I have been visiting the Philly area regularly for a couple of decades now. I travel there with my husband, a native of the area, and the first thing he often wants to do when he arrives is to get a hoagie. His affinity for Wawa (a gas station/convenient store/sandwich shop), where he likes to get this sandwich, is something I will never understand, but his love of the hoagie I've come to respect. He is, at least in my impartial opinion, a veritable hoagie expert, and I've learned a few things from him. First off, never call a hoagie a hero. "That's New York's sandwich. Philly's got more than the cheesesteak." When explaining how to build a hoagie, my husband becomes filled with an energy I can only describe as "East Coast passionate" — which one would think decades in California would have softened.
Spoiler alert: it's really just a special type of sub.
- You start with an Amoroso roll. "Accept no imitations." These rolls are baked in Philly, and I would describe them as a soft white roll . . . but clearly there is something special about these rolls. Could it be the water?
- The bread is doused with olive oil and vinegar. Some people add mustard, but "that's just wrong," according to my in-house hoagie man. Mayo is OK, but he doesn't consider this condiment authentic to to the sandwich.
- Layers of mortadella, ham, salami, and sometimes capocollo (aka coppa) are covered with provolone cheese.
- Shredded lettuce ("you know it's gotta be iceberg — this is Philly"), sliced tomatoes, and sliced white onions are placed on top of the cheese. "You can, and should, add a sprinkle of salt, pepper, and oregano onto the veggies."
- Next comes the sweet and hot peppers. "These are special peppers. Pickled peppers. These peppers only exist in Philly." Not sure if my expert is reliable on this particular fact, but he does talk about these peppers a lot. Like a whole lot. They are cherry peppers brined to be either sweet or hot. You can get just one type of pepper on your sandwich and still technically call it a hoagie, but not to get the mix of both comes awfully close to a misdemeanor, in my husband's opinion. On this matter, I have no opinion of my own.
- This is topped with a little more oil and vinegar. And boom: you got a hoagie.
And that's it. Some might call it "a banquet on a bun," but for me it's simply a taste of Philly.