The City of Brotherly Love is known for many things: rowdy sports fans, Philly soft pretzels, the birthplace of our nation, and most importantly, the hoagie. Alongside the Philly Cheesesteak, the Philly hoagie is seen as an official sandwich of Philadelphia. Made with Italian cold cuts and cheese on an Italian roll, no one can go wrong when ordering one.
While the origin of the word hoagie is clear, the infamous hoagie’s history is not as straightforward as you might think. Let’s look back on how Philly’s favorite sandwich originated and the history that has still led us to enjoy them today.
How Hoagies Came to Be
During and after World War I, a massive wave of Italian immigrants arrived in South Philadelphia for the chance of a new life. Many of these immigrants worked for the shipyard on Hog Island located along the Delaware River, which can now be recognized as the Philadelphia International Airport. After World War II, the immigrants who worked there were referred to as “hog islanders.” For lunch, they would be known for eating meaty Italian sandwiches that were called “hoggies.”
It is believed that when Italian American Al Depalma went to find work on the island, he encountered these men eating these sandwiches and decided to open his own “doggie” stand to feed the workers, and the rest is history. As the sandwich grew in popularity in the Philadelphia area, the Philly accent transformed the word “doggie” to “hoagie.”
However, while this hoagie origin story is the most well-known, other individuals have claimed they created the first hoagie.
The Alternative Stories
What makes the history of the hoagie so fascinating is how there are other origin stories that people will fight to defend as the real beginning of the sandwich. Here are two of the most popular alternative hoagie origin stories that are still debated today.
In 1925, Catherine DiCostanza was cooking up some peppers at her family’s grocery store in Chester, PA. It is said that a young man came in and asked Catherine to make him a sandwich. She then took whatever meat and cheese she had with, of course, peppers and made him what we now know as a hoagie. While this story explains the history of how hoagies came to be, it has always made people question why it doesn’t explain where the word “hoagie” came from.
Antionette Lannelli moved to South Philadelphia from Maine with her husband during the 1930s. During an interview in the 1980s, she claimed that she invented the first-ever hoagie when a police officer got into a fight with his wife, leaving him with no lunch for the day. The officer went to Vannelli and asked for a sandwich. She packed on Italian meats, olives, lettuce, tomatoes, and a sauce to keep the roll moist. After that, the officer came back with his co-workers and chief, making them all sandwiches from that point on. She then would go on to send sandwiches all over the South Philadelphia area.
One of the important things to point out is that both of these stories occurred before Al Depalma opened his stand on Hog Island, which is why they are still in conversation today about the history of the hoagie.
The Best in Port Richmond
While the hoagie origin story is still debated today, it is still a beloved sandwich by Philadelphians worldwide. The Fresh Works understands the quality and time needed to make the perfect hoagie for you and your family. Need hoagies for your next get-together? Check out the finest catering trays in Philadelphia.
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