Why St. Louis loves the St. Paul sandwich

From Provel to T-ravs, the St. Louis culinary fixation I’ve had the hardest time wrapping my head around is the St. Paul sandwich. Unverified local legend has it that a Chinese-American chef in the city invented the St. Paul in the 1940s to please Midwestern palates. He put an egg foo young patty (egg, bean sprouts, onion, flour) between a couple of pieces of white bread slathered with mayo, topped it with lettuce, tomato and pickles and named it after his hometown of St. Paul, Minnesota.

I thought the white bread would immediately become soggy and distressed from the mayo and the grease from the egg foo young. The lettuce, tomato and pickle surely played the most cursory of supporting roles. But I kept hearing folks rhapsodizing about this seemingly impossible sandwich.

The Midwestern executive chef Ben Welch has been eating them since he was a kid. “I’m a sandwich guy. I’m all about the handheld, so [St. Pauls] fit me,” he said. “On paper, it makes no sense. Who wants eggs and mayo and lettuce and tomato together on white bread? But it works.”

“We sell a lot of them,” said Qui Tran, co-owner of Mai Lee. “It’s like a cult thing.”

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