|Place of origin||United States|
|Region or state||Northeast|
A submarine sandwich, also known as a sub, hoagie, hero, grinder, or Italian sandwich, is a type of sandwich consisting of a length of bread or roll split lengthwise and filled with a variety of meats, cheeses, vegetables, and condiments. The sandwich has no standardized name, with over a dozen variations used around the world.
The terms submarine and sub are widespread and not assignable to any certain region, though many of the localized terms are clustered in the northeastern United States.
History and etymology
The Italian sandwich originated in several different Italian American communities in the Northeastern United States from the late 19th to mid-20th centuries. Portland, Maine, claims to be the birthplace of the Italian sandwich and it is considered Maine's signature sandwich. The popularity of this Italian-American cuisine has grown from its origins in Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island to most parts of the United States and Canada, and with the advent of chain restaurants, is now available in many parts of the world.
The use of the term "submarine" or "sub" (after the resemblance of the roll to the shape of a submarine) is widespread. While some accounts source the name as originating in New London, Connecticut (site of the United States Navy's primary submarine base) during World War II, written advertisements from 1940 in Wilmington, Delaware, indicate the term originated prior to the United States' entry into World War II.
One theory says the submarine was brought to the U.S. by Dominic Conti (1874–1954), an Italian immigrant who came to New York in the early 1900s. He is said to have named it after seeing the recovered 1901 submarine called Fenian Ram in the Paterson Museum of New Jersey in 1928. 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. The Philadelphia Bulletin reported, in 1953, 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; shortened to "Hoggies", then 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, meats, cookies and buns with a cut in them. 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 to early 20th century, among the Italian community in South Philadelphia, when "on the hoke" meant that someone was destitute. 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".
Shortly after World War II, there were numerous varieties of the term in use throughout Philadelphia. By the 1940s, the spelling "hoagie" had come to dominate less-used variations like "hoogie" and "hoggie". It is never spelled hoagy.  By 1955, restaurants throughout the area were using the term hoagie. Listings in Pittsburgh show hoagies arriving in 1961 and becoming widespread in that city by 1966.
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 an exchange matching the customer's requests and the deli's offerings, the hoagie was created.
Woolworth's to-go sandwich was called a hoagie in all U.S. stores.
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 as the gyro was unknown in the United States until the 1960s, according to sources.
Hero (plural usually heros, not 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 heros, each served with sauce.
A common term in New England is grinder, but its origin has several possibilities. One theory has the name coming from Italian-American slang for a dock worker, among whom the sandwich was popular. Others say that it was called a grinder because it took a lot of chewing to eat the hard crust of the bread used.
In Pennsylvania, New York, Delaware, and parts of New England, the term grinder usually refers to a hot submarine sandwich (meatball, sausage, etc.), whereas a cold sandwich (e.g., cold cuts) is usually called a "sub". In the Philadelphia area, the term grinder is also applied to any hoagie that is toasted in the oven after assembly, whether or not it is made with traditionally hot ingredients.
Some base the name wedge on a diagonal cut in the middle of the sandwich, creating two halves or "wedges", or a "wedge" cut out of the top half of the bread with the fillings "wedged" in between, or a sandwich that is served between two "wedges" of bread. It has also been said wedge is just short for "sandwich", with the name having originated from an Italian deli owner located in Yonkers, who got tired of saying the whole word.
The term spukie ("spukkie" or "spuckie") is unique to the city of Boston and derives from the Italian word spuccadella, meaning "long roll". The word spucadella is not typically found in Italian dictionaries, which may suggest that it could be a regional Italian dialect, or possibly a Boston Italian-American innovation. Spukie is typically heard in parts of Dorchester and South Boston. Some bakeries in Boston's North End neighborhood have homemade spucadellas for sale.
- Blimpie (shaped like a blimp)—From the Hoboken, New Jersey–founded chain, Blimpie
- Gatsby—Cape Town, South Africa
- Po' boy—Louisiana
- Zeppelin or Zep—eastern Pennsylvania
Popularity and availability
Rolls filled with condiments have been common in several European countries for more than a century, notably in France and Scotland.
In the United States, from its origins with the Italian American labor force in the northeast, the sub began to show up on menus of local pizzerias. As time went on and popularity grew, small restaurants, called hoagie shops and sub shops, that specialized in the sandwich began to open.
Pizzerias may have been among the first Italian-American eateries, but even at the turn of the [20th] century distinctions were clear-cut as to what constituted a true ristorante. To be merely a pizza-maker was to be at the bottom of the culinary and social scale; so many pizzeria owners began offering other dishes, including the hero sandwich (also, depending on the region of the United States, called a 'wedge,' a 'hoagie,' a 'sub,' or a 'grinder') made on a Italian loaf of bread with lots of salami, cheese, and peppers.— John Mariani, America Eats Out, p. 66
Subs or their national equivalents were already popular in many European, Asian and Australasian countries when late 20th-century franchisee chain restaurants and fast food made them even more popular and increased the prevalence of the word sub. Many outlets offer non-traditional ingredient combinations.
In the United States, there are many chain restaurants that specialize in subs. Major international chains include Firehouse Subs, Quiznos, Mr. Sub and the largest restaurant chain in the world, Subway. The sandwich is also often available at supermarkets and convenience stores, such as Wawa, who annually run a sub promotional event during the summer called Hoagiefest.
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Delaware has the strongest claim to the 'submarine sandwich,' with that term appearing in a Wilmington telephone directory in January 1940.
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- Map of regional variation of the word for a submarine sandwich using data from Bert Vaux's online survey of English dialects (see question 64)