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Ruben Sandwich - History/Origin?

Rubens are classic sandwiches that are very common most places where I have lived. American style sandwich shops and restaurants usually have one on the menu.

Because of the name, I'd always assumed that they were originally a popular Jewish deli sandwich, but then one day I realized that despite the rye bread, the pastrami, and the name, a Ruben sandwich is not kosher because of the Swiss cheese.

So where do they come from? Are they served in authentic delis? Do they vary from one part of the US to another?


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    1. Another good source of food origins is The Food Timeline (TFT) which also documents the sources of their info. According to TFT ...

      "Reuben sandwich (as we know it today) can be traced to the Blackstone Hotel in Omaha Nebraska"

      Omaha ... who knew?

      1. Citing the wikipedia story - I lived for years in Georgia and never heard of their so-called "Georgia Reuben". In Minnesota, the Rachel is the classic Reuben with turkey instead of corned beef. Everything else is the same.

        1. >> American style sandwich shops and restaurants usually have one on the menu.

          I certainly wish that was true where I live. There are really few restaurant or sandwich shops that serve Reubens around here, and of those, precious few I'd even order from a second time.

          Among the most common flaws that ruin Reubens for me are:

          - Not adequately draining the sauerkraut so that the bread ends up too soggy to enjoy much less even pick up.

          - Corned beef incorrectly cut on the wrong diagonal so that the eater bites into the long, chewy fibers rather than the shorter, easier to chew fibers.

          - Grilled unevenly -- one side barely grilled and the other nearly charred (Why don't you just use a panini grill?).

          - Using some trendy cheese other than Swiss or dressing other than Russian or Thousand Island without noting it on the menu.

          I am ever-questing for good Reubens and am usually quite disappointed unless I just make them at home.

          6 Replies
          1. re: KCJ

            Ouch! Where do you live? (Just in case I ever pass through I'll know not to order a reuben ;)).

            I have encountered some pretty bad reubens, including one actually made with that canned corned beef on white bread, but there are several shops that serve very good ones here. One though, Kahn's Deli, which traces back to 1948, in recent years started adding cheddar cheese along with the swiss -- I didn't notice it on the menu description at first. More recently, they've added mustard plus the Russian. Gack! Michael Kahn's father Alfred must be turning in his grave.

            1. re: oltheimmer

              a delicious heresy, the tempeh reuben
              'kraut, fried tempeh, grainy mustard on a rustic roll
              ; )

              1. re: pitu

                The Reuben police are going to come get me. I love Reubens, but HATE Swiss cheese, I'll pretty much take any other cheese on the menu other than Swiss (or American which isn't even cheese.) Jack, cheddar, Emmental. Come to L.A, lots of traditional Reubens, but they're also open to substituting cheeses for non-traditionalists like me.

                1. re: writergirl

                  isn't emmental a type of swiss cheese?

                  1. re: esteban

                    emmanthal is in fact GOOD swiss cheese
                    and don't worry, the Reuben police are distracted by my vegan suggestion . . .

                    1. re: pitu

                      Yes, but usually when something's called "Swiss cheese" it is definitely NOT emmental!

          2. If any readers in Toronto are looking for a good Reuben, the one at Coleman's is really good (on kimmel/seeded rye). And I think it's just about the only good thing available at Pickle Barrel (on pumpernickel).

            1. "...despite the rye bread, the pastrami, and the name, a Ruben sandwich is not kosher because of the Swiss cheese."

              OMG it's not kosher? Oh, wait, I'm not Jewish... but it's really hard to find good corned beef around Chicago... since Stein's Deli in Lyons went out of business a few years ago.

              Anybody got a place for good corned beef?

              I've tried it from Boback's, but it ain't the right stuff.
              They do some pretty good sausage, but corned beef seems not to be a Polish thing.

              Help me here- the Reuben is pretty much my favorite sandwich.


              1 Reply
              1. re: MikeLM

                mannys deli in Chicago,

                1141 S. Jefferson

                good corned beef, above average Rueben.

              2. Where did the Rueben come from? Straight from heaven, that's where.

                4 Replies
                1. re: amkirkland

                  Agreed. Best. Sandwich. Ever. The original and all the variations; each wonderfully delicious in their own way.

                  1. re: charmedgirl

                    I'm glad you include all the variations. In fact, this may be one food that is just so good, it survives the snobbery of purists. I'll even gladly eat the Arby's Rueben. In that vain, here's my question... Can we come up with (or has anyone seen) a Rueben with kim chi instead of kraut?

                    1. re: amkirkland

                      Damn! That sounds yummy! That sounds damn yummy!

                      1. re: Loren3

                        I'm no korean food expert, but here's what I'm thinking (based on a little research. Rice, bulgogi (marinated, grilled beef), kimchi and ssamjang (sort of like miso and chili paste) wrapped in a lettuce leaf. I can't think of something appropriate to replace the cheese.

                2. I live in NYC, and need to import a reuben about as much as I need to import the F word and cab exhaust. However, I went to school in Ann Arbor, and have sent the Zingerman's reuben kit to several friends over the years as gifts. They always elicit a great response, and are worthy of consideration for those of you in reubenless locales.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: big o

                    So reubens are common in New York? After reading the Wikipedia article and a couple of other things I found on the net, I was beginning to wonder if reubens were just a Midwest/Western sandwich.


                    1. re: Ed Dibble

                      According to the Wikipedia article, one of the few dissenting origination stories contends that the sandwich was invented in NY...

                      Regardless of who's got the right tale, however -- yes, the reuben is a hugely popular sandwich in NY. A deli staple, even.

                      1. re: big o

                        I think I would way rather have a NY reuben than one made in the mid-west.

                        YOu can find decent reubens in Portland, I like Goose Hollow Inn the best- I get major cravings for them sometimes. :)