The muffuletta, unwrapped: the secrets behind Louisiana’s famous sandwich

Let’s go back to the 1900s. It was a new era of innovation and immigration. New Orleans’ Italian population was at such an all-time high, pockets of the city were called “Little Italy.”

Around this time, Salvatore Lupo and his Sicilian family ran Central Grocery, serving hundreds of Italian immigrants food from their home country. Their most popular plate was an olive mix with a side of meats, cheeses and Sicilian bread. The dish was a hit with New Orleans workers, but there was one issue: It was hard to consume on-the-go. Lupo and his family soon noticed their ingredients were being combined. The workers were making sandwiches. So Central Grocery decided to make sandwiches, too. Soon after, the muffuletta was born—and Louisiana’s culinary history was forever changed.

Today, the muffuletta has gained popularity around the globe. Many try to recreate it, but none compare to the ones made here in Louisiana. Just ask the staff at Baton Rouge’s Anthony’s Italian Deli.

Anthony’s origin story is not unlike Central Grocery’s. The Saia family came to Louisiana from different parts of Italy, bringing recipes from home. They got their start in a small shop off Florida Boulevard and stayed there for 36 years. Eventually, they decided to buy land on Government Street and build their own place. From the start, they knew they wanted their muffuletta to be different from the New Orleans variations.

“I’ve noticed that they’re putting whole olives on it and big chunks of vegetables soaked in olive oil,” says Marco Saia. “Ours is like a plethora more of vegetables ground up with olives.”

Anthony’s makes its olive mix with a blend of spices the staff doesn’t plan on disclosing. They put that on top of oil- and vinegar-soaked bread from Jumonville’s Bakery in Gonzales.

Then they add capicola, provolone cheese, mortadella and ham.

“We like to go heavy on the meat and cheese, Italian style. We’d rather you leave full than leave hungry,” Saia says. “And that’s a muffuletta.”

Anthony’s also sets apart its muffulettas by toasting the bread. It adds structure to the sandwich that otherwise might crumble. This and other features have even New Orleans residents driving to taste the dish in Baton Rouge, Saia says.

Muffulettas are a symbol of what Louisiana really is: a culinary melting pot. Anthony’s version embodies the original tradition. It’s changed, but not really.