“Hey, Joe, come vai? Whatcha eating there?”
“Joe, Joe, swallow it first. Don’t talk with your mouth full. You sound like Marlon Brando playing a Sicilian. Now what is it?”
“Muffuletta!” Joe holds out a big round sandwich wrapped in paper. “Muffuletta for you!”
“Muffuletta for me? Hey! Muffuletta for you!”
So, OK, where are these two jokers? Let’s just say they’re at Central Grocery. Where, in New Jersey somewhere? No, in New Orleans. Of course, you can get muffuletta elsewhere, but that’s where the muffuletta sandwich was invented about a century ago.
Now, for the sake of accuracy, I should say that muffuletta is really the name of the loaf, a flattish round Sicilian loaf of bread. When you slice it through the equator, add olive salad, then capicola, salami, mortadella, emmentaler, and provolone to the bottom half and put the top half back on, you have what was originally called a muffuletta sandwich. But now it’s typically called just by the name of the loaf.
So does a muffuletta sound like a lotta mouthfuls? Well, it is. The loaf is about 10 inches across. You can feed more than one person with a muffuletta sandwich (but rest assured there are many people who will eat a whole one – like the farmers who came to New Orleans for the market and went to Central Grocery to get bread, cheese, and antipasto, and then ate them separately balancing them on their knees until the store owner, Salvatore Lupo, said why not eat them together). The word itself seems pretty stuffed too – it’s a meal with two loaf halves u and u and the cheese ff and meat tt (or is it the other way around?).
And it persists in the great tradition of Italian food names: it’s not too short; it has double letters; it sounds to English ears maybe a little rude (compare focaccia, for instance); and it’s subject to multiple (mis)spellings and (mis)pronunciations (compare focaccia and many others for the former and bruschetta, gnocchi, and various others for the latter). You will hear people say it as “muff a lotta”, for instance, rather than the “moo foo let ta” that it originally is. And of course you can imagine how many different ways it gets written.
But it’s hard to be pedantic when the loaf in its native Sicily has various variations according to the dialect: muffuletta, mufuletta, muffiletta, mufiletta, muffulettu, muffuletu, muffulittuni… Well, one thing you know for sure: it’s no muffin, and you don’t see no lettuce in it neither. And to yous in Quebec: don’t wear your moufles when eating it. You’ll just get olive oil on them.
But to any muffled eater, one thing’s for sure: it beats a mofette.