If you ask us, breakfast foods are among our favorite things to eat, and there's no better way to enjoy them than combined between two slices of bread. That's why we've partnered with Panera Bread to celebrate the breakfast sandwich, in all its glory.
Wherever people make bread—so, the whole world over—they make some form of sandwich. And most of those sandwich makers have figured out how to do a breakfast version, because, well, the math is simple: Sandwich = great, breakfast = great, so breakfast sandwich = extra great, especially if you’re in a rush and need to grab a bite on the run.
Breakfast sandwiches take on myriad forms across the globe, but share a common ethos: They pack in carbs and protein to start your day strong while making clever use of thrifty ingredients, all in a form that you can make quickly and eat on the go. Below are 12 top examples of the glorious breakfast sandwich in action (plus, enough insight to MacGyver your own).
Toasted white bread + Mornay sauce + ham + a fried egg
Leave it to the French to turn a simple ham and cheese sandwich into something so beautifully constructed that you have to eat it with a fork and knife. To make the classic croque monsieur, spread a toasted slice of bread with Mornay sauce (just béchamel with some cheese melted into it), layer on some thinly sliced ham, top with another slice of bread, and, if you really want to gild the lily, finish with butter and even more cheese or Mornay. Broil until the top layer of sauce bubbles, browns, and oozes, then eat. In the case of the croque madame, you repeat the same process but add a runny-yolked fried egg on top at the end, because…pourquoi pas?
Folded crepe + scrambled egg + fried wonton skin + hoisin sauce + chile oil
Bing is Chinese for “pancake,” and there are a hundred ways to make them. There are flaky laminated bings, puffy yeast-risen bings, and crepe-like jianbings, an essential street breakfast in Beijing. A loose wheat-flour crepe batter is spread into a circle on a flat griddle, then topped with an egg that gets spread to cover the entire surface, quickly setting in the steam. The cook then adds any number of sauces and fillings: Hoisin and chile oil are traditional, as well as fried wonton skins for crunch. The whole crepe is then folded up and cut in half to make a savory pocket full of contrasting flavors and textures. If you can’t find wonton skins near you, do like Mandy Lee of Beijing food blog Lady & Pups and sub in potato chips.
Pita + fava falafel + cucumber salad + tahini + shatta
Falafel is a staple across the Middle East, and everyone makes it differently. The Egyptian version, usually referred to as tameya, is pressed into flat, lentil-like disks (rather than the more familiar round balls), but the bigger distinction is what’s inside. While most falafel recipes call for dried chickpeas, tameya is made with dried and hulled fava beans, which have a distinct depth and pungency you won’t find with any other legume. At home, a full Egyptian breakfast spread might include fresh tameya, hard or soft cheese, tomato and cucumber salad, flatbreads, and various pickles and olives. If you’re on the run, any and all of those ingredients may be wrapped or stuffed into a tameya sandwich, sauced with tahini loosened with lemon juice and olive oil, and perked up with shatta, a chunky, harissa-like chile paste.
Breakfast bread + scrambled egg + American cheese + bacon
Sandwiches filled with meats or cheeses and eaten for breakfast have long been commonplace in northern European countries, but only in America did this formulation get codified into the bacon, egg, and cheese: breakfast bread (an English muffin, say, or kaiser roll or bagel), melted cheese, bacon, and scrambled or over-medium egg. A working-class staple since the 19th century, the American-style breakfast sandwich as a cultural institution really only took off in the 1970s and early ’80s, when fast food chains started serving breakfast and nationalized the concept. Call it my hometown bias, but nowhere is the breakfast sandwich as rooted into daily American life as in New York City, where you can buy this morning favorite on practically every corner.
Toasted white bread + spiced scrambled eggs + onions + peppers
Eggs scrambled with onions, peppers, and spices like turmeric and ground chile are a popular breakfast in northern and western India, as well as Pakistan. You can eat them as is or roll them up in naan or other flatbread. One common preparation, especially on the streets of Mumbai, involves smushing the egg between layers of white sandwich bread, maybe spread with some mint or cilantro chutney first, and then toasting it in a press—not a bad way to start the day.
Fried cornmeal cake + soft-cooked egg
Just like falafel in the Middle East, what an arepa means and how it’s made varies widely across Latin America, but in Colombia it’s typically a round corn cake stuffed and/or topped with cheese or other fillings, then sauced to your liking. One particularly genius formulation is the arepa with a gently cooked egg in the center, a popular street snack and breakfast item in Cartagena and throughout Colombia’s coastal region. The secret to eggy arepa perfection is to fry the corn-flour cake twice: once by itself, to cook the arepa 80 percent of the way through, then a second time after you’ve split it open, cracked a raw egg inside, and sealed it back up. Add some hot sauce and a café con leche for a complete (and completely satisfying) portable breakfast.
Pita + fried eggplant + hard-boiled egg + cucumber salad + tahini + amba
Take the falafel out of the falafel sandwich and replace it with thick slices of super-tender fried eggplant and hard-boiled eggs, and you basically have sabich: a hearty meal probably first developed by Iraqi Jews who settled in Israel and wanted a make-ahead meal to eat on the sabbath. (In some interpretations of Judaism, work is forbidden on the sabbath, which would include lighting a stove to fry something up, but not, say, assembling a sandwich for yourself from precooked ingredients.) Sabich thrives in Israel, but it’s one of those historically complex Middle Eastern foods that doesn’t really “belong” to anyone. Slow-cooked eggs and eggplant are popular in both Arab and Jewish traditions in the region, and amba, the punchy pickled-mango sauce colored with turmeric that livens up a sabich, likely has origins in South Asia.
Toasted, buttered white bread + veggie omelet + ham + cheese + a sprinkle of sugar
One of South Korea’s favorite breakfasts is fusion-fueled "street toast,” a vegetable-filled omelet slid onto buttered white bread, sprinkled with sugar, and frequently topped with ham, American cheese, ketchup, and mayonnaise. The vegetables vary but generally include thinly sliced cabbage, onions, carrots, and scallions; the toppings are also customized to order. And hey, don’t knock the sugar thing until you try it; sweet and savory is a recurring theme in Korean cuisine, and the sugar here really helps amplify the mellow taste of the eggs. Street toast is typically eaten on the run, but that’s no reason not to make your own at home. The vegetable component of the omelet is a particularly handy way to use up the leftovers in your fridge.
Split and toasted roll + scrambled egg with chorizo + refried beans + avocado + cheese
Tortas—sandwiches on football-shaped rolls—are typically lunch food in Mexico. One notable exception is the popular breakfast torta filled with scrambled eggs and nubs of spicy chorizo, then topped with a bunch of rich fixings. Toast your roll cut side down, then spread a bit of mayo, a base layer of refried beans, the chorizo-studded scrambled eggs, your choice of cheese (from classic queso fresco to melty Monterey Jack), slices of avocado, some pickled jalapeño, and a few slivers of tomato. It’s not hard to understand why this sandwich has spread beyond the border to become a favorite in Mexican communities throughout the U.S., as well.
Split bolillo roll + slice of Spanish tortilla
Tortilla is everywhere in Spain, from southern Seville to the northern Basque country, and it’s an essential dish eaten at any time of day. The thick omelet—an inch or two tall—is served in wedges, and may be filled with potatoes sautéed in olive oil, peppers and onions, or even flaked salt cod. Tortilla is great at room temperature, which means it makes perfect leftovers, and it’s common to see workers at Spanish coffee shops splitting open fresh bolillo rolls and stuffing them with a slice of the stuff. That’s the dish: Tortilla on a roll—no sauces, no add-ins—which might sound drab until you take a bite.
Do you have a go-to recipe for any of these breakfast sandwiches, or another take that's not on this list? Share your own favorites in the comments!
Our partner Panera Bread loves breakfast sandwiches just as much as we do—in fact, they've just added a new one to their menu: An elevated take on the classic bacon, egg, and cheese made with freshly baked brioche, thick-cut bacon, Vermont white cheddar, and an over easy egg.