Muffaletta Sandwich

Stop 3 of 6 in the New Orleans Food History tour

The muffaletta is one of New Orleans’ most iconic and identifiable dishes. Made on large rounds of sesame bread and layered with olive salad, genoa salami, ham, mortadella, provolone and Swiss cheese, the muffaletta is clearly Italian in spirit and yet no such sandwich exists in Italy. Instead, it is the creation of Sicilian immigrants who arrived en masse to the Port of New Orleans from the Port of Palermo in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. These new inhabitants brought with them strong customs and recipes that were joined with already vibrant local food traditions and ingredients.

Most of these immigrants settled in and quickly set up shop close to the busy French Market. This densely populated and thriving section of the lower French Quarter was referred to as “Little Palermo” and the “Italian Sector,” and was home to a multitude of small shops and businesses. These included several Sicilian bread bakers, who baked a traditional Sicilian loaf called the “muffuletto.” These early bread bakers often sold their wares on the street, yelling “muffuletto, caldo, caldo.” Bakers also sold their loaves wholesale to grocers.

One such grocer was Mr. Salvatore Lupo, of Central Grocery store, who is widely credited with making the first muffaletta sandwich in 1906. According to his daughter, Marie Lupo Tusa, farmers would stop in at her father’s shop at lunchtime, buy a loaf of muffuletto bread, sliced cold cuts, olives and cheese, and eat them standing up or balanced on their laps. In order to make it easier for customers to hold everything, Mr. Lupo decided to put all the ingredients together on a sandwich. The sandwich was not called by the name “muffaletta” at first, but eventually, the name of the bread carried over to the name of the sandwich.

Today, the traditional Sicilian bread bakeries have virtually disappeared; the sandwich that took its name from the round loaf remains as a testimony to an amazing one hundred year survival of a New Orleans born and "bread" tradition.

Images

1938 Ad

1938 Ad

No mention of the Muffuletta in this mid-1900s newspaper ad. Courtesy of the Times-Picayune Archive View File Details Page

French Market, circa early 1900s

French Market, circa early 1900s

By the late 1800s, an influx of Italians had led New Orleanians to rename "French Town" "Little Palermo." Courtesy of Louisiana Division/City Archives, New Orleans Public Library View File Details Page

Milk Wagon, circa early 1900s

Milk Wagon, circa early 1900s

Delivery wagons on Decatur Street. Courtesy of Louisiana Division/City Archives, New Orleans Public Library View File Details Page

Sunrise Bakery Ad

Sunrise Bakery Ad

Wholesale bakery chain produced their version of the Muffuletta loaf by the mid-1900s. Courtesy of The Times-Picayune Archive View File Details Page

Suburban Restaurant features the Muffuletta, 1971

Suburban Restaurant features the Muffuletta, 1971

By the late 1900s, the muffuletta had become the second favorite sandwich for New Orleanians, and it was now available well beyond the French Quarter. Courtesy of The Times-Picayune Archive View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Dana Logsdon, “Muffaletta Sandwich,” New Orleans Historical, accessed June 25, 2017, http://neworleanshistorical.org/items/show/505.
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