Is a Bagel a Sandwich?

In New York, sandwiches are subject to sales tax. And because “sandwich” can be a nebulous term, the New York Department of Taxation and Finance has put out a bulletin detailing what it considers to be a sandwich. The definition is pretty broad: “A sandwich can be as simple as a buttered bagel or roll, or as elaborate as a six-foot, toasted submarine sandwich.”

But is a buttered bagel actually a sandwich? We find the city’s guidelines to be confusing. Food that is “prepared and ready to be eaten…regardless of the filling or number of layers” sounds like “sandwich” could apply to any food.

To get an expert opinion on bagels and sandwiches, we asked head baker of Black Seed Bagels in New York City, Dianna Daoheung, to weigh in.

F&W: Is a buttered bagel a sandwich?
DD: Yes, a buttered bagel is a sandwich because it requires someone to slice it and spread an ingredient in the center.

F&W: How would you define a sandwich?
DD: A food that consists of two pieces of bread with a filling in between them. If the bread isn’t sliced or spreads are on the side then it is not a sandwich.

F&W: Does it matter how it’s eaten? For example, if you eat a buttered bagel as individual quarters, is it still a sandwich? Is it “open-faced?”
DD: It doesn’t matter how it’s eaten if it’s sliced open, toppings are added on it, and it’s served closed. “Open-faced” sandwiches aren’t really sandwiches because nothing is being “sandwiched.” But I guess that’s why they’re called “open-faced.”

F&W: Can you give some other examples of “sandwich adjacent” foods that people may mistake?
DD: Things in wraps are NOT sandwiches. They may have similar elements but they are missing the “two pieces of bread” part.

F&W: What’s the ideal sandwich?
DD: The ideal sandwich has the right ratio of everything. Some places focus on their meat, some places focus on lots of bread and others on the veggies. I think there needs to be a balance of all these elements.

Above: Sesame Bagels with Soppressata and Burrata, Daoheung’s brilliant collaboration with chef Missy Robbins.

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