I love a story about Philadelphians. The people of my adopted city are the most lovable crazy people in the world. They love their city and culture with a vigor unparalleled in the world. One of my favorite parts about any conversation between Philadelphians is that it will turn toward strong opinions about food.
Here is a great anecdote from my time in Italy. Let me set the scene. We are in the small rural town of Castroregio having dinner in someone’s home. This is a vacation space they use in August. There are 4 Italian-Americans, 2 Midwesterners, and 3 Italians. All four of the Italian-Americans identify with Philadelphia in some way. The only way to properly appreciate this dialogue it to try to read it aloud in 30 seconds or less. If you can read it with a friend, speak over one another.
Italian-American (IA) #1: When making a hoagie you start by putting the oil on the roll.
IA #4, #3: Head shaking in disagreement.
Italian #1: What’s a hoagie?
IA #2: It’s a sandwich with meat and cheese on it.
Italian #1: Like a panini?
Midwestern #1: Sure
IA #4: Did you know that the hoagie was invented in southwest Philadelphia. The Hog Island shipyard was in southwest of Philadelphia along the Delaware River. Italian immigrants would take the leftover antipasti from dinner and put it on hard crusted roll for lunch at the shipyard the next day. People started calling the sandwich hoggies and it eventually became hoagies.
IA #1: You start by putting oil on the roll first!
Italian #1: (quietly) roll? (makes a burrito rolling motion)
Midwestern #1: (quietly) No, It just means bread.
Italian #1: nods
IA #1: Then you add the garlic salt to the lettuce.
IA #4: I don’t think so. I’ve never…
IA #2: Yeah, we call it Italian lettuce.
IA #4: appalled
IA #3: I like it with …
IA #1: You start with the oil first.
Italian #1: Stanno parlando di panini.
Italian #2: nods
IA #4: We add the oil last. It’s how you dress the lettuce.
IA #2: It’s a sandwich on a long piece of bread with meat, cheese, and vegetables. It’s very good. When you come to the United States we’ll get you some.
Italian #3: Like Subway.
The speed of the conversation is cover for ignoring this insult.
IA #4: I was known as the hoagie queen when I was younger. Come to Philadelphia and I’ll make you a great hoagie.
IA #1: I start with the oil on the roll, and then the meat, and the lettuce.
A similar conversation happened around the cheesesteak. No, it is not a scallopini. Yes, we are still discussing a sandwich.