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National French Dip Day

Celebrated and enjoyed today on National French Dip Day, a French dip, also known as a beef dip, is a hot sandwich made with roast beef (usually thinly sliced) and a French roll or baguette. It may be served plain but is usually served with au jus, which is French for "with juice" and consists of beef broth—or something similar, like beef gravy or stock—usually from the cooking process. French dips may also have other toppings, with Swiss cheese and onions being the most common. Beef may be substituted with roast pork, pastrami, turkey, lamb, or ham.

Philippe the Original (commonly called Philippe's today and known as Philippe's Restaurant when it opened) and Cole's French Dip (also known as Cole's Pacific Electric Buffet), both located in downtown Los Angeles, have a rivalry as to who is the originator of the French dip sandwich. National French Dip Day was initiated by Cole's French Dip in honor of its 110th anniversary on November 12, 2018. They offered a $10 French dip and martini combo all day. They had a similar offer the following year. Ironically, a "French Dip Day" had previously been celebrated by Philippe the Original, on October 6, 2008, in honor of their 100th anniversary. French dip sandwiches were priced at their original ten cents listing, and coffee was five cents.

Cole's and Philippe's both opened in 1908—Philippe's first and Cole's about a month later. While Cole's claims to have created the French dip at that time, Philippe's claims to have created it in 1917 or 1918. Philippe's uses the phrase "Home of the Original French Dip Sandwich" and calls the French dip their "specialty of the house." Philippe's French dip is served "single-dipped," "double-dipped," or "wet," with the bread being dipped in beef juices when it is put together. Philippe's and Cole's both have a spicy house mustard that patrons traditionally put on the sandwich.

Philippe's was founded by Philippe Mathieu, a French immigrant and cook who had arrived in Los Angeles five years earlier and opened a delicatessen. He sold Philippe's in 1927, and the descendants of those buyers changed the name of the restaurant to Philippe the Original. In 1951, on account of the construction of the Hollywood Freeway, it moved to its present location at 1001 N Alameda St.

There are several accounts as to the start of the sandwich at Philippe's. Among others, two are the most common or credible. The first comes from Philippe's website, which says:

One day in 1918, while making a sandwich, Mathieu inadvertently dropped the sliced french roll into the roasting pan filled with juice still hot from the oven. The patron, a policeman, said he would take the sandwich anyway and returned the next day with some friends asking for more dipped sandwiches. And so was born the 'French Dipped Sandwich," so called either because of Mathieu’s French heritage, the French roll the sandwich is made on or because the officer’s name was French. The answer is lost to history.

The second is a first-hand account, coming from Philippe Mathieu himself in a Los Angeles Times interview from 1951, written at the time of the relocation of the restaurant because of the Hollywood Freeway:

One day a police officer asked me if I would mind splitting one of these large loaves of French bread and filling it with 'some of the delicious roast pork.' I was not too busy, so I said, 'Sure.' Then he asked me to 'please cut it in half. I've got a friend outside who can eat it.' Then he asked for some pickles, onions and olives.

Mattieu went on to say:

Then we started making French-roll sandwiches for those who had smaller appetites. One day a customer saw some gravy in the bottom of a large pan of roast meat. He asked me if I would mind dipping one side of the French roll in that gravy. I did, and right away five or six others wanted the same.

So, by the supposed creator's own account, the French dip started out as a pork sandwich, not a beef sandwich, and was eaten with pickles, onions, and olives.

As for Cole's, one of Los Angeles's oldest bars, several stories have passed down through employees over the years. Records cannot be found of Cole's French dip being mentioned before Philippe's was known for them, and because of both of these reasons, its claim is not as strong as Phillipe's. An interview in the Los Angeles Times in 1997 of Gitti Beheshti, then co-owner and manager, says the following:

Mr. [Henry] Cole was German. He had a friend that was a chef working here. He was in the kitchen when someone wanted a sandwich, then the bread fell into the beef juice and they liked it. The other customer in line behind him asked for the same sandwich.

Another account claims that a chef by the name of Jack Garlinghouse made the sandwich for a customer who wanted a roast beef sandwich but had sore gums, so he dipped the sandwich in beef juices before serving it, softening the bread to make it easier to eat.

It's unknown why this Los Angeles-born sandwich has "French" in its name, but there are several plausible explanations. It could be because a French roll is used. It could be because it is dipped au jus—a French phrase for "with juice." It could be named for Philippe Mathieu, who was a French immigrant. Or, as mentioned in the first Philippe's story above, it could be because the officer who received the first French dip was named French.

Finally, it could be based on a pun. In the early twentieth century, a "French dip" was also a dress style—also used in men's and women's jackets—that dropped the waist to below the belt, to give the wearer a thinner appearance. The sandwich name could be poking fun at the fact that when one thinks about slimming down, they usually don't think of a sandwich made with meat and gravy. No matter why it has the name it does, or who its creator was, the French dip is not just beloved in Los Angeles, but around the world, and we celebrate and enjoy it today on National French Dip Day!

How to Observe National French Dip Day

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