The “Chop Cheese” Sandwich Controversy! Food Culture Vs. Gentrifying Good Taste!

chopped-cheese-sandwich-new-york-times

Behold The “Chop Cheese!”

It’s a sandwich that’s been sold in Harlem for decades, and now it’s at the center of a cultural battle!

Here is how the New York Times describes it:

“The sandwich, also called a chop cheese — ground beef with onions, topped by melted cheese and served with lettuce, tomatoes and condiments on a hero roll — has long been a staple of bodegas in Harlem and the Bronx.”

And it is at the center of a cultural food battle!

the-chop-cheese-sandwich

It all started with a video that showed the sandwich, and since then, The Times reports that:

“it has started migrating from grill tops to restaurant menus, from the lyrics of rappers onto the pages of food blogs.”

And with that, the cultural food battle was on!

harlem-chopped-cheese-sandwich

The New York Times has two great stories about the “Chop Cheese”: where it came from, and why it is at the center of a controversy:

According to the Times:

“As with many food dishes, the chopped cheese’s origin is obscured by rumor. Perhaps it was an attempt at a Philadelphia cheesesteak without the right ingredients, or the result of a creative flurry in the hands of an inebriated chef. Whatever it was, it seems to have been born at the intersection of taste and necessity.”

hajjis-chop-cheese

Welcome To Hajji’s, The “Ground Zero” Of A Food Fight!

This shop in Harlem, called “Hajji’s”, is where the sandwich is said to have originated decades ago.

Now, this inexpensive sandwich has become the center of a gentrified food fight.

This simple “cheeseburger sub” has suddenly become famous, and restaurants and shops all over New York are making their own version…and some are angry that there is no credit being given for the origin of the sandwich.

whole-fodds-chopped-cheese-sandwich

It was when the Whole Foods on West 59th Street briefly sold a chopped cheese for $8 that the sandwich sparked a discussion of the “gentrifying of food.”

chopped-cheese-sandwich-controversy

I’m not sure where I fall on this issue: is it wrong to discover food and then replicate it? Should the food’s cultural source be respected – or at least acknowledged?

Here is the entire story in The New York Times, another great article from this great paper – it lays out the issues in much more detail – a fascinating read:

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/08/nyregion/chopped-cheese-sandwich-harlem.html?action=click&contentCollection=N.Y.%20%2F%20Region&module=RelatedCoverage&region=EndOfArticle&pgtype=article

An interesting story about food being “upscaled” – but as for the sandwich itself, it kind of reminds me of this:

The White House Sub Shop

White House Cheeseburger Sub

The White House “Cheeseburger Sub!”

I had the chance to eat a “cheeseburger sub” from The White House, a famous submarine sandwich shop in Atlantic City…it sounds like the “Chop Cheese” to me – either way, here is a look at it, plus some of my favorite cheeseburgers from around the world – click here:


https://johnrieber.com/2012/09/18/national-cheeseburger-day-celebrate-with-bacon-weaves-cheese-goo-burger-bashes/

Let me know if you’ve had a “Chop Cheese!”

chopped-cheese-sandwich-new-york-times



Categories: Art, BACON, Books / Media, cookbooks, Food, food blog, Food Review, Hamburgers, Memoirs, New York, Recipes, Restaurants, Travel, Travel Adventures, Uncategorized, Wacky Food

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10 replies

  1. I think that if this sandwich really does hail from Harlem (and a particular Deli) then really Whole Foods could have called it ‘The Harlem Chop Cheese’ and given a little information about whence they purloined the idea. If people want to spend $8 for a sandwich that would cost them $2 in Harlem, that is there affair but credit where it is due would simply be polite.

  2. I have not seen this particular sandwich here in South Africa, John. I am sure it would do very well. We do get cheeseburgers though.

  3. Reblogged this on johnrieber and commented:

    Thoughts: does making an homage to a food item risk misappropriating it?

  4. I know nothing about this (naturally) but it does sound tasty indeed.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    • Pete, Whole Foods is a great grocery store except that it has high end food and very expensive…the idea that they would make a version of the “chop cheese” sandwich at a 250% markup is what bothers people here…New York landmarks are going out of business so a Starbucks or Whole Foods can go in…people are upset here about that…a terrific Italian restaurant in Little Italy just closed after their rent was raised to $40,000 – PER MONTH!

  5. Interesting post! I love East coast delis and roadhouse joints. I never gave chopped cheese much thought until your post. A cool cultural phenomenom. I bet you love the Food Channel. Especially Guy Fieri.

    • Cindy, I love unique food that is ethnic or cultural – in this case, a lot of talk about a $4 sandwich being “upscaled” into a $$$ food – interesting debate. Like neighborhoods in LA being gentrified and then the people who live there are priced out…thanks for your comment!

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