The (Un)United States of Sandwiches: What Do You Call a Sub?

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I grew up calling any sandwich on long French or Italian bread a sub, like any normal human being would. Or so I thought, until I realized my aunt called it a grinder...and my friend called it a hoagie. WTF.

This is three people, from three states (New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania), calling the same sandwich by three different names. Since it really is a regional thing (with most of the variations stemming from crazy Italian-Americans in the Northeast like myself), I decided to take a closer look at who calls what where and if there's even a reason why.

And now I'm exhausted, but here we go:

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Photo by Thomas Hawk
Mmm...breakfast hoagie.
Submarine (Sub)

What: A large sandwich consisting of a long roll split lengthwise and filled with layers of meat, cheese, tomatoes, lettuce, and condiments. from The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th edition, 2000)
Where: Widespread with a large cluster of usage in the Northeast: Connecticut; Delaware; New Jersey; New York; Massachusetts.
Why: There are a few theories, but most agree the sandwich was named after the submarine shape of the bread. According to the book What They Never Told You About Boston (or What They Did That Were Lies), the term was said to have originated at a sandwich shop in Boston where the bread was baked in the shape of a submarine and served to the large number of nearby Navy servicemen. Another theory suggests an Italian immigrant in New York started selling subs at his grocery store after seeing a recovered submarine at a museum in Patterson, New Jersey.

Hoagie

What: Regional variation of sub.
Where: Delaware Valley; Philadelphia; South Jersey; Baltimore, Maryland
Why: Again, there are a number of theories, the most common of which is based around a shipyard on Hog's Island, Pennsylvania. The workers, called hoggies, would bring large sandwiches to work. Another legend claims that a restaurateur coined the term, aptly named for the fact that you had to be a hog to eat one.

Hero

What: Regional variation of sub.
Where: New York; Northern New Jersey
Why: Theories suggest it could have been named after the sandwich's large size, meaning only a hero could finish it. Other claims have been made that it derives from the Greek sandwich called a gyro. New Yorkers unfamiliar with the term started calling the sandwich a hero.

Grinder

What: Regional variation of sub, sometimes used to describe hot subs.
Where: Most of New England with the exception of Boston; the Midwest; Sacramento, California.
Why: Likely derived from the grinding of teeth that is required to eat the chewy sandwich.

Torpedo

What: Regional variation of sub.
Where: New York; New Jersey; other areas
Why: Like a submarine, it is based on the torpedo shape of the bread.


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20 comments
Terry Fraioli Townsend
Terry Fraioli Townsend

In Westchester County we grew up calling them wedges. I have never heard that anywhere else.

Gaspar_Ramsey
Gaspar_Ramsey

And, compared to the muffaletta. they're all like restroom graffiti compared to the Sistine Chapel.

Jeff Hill
Jeff Hill

I'm from Houston and po' boy and sub were kinda interchangeable. As I grew up, po' boy seemed to mean cold subs like the regular and super at Antones, while hot subs were, well, subs (like a philly cheese steak or meatball).

smkyle
smkyle

Miami and Tampa had a Cuban competition face off, as judged by the citizens. Tampa won. Miami Cuban sandwiches are no good! Tampa has made them for decades longer.

geonixx
geonixx

Being from NC (and once living in SC and TN) - I can assure you we call it a "sub" in the south. I didn't even hear the term "poor boy" or "po'boy" until I moved to Texas. 

Bruce_R
Bruce_R

 @Gaspar_Ramsey Not even close. The muffaletta tastes like olives. It's fine, but one dimensional.  A good Italian hoagie easily beats a muffaletta.

geonixx
geonixx

And sometimes a hoagie... depending on what part of the state you're in (crazy easterners)

Gaspar_Ramsey
Gaspar_Ramsey

 @Bruce_R I've had that one too. Several times. I know exactly what I'm talking about and it seems you have no taste at all, including in your mouth. Dismissed.

Bruce_R
Bruce_R

 @Gaspar_Ramsey 

I've had plenty of them, including the requisite one at Central Grocery.  That's how I know that you have no idea what you are talking about.

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