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The Muffaletta: A Collaboration of Sicilian and American Culture

“Our food tells us where we came from and who we have become.” ~ Chef Bill Neal



Who doesn’t love a sandwich? Culturally, we Americans love to tell our backstories about the local sammie. Philadelphia is prideful of the Cheesesteak, Chicago has the Italian Beef, California’s best-kept secret is the Torta, Rhode Island offers the clam roll, and Kansas City delivers the Burnt Ends sandwich. What about the Muffaletta? Did it all begin in New Orleans, or does it have a more profound history? We all know the sandwich capital of the world is New York City! What is the origin of the Muffaletta, and who is Salvatore Lupo?

Il Giorno Dei Morti & La Festa Dell’Immacolata in Sicily

Sicily is not just known for its bountiful sea and exceptional food culture, they are inspired by festivals and creating community through the love of beautiful plates and feasts. The Sicilians created the Cannoli, a sweet and decadent ricotta-filled pastry rolled in pistachio. If you dig deep enough into Sicily’s food culture, you’ll find the origins of what we know to be the Muffaletta, better known to Sicilians as the “MuffOletta.”

The Muffaletta once began as a sandwich of two festivals: The Festa Dei Morti and The Della Immacolata. One celebrates the Day of the Dead, offering an opportunity for those alive to honor the special people in their lives. The other is the official countdown to Christmas, where Italians make Muffaletta sandwiches and set up their family Christmas decorations. Sicilians prepare a soft, round, spongy roll laden with sesame seed and the texture of a light and fluffy Ciabatta. The rolls are cut in half, and prepared with olive oil, marinated & crushed olives, pimento, salt, and anchovies. It’s a cultural and spiritual way of honoring and respecting tradition.

Olive Oil

The New Orleans Muffaletta

In the early 1900s, an Italian man, Salvatore Lupo, and his family set up Central Grocery on Decatur Street in The French Quarter, selling canned provisions to fishermen and dock workers. One day, he thought he would try to sell a round loaf sandwich, something locals could carry onto the boats and docks as they worked. So, he created a small, round, soft roll with sesame seeds. He macerated green olives, olive oil, and salt. He modified the anchovies and instead added cheese and salami.

Today, Central Grocery is under construction, getting a facelift! They are three generations of family, selling imported provisions - dating back to Salvatore Lupo in 1906. It used to be when walking in the door, you first caught the scent of freshly baked bread. The urge to grab a shopping basket causes one to reach ten deep through a stream of visitors. As you look up at the wall on the left and then to the right, you become overwhelmed and excited by the Italian imports surrounding you. Quickly, you attempt to cherry-pick provisions meaningfully.

Along the sandwich counter lies balsamic vinegar and olive oil in extra-large jars, and I usually grab a couple of those, tucking them into my basket. Finally, you reach the deli, where you order enough Muffaletta to have one on the ride home and the other for a snack the next day. If you are like me, still attempting to replicate the bread and olive salad. I am excited to experience the new store once it is complete, because I miss it so!


Wrapping It Up

After all the trips my family and I have made to New Orleans and Central Grocery over the years, we have yet to learn who Salvatore Lupo was as a man. In almost every article I have read everything regarding Salvatore and his famous sandwich, but we have yet to know about him. When did he land in the United States? Who were his parents, and where was he from? Salvatore was a man who cared for his community, was thoughtful and creative, and thrived on being a successful immigrant business in an already diverse city in America. As we patiently wait for the arrival of The New Central Grocery to opens its doors, I will keep trying to make the perfect Muffaletta. ⧫

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