When you travel the world, the greatest culinary experiences come from emerging yourself in the local culture and eating as the locals eat. In Philadelphia, that means trying our iconic cheesesteak sandwich.
The cheesesteak sandwich may not seem like much; after all, many around the country (around the world, even) have tried (and failed) to duplicate the Philly cheesesteak. Visiting Philadelphia without trying this local “delicacy” is like going to New York City and not seeing the Empire State Building.
The first cheesesteak sandwich
The cheesesteak sandwich became a staple on Philadelphia in 1930 with a hot dog vendor named Pat Olivieri. One day, wanting to mix it up a little, he grilled some beef along with the hotdogs. A cabbie stopped by for lunch and wanted a steak sandwich. I think we all know how that sandwich turned out. Soon, word spread and the Philly cheesesteak was born.
However, asking around, you may get a few different answers as to the proper way to order a Philly cheesesteak sandwich. If you want to be as authentic as possible, you need to order it the way it was originally intended: with chopped beef and onions, topped with Cheez Whiz! Don’t fight it; it’s the way it was meant to be eaten. Don’t try to fancy it up with your Provolone or other sandwich dressings. If you want lettuce, tomatoes, and mayo on your cheesesteak, you’re not eating a cheesesteak sandwich.
A true cheesesteak connoisseur will know how to perfectly balance the flavors, giving your crusty white roll the right amount of texture and dripping with goodness.
Ordering a cheesesteak sandwich
Having a local at your side when you are getting your first sandwich can be a plus. Ordering can be a bit tricky, as locals have been doing it for so long it simply becomes a few monosyllabic grunts that can be hard for non-locals to understand. It’s a bit like ordering your first latte at Starbucks. Remember what an ordeal that was, and how ashamed you felt if you accidentally said the type of milk you wanted before the size of your drink? Ordering a Philly cheesesteak can come with some of the same anxiety if you are on your own.
Don’t worry; this is the city of brotherly love, and we’ll be patient with all guests and newcomers who are trying our sandwich for the first time.
Good luck, and try not to spill too much on your shirt!