Gare St. Lazare, Paris, 1972. Getting off the train, I’m hungry. Very hungry. Eyeing the available sandwiches at a kiosk, I drop a few francs on the counter to pay for a ham sandwich. Biting into it, I’m surprised that the bread is spread with butter, thus the name: jambon-beurre. Back home, I would never have thought to spread butter on the bread for a meat sandwich, but I liked this French sandwich, which I soon discovered was a standard takeaway item at train and bus stations, bakeries, even some tabacs.

Recently, I mentioned this sandwich to two Jewish friends who responded, “So goyish!” No arguing that: pork and the meat-butter combo would disqualify this sandwich from landing on any Kosher table, and although the first bite was kind of weird, I grew accustomed to this classic. Jambon-beurre was introduced in the 19th century as a pocketable lunch for France’s working men and women.

Today, the jambon-beurre remains one of the most consumed sandwiches in France with more than 830 million sold each year…However, since 2017…jambon-beurre has been relegated to second place.

As I looked over the menu at Léa French Street Food on Marion Street, I stopped when I spotted, under Sandwiches, Le Parisien, which is jambon-beurre with cheese. The nice young lady at the counter offered to remove the cheese (for a more classic jambon-beurre), and that sounded good to me as I was hoping to have a Proustian Madeleine moment that would pull me back to my younger years in France.

Léa bakes bread fresh daily, and the baguette – the fabulous foundation of many French sandwiches – was marvelous, with crackly crisp crust and very tender crumb; the whole loaf was rather thin, making for a sandwich that easily fits into the average-sized mouth. The ham was good, and it seemed to have been cut from the thigh, which I understand is traditionally used for jambon-beurre.

It is a kind of shame that understandable health regulations require cheese and butter in restaurants to be kept refrigerated. Cheese cannot be savored if it’s chilled (I try to let ours come to room temperature before eating) and butter, when cold, hardens and gets clumpy when spread on bread. There was, indeed, clumpy butter on both halves of the bread, but that’s very minor criticism of this very spot-hitting sandwich.

There were a number of other tempting sandwiches on the Léa menu, including Le Croque Monsieur (an open-face ham sandwich, with melted Swiss cheese, bacon, bechamel sauce and parsley) and Le Croque Madame (same, but with an egg rather than bacon). Both of these are warmed sandwiches, so you won’t encounter chilled cheese or clumpy butter on either.

So, if jambon-beurre is the “second place” sandwich in France, what’s first place? Why, the all-American hamburger, of course! It’s impossible for me to argue against that popularity because of all the foods I crave, the simple beef patty on a bun is the one that satisfies most. But the ham and butter sandwiches at Léa French Street Food are, nonetheless, also very fine, exquisitely simple and satisfying, and they do take me back.

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David Hammond

David Hammond, a corporate communications consultant and food journalist living in Oak Park, Illinois, is a founder and moderator of, the 8,500 member Chicago-based culinary chat site. David...