The Humble Origins Of Potato Chip Sandwiches

Despite every youth's belief that they created the potato chip sandwich, this legendary meal has a couple of colorful origin stories of questionable veracity. According to the Irish satirical newspaper The Waterford Whispers, Noreen O'Neill invented the crisp — British for chips — sandwich in 1961 as a cheap way to feed her 18 kids. The magazine would have us believe that Meryl Streep portrayed O'Neill in an Oscar-winning biopic called "When the Chips are Down." The fictional foul-mouthed but resourceful mother may not have invented the crisp sandwich, but it's likely that its origins were equally spontaneous and humble. Who actually created the potato chip sandwich is up for debate.

In 1951 an article appeared in the Democrat and Chronicle called "How About a Nice, Er.. Potato Chip Sandwich?" The author, John B. Kenny shares recipes geared towards the newspaper's male readers, and talks about a conversation with Mr. Martindale, who enquires whether Kenny has ever had a potato chip sandwich. "I confessed that I had not. He assured me it is delicious and then gave me the recipe." What follows is the recipe for the potato chip sandwich: two slices any kind of bread; large handful of selected (flat) potato chips; 1/16 pound of butter.

Regardless of who invented it, the popularity of the potato chip sandwich is undeniable, and chef Nigella Lawson's decision to post an Instagram video of herself making a crisp sandwich succeeded in renewing interest in it. Nigella insists on plain soft white bread, a bit of butter, and a satisfyingly crunchy handful of crisps. And that's it.

The potato chip sandwich has many names

Called pieces and crisps in Scotland, a crisp butty in Yorkshire, England, and a Tayto sandwich in Ireland, the crisp sandwich is a staple in the U.K.: a sandwich that many adults recall learning to make as a child. It definitely creates nostalgia — the sandwich is more of an institution than a novelty. In 2015 the Irish airline Aer Lingus began offering crisp sandwich packages on their flights. Containing a package of Tayto cheese & onion chips, two slices of soft white bread, and Kerrygold butter, the offering was applauded, with one fan commenting on Aer Lingus' Twitter post, "Oh. My. God. @AerLingus you win. Everyone else can just go home now."

2015 also saw a rivalry pop up when two crisp shops opened within months of each other: Mr. Crisp in West Yorkshire, England, and Simply Crispy in Belfast, Ireland. Simply Crispy started as a joke after the satire team Ulster Fry spoke of a fictional crisp sandwich store. Local café owner Andrew McMenamin decided to give it a try and opened a crisp sandwich pop-up café. On launch day, the shop sold out two hours after opening.

But while they may seem late to the party, Americans can appreciate a good crisp sandwich just as much as the Brits, judging by the addition of the Tayto Crisp Sambo in 2016 at the Late Late, a New York Irish pub. The sandwich involves a fancy bun, pickles, and tomato relish, which would disappoint purist Nigella Lawson, but it's still a potato chip sandwich.