A poor boy or po'boy sandwich is a type of submarine sandwich which is closely associated with New Orleans. Like other submarine sandwiches, a po'boy is made with a large oblong loaf of bread which does distinctly resemble a submarine. A variety of ingredients may be used in a po'boyh, which can be served “dressed” with garnishes or “undressed” and plain. Outside of New Orleans, a po-boy sandwich may be better known as a sub or hoagie, depending on regional dialect.
Purists believe that the sandwich must be made with New Orleans French bread to be termed a true po'boy sandwich. The French bread of New Orleans has a distinctive crackly crust and a dense, chewy exterior. The small variations in the bread are caused by local yeasts, which are collected when bakeries make a bread starter. The bread is typically purchased from bakeries, rather than being baked on site, since many sandwich stands have very simple facilities.
In many cases, a po-boy is made with seafood such as oysters or shrimp, which may be battered and fried or stewed. In this case, the po'boy sandwich is served hot, and the bread is usually toasted so that it will not become soggy. Cold sandwiches made with meats like ham and roast beef are also not uncommon, and they may be slathered with hot gravy. Mustard is also a standard inclusion in a po'boy sandwich. If a sandwich is ordered “dressed,” it will include lettuce, tomato, onions, pickles, and mayonnaise.
It is generally believed that the po'boy was invented in the 1920s by the Martin brothers, two former streetcar drivers who wanted to support a streetcar strike. The brothers decided to hand out free sandwiches to the “poor boys” who were striking, and the sandwiches quickly became popular with others as well. By the 1930s, numerous po'boy sandwich stands were thriving.
The po'boy sandwich continues to be a cheap and popular meal in New Orleans, and it is a common lunch counter offering. Various sizes are available to cater to different appetites, with many people especially enjoying seafood po'boys. Small variations in the dressing are also not uncommon; some establishments, for example, use shredded cabbage instead of lettuce in “dressed” sandwiches. In some cases, a sandwich shop will offer only cold po'boys, saving costs by not installing stoves or a deep fryer, although it may keep gravy hot on a burner.