide through their website and Goldbelly. @centralgrocerynola
Chef Donald Link spent a month testing out his muffuletta recipe before landing on the precisely constructed version he puts out at Cochon Butcher. Easily the restaurant’s mostordered item, the sandwich is served warm here, with both heat and steam melting the cheese just so. @cochonbutchernola
For one of the largest versions of the classic, make your way to Metairie for World Deli’s packed, plate-sized muffuletta. The olive salad overflows, offering a nice blast of tang to the whole spongy affair. @world.deli
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I really like the sandwich, but not served in Miami, FL. Unable to find the loaf