If you're a normal, curious human being (okay, or maybe a food nerd), you may have wondered about the origins of the name of a particularly iconic and deliciously comforting American sandwich: the po' boy.
My own curiosity began when my grandma and I were on our way to a po' boy joint in Houston, and she kept calling our soon-to-be-devoured sandwiches "poor boys." "Gee, Gammie's losing it," I thought to myself. "How does she not know they're called po' boys?" And then, duh, it dawned on me. "Po'" is short for "poor." Well, I had to know mo'. According to the Oak Street Po-Boy Festival, the sandwich found its roots in a hole-in-the-wall coffee stand that opened in New Orleans in 1922 -- Martin Brothers' Coffee Stand and Restaurant.
Brothers Bennie and Clovis Martin were former streetcar operators when they opened the shop. At the time, New Orleans transit employees were becoming increasingly angry about contract negotiations, and they went on strike throughout the city.
The strikes got so intense in 1929 that the transit system was shut down for two weeks, and New Orleans firefighters said the few operating streetcars were too dangerous to ride. In solidarity, the Martin Brothers offered free sandwiches to the strikers. The foot-long pieces of bread were sliced down the middle and filled with fried potatoes and roast beef gravy, according to Go NOLA.
Most people called them loaves. Until ... "We fed those men free of charge until the strike ended," Bennie Martin said, according to the Oak Street Po-Boy Festival. "Whenever we saw one of the striking men coming, one of us would say, 'Here comes another poor boy.'"
The Martins' generosity -- as well as their sandwiches' hefty size and good prices -- catapulted the "po' boy" sandwich to fame. Nearly a century later, people still love po' boys, though they're probably not getting them for free, and they're buying them with far more fillings than potatoes and gravy. You can find them far beyond New Orleans, too, but it's no coincidence that the po' boy fandom is strongest in Louisiana. Here are some of people's favorite places for po' boys in NOLA.