The Submarine Sandwich

July 29, 2011 at 12:29 PM | Posted in Food | 12 Comments
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I had a 6″ Turkey Sub on Whole Wheat for lunch today at a local Subway. It got me wondering about how the Sub originated. Here’s what I found.

A submarine sandwich, also known as a sub among other names, is a sandwich that consists of a long roll of Italian or French bread, split lengthwise either into two pieces or opened in a “V” on one side, and filled with various meats, cheeses, vegetables, seasonings, and sauces. The sandwich has no standardized name, and many U.S. regions have their own names for it; one study found 13 different names for the sandwich in the United States. The usage of the several terms varies regionally but not in any pattern, as they have been used variously by the people and enterprises who make and sell them. The terms submarine and sub are widespread and not assignable to any certain region, though many of the localized terms are clustered in the northeast United States, where the most Italian Americans live.

The sandwich originated in several different Italian American communities in the Northeastern United States from the late 19th to mid 20th centuries. The popularity of this Italian-American cuisine has grown from its origins in Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts to spread to most parts of the United States, and with the advent of chain restaurants, is now available in many parts of the world. In Europe it would simply be known as a baguette, or a ciabatta, named after the type of bread being used. Both types of bread are traditional breads in use in France and Italy for centuries.

The use of the term submarine or sub is widespread. One theory is that it originated in a restaurant in Scollay Square in Boston, Massachusetts at the beginning of World War I. The sandwich was created to entice the large numbers of navy servicemen stationed at the Charlestown Navy Yard. The bread was a smaller specially baked baguette intended to resemble the hull of the submarines it was named after.

Many say that the name originates from Groton, Connecticut, where there is the largest United States Submarine factory. The sandwiches were commonly eaten by workers in the naval yard. Another theory suggests the submarine was brought to the US by Dominic Conti (1874–1954), an Italian immigrant who came to New York in the early 1900s. In 1910 he started Dominic Conti’s Grocery Store on Mill Street in Paterson, New Jersey and named the sandwich after seeing the recovered 1901 submarine called “Fenian Ram” in the local Paterson Museum in 1918. His granddaughter has stated the following: “My grandfather came to this country circa 1895 from Montella, Italy. Around 1910, he started his grocery store, called Dominic Conti’s Grocery Store, on Mill Street in Paterson, New Jersey where he was selling the traditional Italian sandwiches. His sandwiches were made from a recipe he brought with him from Italy which consisted of a long crust roll, filled with cold cuts, topped with lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, onions, oil, vinegar, Italian herbs and spices, salt, and pepper. The sandwich started with a layer of cheese and ended with a layer of cheese (this was so the bread wouldn’t get soggy).”

The term hoagie originated in the Philadelphia area. Domenic Vitiello, professor of Urban Studies at the University of Pennsylvania asserts that Italians working at the World War I era shipyard in Philadelphia, known as Hog Island where emergency shipping was produced for the war effort, introduced the sandwich, by putting various meats, cheeses, and lettuce between two slices of bread. This became known as the “Hog Island” sandwich; hence, the “hoagie”.

The Philadelphia Almanac and Citizen’s Manual offers a different explanation, that the sandwich was created by early twentieth century street vendors called “hokey-pokey men”, who sold antipasto salad, along with meats and cookies. When Gilbert and Sullivan’s operetta H.M.S. Pinafore opened in Philadelphia in 1879, bakeries produced a long loaf called the pinafore. Entrepreneurial “hokey-pokey men” sliced the loaf in half, stuffed it with antipasto salad, and sold the world’s first “hoagie”.

Another explanation is that the word “hoagie” arose in the late 19th-early 20th century, among the Italian community in South Philadelphia, when “on the hoke” was a slang used to describe a destitute person. Deli owners would give away scraps of cheeses and meats in an Italian bread-roll known as a “hokie”, but the Italian immigrants pronounced it “hoagie”.

Other less likely explanations involve “Hogan” (a nickname for Irish workers at the Hog Island shipyard), a reference to the pork or “hog” meat used in hoagies, “honky sandwich” (using a racial slur for white people seen eating them) or “hooky sandwich” (derived from “hookie” for truant kids seen eating them). Shortly after World War II, there were numerous varieties of the term in use throughout Philadelphia. By the 1940s, the spellings “hoagie” and, to a lesser extent, “hoagy” had come to dominate lesser user variations like “hoogie” and “hoggie”. By 1955, restaurants throughout the area were using the term “hoagie”, with many selling hoagies and subs or hoagies and pizza. Listings in Pittsburgh show hoagies arriving in 1961 and becoming widespread in that city by 1966.[12]

Former Philadelphia mayor (and later Pennsylvania governor) Ed Rendell declared the hoagie the “Official Sandwich of Philadelphia”. However, there are claims that the hoagie was actually a product of nearby Chester, Pennsylvania. DiCostanza’s in Boothwyn, Pennsylvania claims that the mother of DiConstanza’s owner originated the hoagie in 1925 in Chester. DiCostanza relates the story that a customer came into the family deli and through the series of the customers’ requests and the deli’s offerings, the hoagie was created.

A local Philadelphia variation on the hoagie is the zep made in Norristown, Pennsylvania. It is a variation on the traditional hoagie, with no lettuce and only one meat. It is made on a round roll, with provolone cheese covering meat, chunks of raw onion, and slabs of tomato. It is dressed with oregano, salt, pepper, olive oil, and hot pepper relish.

The New York term hero is first attested in 1937. The name is sometimes credited to the New York Herald Tribune food writer Clementine Paddleford in the 1930s, but there is no good evidence for this. It is also sometimes claimed that it is related to the gyro, but this is unlikely: heroes are invariably associated with Italians, not Greeks, and gyro was unknown in the United States until the 1960s.

“Hero” (Heros as the plural so not to be confused with the word “Heroes”) remains the prevailing New York City term for most sandwiches on an oblong roll with a generally Italian flavor, in addition to the original described above. Pizzeria menus often include eggplant parmigiana, chicken parmigiana, and meatball heroes, each served with tomato sauce. Pepper and egg heroes and potato and egg heroes are also popular.

All varieties of this sandwich use an oblong bread roll as opposed to sliced bread. The traditional sandwich usually includes a variety of Italian luncheon meats such as dry Genoa salami, mortadella, thin sliced pepperoni, capocollo or prosciutto, and provolone cheese served with lettuce, tomato and onions seasoned with salt, pepper, oregano and olive oil. American bologna is sometimes used in place of mortadella and ham is often substituted for capicola, with prosciutto frequently omitted.

Many locations that provide catering services also offer very large 3-foot and 6-foot “Giant” sandwiches. Crusty Italian breads are preferred for the hearty sandwiches.

Regional variations:

Grinder
* Grinders are sometimes made with toasted focaccia bread and melted mozzarella cheese.
* Both hot and cold sandwiches have been called “grinders”, though the term usually refers to a baked or toasted sandwich with sauce, such as a meatball grinder, eggplant grinder, chicken parmagiana grinder.

Hero
* Tomatoes were not a historical ingredient of the hero, but are often included in today’s heroes. Baltimore has usually preferred the term Hero, to nearby Philadelphia’s Hoagy and Washington DC’s Gryo. Italian communities existed in these cities.

Hoagie
* Philadelphia-style hoagies should have bread that is crusty on the outside and soft on the inside.
* Quite often, much of the roll’s inside will be removed to allow for the ingredients to fit.
* Hoagies often have more than one deli meat (never fish or chicken).
* Mustard and vinegar were not traditionally used in hoagies. Mayonnaise is used more commonly in many sandwich shops around the area. The traditional dressing was olive oil. Other oils, possibly seasoned, or Italian dressing are sometimes used today.
* Sweet peppers are the default, though can be replaced with hot peppers

Zep
* A standard zep contains only cooked salami and provolone as the meat and cheese, and includes no lettuce.

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