A po’boy (also po-boy or po boy) is a classic Louisiana sandwich. It nearly always includes meat, such as roast beef, or fried seafood, such as shrimp, crawfish, fish, oysters, or crab. The meat is served atop French bread from New Orleans, which has a crisp surface and a fluffy middle.
As long as the “po’boy bread” is used, a variety of fillings are acceptable, including roast beef, baked ham, fried shrimp, fried crawfish, fried catfish, Louisiana hot sausage, French fries, fried chicken, alligator, duck, boudin, and rabbit.
“Po’boy bread” is a regional French bread cooked with less wheat and more water than a typical baguette, resulting in a wetter dough that yields a lighter, fluffier loaf. The recipe was created in the 1700s in the Gulf South because the humid climate made it difficult to grow wheat, necessitating the importation of wheat flour, which was scarce.
Lettuce, tomato, pickles, and mayonnaise are all included in a “dressed” po’boy. Typically, melted butter and sliced pickle rounds are served with fried shrimp po’boys. It’s optional to use a Louisiana-style hot sauce. Non-seafood po’boys are frequently served with Creole mustard.
Aside from meat and seafood, cheese has been a popular element in sandwiches since the Great Depression, when the sandwich was first introduced (the year 1929).
Fried oyster po’boys are also known as “oyster loaf,” and they appear to have a different and longer history.
Thick chunks of beef are served with gravy in a New Orleans “sloppy roast beef” po’boy, or the meat is simmered down until blended with its sauce in a “CrockPot tender” manner, while thinner slices are dipped in beef jus in a third way. Garlic is a seasoning that can be used if desired. Roast beef po’boys are frequently served with “debris,” which is meat that falls to the bottom of the pan after cooking and is reduced into a near-gravy.
In the late 1800s, fried oyster sandwiches on French baguettes were dubbed “oyster loaves” in New Orleans, a word that is still used today. A “peacemaker,” or La Médiatrice, is a sandwich that includes both fried shrimp and fried oysters.
According to one popular local version, the term “poor boy” (later “po’boy,” etc.) was coined in a New Orleans restaurant operated by Benjamin (“Benny”) and Clovis Martin, former streetcar conductors originating from Raceland, Louisiana. The Martins opened their restaurant in 1921, but it wasn’t until 1929 that John Gendusa’s bakery first prepared the bread for this sandwich. During a four-month strike against the streetcar company in 1929, the Martin brothers provided complimentary sandwiches to their former coworkers.
The Martins had been formally questioned about the sandwich’s origins. Benny Martin recalled that if an approaching diner turned out to be one of the strikes, they jokingly referred to him as “another poor lad” at the restaurant. The Martin brothers were also asked if the name was influenced by a French or French patois word like pourboire, which they rejected.
The Martin claim is suspect, according to one New Orleans historian, for several reasons, including the fact that it was not reported in the local press until 40 years after the strike, and that the Martin brothers’ storey prior to 1969 was that they invented the po’boy for farmers, dock workers, and other “poor boys” who frequented their original location near the French Market. (The Martin brothers did write a letter to the streetcar workers in 1929, which was reprinted in local newspapers, pledging to feed them, but it just said “our supper” and didn’t include sandwiches.)
The po’boy is a famous dish in New Orleans, which is famed for its large restaurants (see Louisiana Creole food).  Po’ boys can be made at home, purchased pre-packaged at convenience stores, or found at deli counters and most local restaurants. The po’boy shop is one of the most basic New Orleans eateries, and these establishments frequently provide seafood platters, red beans & rice, jambalaya, and other fundamental Creole foods.
The Leidenheimer Baking Company and Alois J. Binder are the two main suppliers of po’boy bread. Po’boy shops compete fiercely, and residents’ opinions on which is the best po’boy shop vary greatly.
The Oak Street Po’Boy Festival, which takes place every year in New Orleans, is dedicated to the po’boy. It’s a one-day celebration with live music, art, and food vendors selling a variety of po’boys. It takes place in the city’s Carrollton neighborhood in mid-November along a commercial strip of Oak Street. The event offers out “best-of” awards, encouraging cooks to come up with some of the most inventive po’ boys.
Authentic versions of Louisiana-style po’boys can be found along the Gulf Coast, from Houston through the Florida Panhandle. The term “po’boy” has spread further and can be found in the South Atlantic States and in California, where it may instead refer to local variations on the submarine sandwich.
Created in the 1960s and popularised by Syrian and Lebanese restaurateurs, Houston has its own version of the po’boy, with chowchow added to ham, salami, and provolone cheese. The sandwich was “in the city’s gastronomic DNA, the Shipley Do-Nuts of sandwiches,” according to Stephen Paulsen of the Houston Chronicle. Jalal Antone, the proprietor of Antone’s Import Company in the Fourth Ward, first formed it in 1962 after his brother-in-law cautioned him that area inhabitants would not be familiar with Levantine cuisine and that the business should focus on something more recognizable. The 1970s and 1980s were the height of their popularity, according to Houstonia’s John Lomax, but the proliferation of chain sandwich shops across the United States, the arrival of banh mi, and the poor quality of identical sandwiches in gas stations led to a decline in popularity.
Since the 1970s, when Vietnamese immigrants began flocking to the Gulf South, notably New Orleans, there has been some crossover between po’boys and bánh m.