• Re Store conti roll (Jessica Shaver)Source: Jessica Shaver
Born in Europe but raised in Western Australia, continental rolls are a mainstay of Perth’s European delis and markets. SBS Food examines the past, present and future of this beloved Australian-Italian sandwich.
By
Max Veenhuyzen

27 Jan 2016 - 10:43 AM  UPDATED 15 Dec 2017 - 2:47 PM

The continental roll is the closest thing us West Australians have to a regional sandwich. A cousin of Philadelphia’s hoagie, the hero in Chicago and pretty much every other American-Italian sandwich served in a long roll, the combination of Italian deli meats, cheese and pickled vegetables in a crunchy roll is as much about warding off hunger as it is celebrating Italy’s contribution to Western Australia’s food culture.

While I doubt anyone will ever be able to produce a birth certificate for the conti roll, the sandwich was almost certainly raised in Northbridge, the inner-city neighbourhood just north of the CBD and one of the Italian community’s traditional heartlands.

While my talks with Perth’s elder statesmen and stateswomen of Italian food culture have unearthed many roll-related tales, one of the more credible creation myths comes from Aurora Berti, daughter of Re Store founder, John Re.

John Re in front of his first fruit and veg store, circa 1930s.

As he tells it, during the ’50s, Italian labourers and market gardeners would spend Saturday mornings shopping at the Re Store on the corner of Lake and Aberdeen streets in Northbridge (today, the long-standing Italian restaurant Romany sits at the site with the Re Store across the road; a second Re Store is on Oxford Street in Leederville). In between gossiping and drinking coffee, the men would buy cornettos – a small, braided Italian roll – and fill them with the meat and cheese they had just purchased, laying the foundation for a local legend.

Carolina Meneghello (John Re's daughter) and Rosanna Stocco (John Re's grand daughter) at the Re Store on Stone Street in West Leederville. When the store was demolished to make way for the freeway, the Re Store relocated to its existing Oxford Street address.

“It’d never just be a hundred grams of this, two hundred grams of that, some cheese and then taking off,” says Moreno Berti, Aurora’s son and current manager of the Leederville Re Store.

“They’d hang around, laugh, joke and talk about what they got up to last weekend.”

Augusta Giudicatti, John Re's son-in-law.

For Di Chiera Brothers founders Giuseppe and Antonio Di Chiera, the exchange went the other way with what was originally a post-market snack for the brothers and way of using unsellable salami ends proving a hit with customers.

“Dad started making the continental roll because there was a demand for it,” says Antonio’s son and the business’s custodian, Tom Di Chiera.

“It’s not like they came up with the idea.”

Interestingly, while native Italian speakers would request a panino Italiano, it was the Anglophones that gave the sandwich its name: the majority of the ingredients – the French-style baguette, the Italian cold cuts and the Swiss cheese – all came from the European continent, rather than the British Isles.

So what constitutes a good continental roll? The bread, naturally, is a key factor. While any sort of baguette works, purists maintain that a true conti must be made with a crusty and chewy roll, preferably one that leaves the gums sore after eating. Till recently, this roll was almost always a tanned Vastese “banana roll”, but following the bakery’s closure at Christmas, delis and lunch bars have started looking elsewhere for their daily bread delivery (bolstered by the arrival of a former Vastese baker, Osborne Park’s Grainaissance is making a serious play for the title of Perth’s primo Italian bakery).

Pane aside, the meat is a roll’s other make-or-break moment. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that many of Perth’s better conti specimens come from the same places people go for great prosciutto, jamon and smallgoods. While the exacting sandwich fancier will specify the exact hams for his or her roll, most are happy to run with the “house” or “mixed meat” roll, usually a blend containing mortadella, coppa and salami.

After that, it’s pretty much anything goes, although Mediterranean condiments such sun-dried tomatoes and pickled eggplants (get the Di Chiera Brother's pickled eggplant recipe here) are considered the sandwich’s defining features. Having said that, the patriot in me gets a kick out of seeing beetroot, grated carrot and other distinctly Australian fillings in the display cabinet. Australian-Italian fusion? You bet.

While I’m of the opinion contis make good eating any time of day, the delis and lunch bars that sell them usually trade from breakfast till late afternoon. Understandably, a roll in the park with buddies is a popular lunchtime option for many an office worker, while most rolls are sturdy enough to survive a car ride from the deli back home. Like any sandwich, portability is part of the conti’s appeal, although those making a long-term journey (train, plane, or driving really, really far) should probably ease up on the salad and other soggy bits. The continental breakfast roll? Been there, done that, probably going to do it again before the month is out.

While contis rolls have been part of the West Australian diet for almost six decades, it’s interesting to note the sandwiches’ increasing importance to a business’s bottom line. Deli owners might be shy when it comes to quoting figures, but look closely and the evidence is there. Moreno Berti refers to continental rolls as the “little advertising budget” of the Re Store Leederville (“people come here for the rolls and while they’re here, they see our specials”). At the Re Store in Northbridge, shelves at the front of the store have been replaced with café-style tables to capture more of the important lunch trade. Over the Christmas break at Di Chiera Brothers, Tom and family installed a new stainless steel sandwich station to streamline the roll-making process. The ability to order rolls, meanwhile, is a key feature of the store’s recently launched app. 

“Previously, the roll was a side item with the mainstream item being selling groceries,” says Di Chiera. 

“Now we’re gearing up for the roll to go mainstream.”

Di Chiera's conti roll: a Perth tradition.

It’s a similar tale at Scutti, an Italian deli in leafy, cosmopolitan South Perth that now sells its contis from a dedicated café rather than the crowded deli counter like before. According to store manager Michael Scutti, this expansion was vital to ensure standards were maintained.

“Customers who buy our rolls regularly aren’t going to buy fast food,” says Scutti. “If you go to a big shopping centre, you’d be struggling to find a continental roll.”

“[Here] you’ve got this web of shops that pretty much do the same roll and they’re in the top bracket of quality. We all handle the same kind and quality of products. If you make a terrible roll, you’re found out.”

 


Five of the best

Available at European markets, delis and bakers around Perth, the continental roll is loved by everyone from tradies to nonnas and nonnos. Here’s a hit-list of five of the city’s more distinctive rolls.

 

 

Re Store

Purveyors of Perth’s other benchmark continental roll. The house special ($7.70) stars pickled capsicum, olives, meat and cheese on a crusty roll. Fussy eaters, meanwhile, can choose to have their sandwich made using any of the meats sold in the deli – jamon Iberico and salad roll, anyone?

231 Oxford St, Leederville, WA, (08) 9444 9644

 

Delisimmo Continental Deli

As you’d expect from a lunch bar servicing an industrial area, Delisimmo’s weighty rolls ($8.50) are packed with everything a growing boy needs. Start with a fat, chewy par-baked multigrain roll, stuff with a billfold of meat and build away. Approach the “jumbo” size sandwiches with caution.

176 Swansea St, Victoria Park, WA, (08) 9355 2311

 

Kings Euro Foods

More is most definitely more at this eastern European deli. The house roll ($9.50) includes three meats, cheese and lettuce, tomato and thinly chopped cucumber, all crammed into a roll baked by Kings’ dedicated bakery arm. The dense and chewy sourdough is a worthy challenge for even the most seasoned roll eater.

2/12 Harrison St, Balcatta, WA, (08) 9344 1830

 

Scutti

Par-baked in-store, Scutti’s blonde, chewy baguettes might be dainty in stature, but staff pack them tightly with the good stuff. Note the continental trifecta of sun-dried tomatoes, artichokes and capsicum in the house “insalata works” ($10.50).

67 Angelo St, South Perth, WA, (08) 9367 7688

 

Di Chiera Bros Continental Store {NOW CLOSED}

Tom Di Chiera is a stickler for detail. From baking Di Chiera’s own “hybrid-crispy” bread in-house to sourcing good Swiss, provolone and mozzarella cheese, a commitment to sweating the little things translates to one of the city’s best sandwiches ($10).

527 Fitzgerald St, North Perth, WA, (08) 9444 5225

 

Images taken by Jessica Shaver.

For more sandwich ideas head to our collection here.

Want more filling?
Phasers on stun chicken sub with kimchi mayo

Using panko breadcrumbs to crumb the chicken results in golden crispy gloriousness. Cut the sub into Tribble or Klingon sized pieces, according to your needs.

BBQ pork breakfast rolls

We're the first to call these rolls out as wannabe bánh mì (aka Vietnamese pork rolls). But these pocket rockets hold their own come breakfast when all you want is porky goodness propped up with crunchy, sweet, vinegary pickles and a lick of mayo. Add a spoonful of sweetened condensed milk to your coffee and breakfast is served Hanoi-meets-lazy-days style.

Meatball hero

Submarine is the correct name for this, but in Philadelphia it’s called a hoagie, in New England a grinder and in New York a hero. The name was coined in the 1930s when it was claimed that only a true hero could eat such an enormous sandwich. The meatballs and the sauce also make a mean sauce for spaghetti.

Maria’s bubble bap

It’s the order her market caff is most famous for, and Maria claims that it’s her bubble and squeak that put the dish back on British menus. With fans like food writer Matthew Fort, chef Jamie Oliver and HRH the Prince of Wales, it seems foolish to argue with her. “Bubble and squeak is very simple,” she says. She makes hers by frying cold, boiled potato and cabbage together, “keep frying and keep adding to it,” says Maria. (You can press it into a patty, with lots of crisp bits.) Then it goes on a bap, with a slice of cheese, and some bacon, or a sausage. Or an egg. Whatever you like, says Maria. “It’s very good for hangovers.”