What Is a Tartine? Is a Tartine Different from a Sandwich?

What is a Tartine? How is a tartine different from a sandwich? Read on to learn the difference between a sandwich and a tartine.

brie-salami-tartine

Tartine with Brie and Salami. See recipe, below.

Short Answer: A tartine is open-faced; a sandwich is not.

Long Answer: Two words signify a sandwich in France, but they’re not interchangeable. A sandwich is often made with baguette bread, sliced horizontally and stuffed with a variety of fillings, such as ham, cheese, cured meats, or pâté.

This is a sandwich. You'll find these everywhere in France, from cafés to autoroute stops. Photo by mhaithaca via Flickr.

This is a sandwich. You’ll find these everywhere in France, from cafés to autoroute stops. Photo by mhaithaca via Flickr.

Tartine originally referred to baguette bread sliced horizontally to form two pieces, then spread with something—most commonly butter and jam, but also soft foods such aspâté or spreadable cheeses (fromage à tartiner)—and served open-faced. (Tartiner means “to spread.”) However, as French sandwiches have evolved, tartine now also refers to any open-faced sandwich topped with a variety of ingredients, regardless of whether it’s made with baguette bread or ingredients that can be spread.

And now…some thoughts on how sandwiches and tartines have evolved in France:

In France, sandwiches used to be the sole domain of the café—they were quick bites you could get just about any time, and almost all cafés had the same selection: croque monsieur and croque madames, baguette sandwiches with ham, ham and cheese, cheese, salami, or pâté. All came with a generous slather of butter; the cheese was, more often than not, a French Gruyère or Emmental.

I often wondered why French sandwiches weren’t more creative—in a country with 300-plus cheeses, where were all the other options? And what about the luscious honeys, mustards, aïolis, tapenades, and such?

After years of traveling it occurred to me if the French were going to do something that refined and thought-out they were going to sit down and have a real meal and enjoy every morsel. Those great cheeses, for instance, would be served in the third course—after the starter and main course. Not mushed into a sandwich and eaten on the fly.

Alas, life’s moving faster everywhere, and that includes France. One effect of this is a proliferation of gourmet shops in France that actually do serve amazing sandwiches—creative combinations of a few fabulous French ingredients that can be quickly enjoyed in one dizzyingly good main course.

My book has an entire chapter of French sandwiches, tartines, pizzas, and savory tarts, proving that you can enjoy great ingredients even when you don’t have a lot of time to eat them across three courses.

Here’s an example—a recipe I came across at a sandwich shop in the Jura. It’s a great way to use up ingredients left over from a party (enjoy it the day after your soirée as you go over post-party gossip).

Tartine with Brie and Salami. (Tartines are open-face; sandwiches are not.) Photo by D.E. Smith Photography

Tartine with Brie and Salami
Makes 2 servings

• 2 tablespoons chopped pitted imported black olives, such as Nyons, kalamata, or Niçoise
• 2 tablespoons drained and thinly sliced roasted red bell peppers
• 1/2 cup diced salami, such as rosette de Lyon, Genoa, or soppressata
• 2 (3/4-inch-thick) slices from a crusty country-style round bread (preferably long slices from the center of the loaf), toasted
• Extra-virgin olive oil
• 1/2 cup large-diced (1/2-inch) Brie or Camembert cheese

1. Preheat the broiler.

2. In a bowl, combine the olives, roasted peppers, and salami; set aside.

3. Brush one side of each toasted bread slice with olive oil. Arrange the bread slices, oiled sides up, on a baking sheet. Pile the salami mixture on the toasted bread, covering the entire bread surface, including the crusts, so the bread does not burn. Top with the cheese, evenly distributing across the sandwiches (you don’t need to cover the entire sandwich with the cheese—a little goes a long way).

4. Broil the sandwiches 3 to 4 inches from the heat until the cheese is mostly melted and translucent, about 3 minutes (watching constantly). Transfer the sandwiches to individual plates and serve.

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1 comment to What Is a Tartine? Is a Tartine Different from a Sandwich?

  • It is breakfast for both grownups and children, the big difference between the generations’ eating habits being that grown ups dunk their tartines, butter and all, into their cafe au lait, while the children double dip into cups of hot chocolate. It is surprisingly sustaining, but a breakfast tartine does not even hint at what a tartine can become later in the day.

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