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National Hoagie Day on May 5 offers us a welcome alternative to the seemingly endless baskets of chips and salsa and mugs of cheap Mexican beer Americans consume to celebrate Cinco de Mayo. Today you can confidently say “no” to tacos and burritos, and take your buns to the local deli for a hoagie. Or a sub. Or a grinder. Or a hero. Because a hoagie is a hoagie by any other name, especially on National Hoagie Day.
History of National Hoagie Day
Philadelphia is famously known for mouthwatering steak and cheese subs, but did you know the City of Brotherly Love is also famous for another epicurean delight served on a big beautiful bun: the hoagie? It is the humble hoagie of Italian immigrant heritage that holds the title “Official Sandwich of Philadelphia,’ not the steak and cheese sub.
The traditional Italian hoagie is a generous sandwich of Italian deli meats and cheeses stuffed into a split long roll, brimming with pepperoncini peppers and veggies, topped with a drizzle of olive oil, vinegar, and seasonings. There are no fewer than a dozen credible stories laying claim to who was responsible for inventing the first long bread Italian sandwich in America. Most stories point to the New England states where many Italian immigrants settled in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Although whose mama or papa is truly responsible for assembling the first hoagie in Philadelphia will always be up for debate, we do know that hoagie naming rights belong to the city of Philadelphia.
The most popular story of how the Italian sandwich got the name hoagie in Philadelphia is one cited by the now-defunct “Philadelphia Bulletin,” Philly’s daily evening newspaper published from 1847 to 1982. The paper’s story revolves around the lunch box staple of 1950s Italian immigrant workers in a Philadelphia shipyard known as Hog Island, a long bread roll stuffed with Italian meats and cheeses. The sandwiches were commonly referred to as “Hog Island sandwiches.” The name was eventually shortened to “hoggies,” which, when said with a south Philadelphia accent, sounded more like “hoagies,” and the moniker stuck.
Two other local Philadelphia publications disagreed with the Bulletin’s published story, both insisting that Philadelphia’s hoagie roots could be traced all the way back 1879. According to the Philadelphia Almanac and the Citizen’s Manual, street vendors known as hokey pokey men sold bakery rolls called pinafores stuffed with antipasto salad and meats to theatre patrons before and after attending the operetta, (light opera,) “H.M.S. Pinafore” by the famed writer-composer duo of Gilbert and Sullivan. The pinafores were commonly referred to as hokies, which again sounded a lot like hoagies in South Philly.
Regardless of who first stuffed all those delicious meats and cheeses into a split Italian long roll, topped it with peppers and drizzled oil and seasonings on top, the name hoagie stuck like the newspaper it was first wrapped with in the city of Philadelphia. By the end of World War II, the term hoagie was quite common on the streets of Philadelphia, and Philly’s favorite sandwich was turning up on restaurant menus all around the city, spelled hoagie, hoggie, hoogie, and hoagy.
As the hoagie’s popularity breached city boundaries and spread to other parts of the country away from the east coast, the term hoagie took on new definitions. Hoagie eventually became a catch-all name for any sandwich served on a long bread roll. In Philadelphia, however, the hoagie remains true to its Italian roots as an Italian meat and cheese sandwich covered with roasted and pickled veggies and peppers, with oil, vinegar, and seasonings topping it all.
National Hoagie Day timeline
Mayor Ed Rendell makes the Italian Hoagie Philadelphia’s official sandwich.
The first WaWa Food Store opens in Folsom, Pennsylvania, with hoagies on the menu.
The hoagie’s popularity spreads beyond the City of Brotherly Love to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and other cities, beginning in the mid-Atlantic region.
Philadelphia area restaurants begin to add hoagie sandwiches to their menus.
Workers at the Hog Island shipyard introduce the Italian sandwich on a long roll as a lunch box staple and the sandwich becomes known as a “hoggie.”
National Hoagie Day FAQs
What is a Philadelphia hoagie?
The hoagie is Philadelphia’s version of a traditional Italian sandwich invented in the United States by Italian immigrants. The hoagie is a long bread roll stuffed with Italian deli meats, cheeses, roasted vegetables and peppers, topped with oil, vinegar, and seasonings, served hot or cold.
What is the difference between a hoagie and a sub?
The names sub and hoagie are used interchangeably, and the ingredients of a sub and a hoagie are generally the same: Italian deli meats, cheeses, vegetables, oils, and seasonings, on a long bread roll, served cold or hot. It is the type of bread roll used and the way the roll is sliced that commonly distinguishes the two. A sub is served on a softer bread roll that is sliced all the way through so the top separates from the bottom of the roll. Hoagies are generally prepared on a harder, crustier long bread roll that is split rather than sliced all the way through, so the ingredients are stuffed into the roll and then folded to close.
What is a hoagie called in New York?
The sandwich known as a hoagie in Philadelphia is most commonly referred to as a hero in New York City and on Long Island. While the name hoagie originated in Philly, the term hero is most often credited to a 1930s era “New York Herald Tribune” food writer named Clementine Paddleford, who said that someone would have to be a hero to eat an entire huge sandwich served on a long roll.
How to Celebrate National Hoagie Day
Dance the Hoagie Poki instead of la Cucaracha
If you feel conflicted because today is Cinco de Mayo and the whole world seems to be eating tacos and dancing to songs about la cucarachas, we sub pose a 6-pack of imported beer and some limes could pair nicely with your favorite hoagie. Play some lively Italian dance tunes like the “Chicken Dance” and “Tarantella Napoletana” and hoagie on down. Salute!
Order a six-footer
You will need to rely on a sub-contractor for this one because six-feet of hoagie is one big hoagie. Invite family, friends, neighbors, or co-workers to dive into this submarine adventure.
Dine by candlelight
Nothing transforms the ambiance of a room like lighting a few candles. The glow of candlelight is all that’s necessary to make this National Hoagie Day dinner memorable, although a straw-wrapped bottle of authentic Chianti wine would be a nice Italian touch. Saluté!
Five Essential Authentic Italian Hoagie Ingredients
Genoa salami is probably the best-known imported salami and a must ingredient on any authentic Italian hoagie, despite it being outrageously high in saturated fats and sodium.
The Spam-like smoked beef and pork sausage loaf that looks like a mosaic of fat chunks, peppercorns, and pistachio nuts, was once banned from import into the U.S. market, until the year 2000. If you don’t have a stomach for fatty mortadella, boiled ham is your go-to substitute.
Mozzarella, Provolone…or both?
Authentic Italian Mozzarella was once made exclusively with water buffalo milk, while Provolone from the south of Italy is favored for its tangy bite and can be mild, sharp, or extra sharp. Both cheeses are considered essential to an Italian hoagie.
Pepperoncini are mild peppers whose pickling juices add a delightful burst of tangy, sweet-hot flavor and a colorful red or green when you lift the top half of the long roll to take a gander at the fixings.
Roasted red peppers
Roasted red peppers add more than a distinct smokey flavor to a sandwich that is off the charts in unhealthy fats. Red peppers are the hoagie’s nutritional saving grace, with significant amounts of Vitamin C and beta-carotene.
Why We Simply Love Hoagies
Whether you are a hoagie snob who insists that a hoagie is only a hoagie if it is a classic long roll stuffed full with Italian cold cut meats, cheeses, pickled pepperoncini, olive oil and vinegar dressing seasoned with a blend of Italian spices, or you are a meatball-and-cheese hoagie aficionado, we all agree that a hoagie makes a filling and palate-pleasing entrée anytime day or night.
Hoagies are the ultimate take-along lunch or dinner, all neatly wrapped up in deli paper to keep the oils, sauces, and juices from dripping down your chin. Just make sure you grab some extra napkins because you will need them.
Simply easy for anyone to make
You don’t need special cooking skills or a semester in home economics to become a Hoagie pro. Simple rules: buy the highest quality authentic ingredients for the best results. Ask your local Italian grocer for suggestions and your hoagie will make the honor roll.
National Hoagie Day dates