The chopped cheese sandwich is a ground beef delicacy grilled on a hero with peppers, onions, and seasoning, chopped with a metal spatula, covered with cheese slices, and dressed with condiments like lettuce, tomato, hot sauce, and mayo. You can get it at many bodegas around the Bronx and Harlem in New York City for as cheap as 6-8 US Dollars.
It’s about disrespecting a patty in the most gloriously wrong of ways, dismantling it half-way during cooking with complete disregard to the concept of, juice, or the ludicrous question of, doneness. – Lady & Pups
Sounds like something you’d eat lavishly? Then this guide is for you. Learn how to make a chopped cheese sandwiches on the reg, and know which ingredients to source. You’ll also learn the history of the sandwich, the NYC boroughs you can find it in, and how it became intertwined with hip-hop culture.
Important questions to answer (scroll down)
Who created the chopped cheese sandwich?
Where can I get it?
What ingredients are in a chopped cheese sandwich?
How can I make one?
Chopped Cheese Sandwich Origin
Like with every other urban legend sandwich, the origin of the chopped cheese is heavily debated. To be honest, having a bunch of people claiming the sandwich is a clear sign that it’s hella delicious.
Just saying. You know, Reuben Sandwich and all.
A fact that I think is super funny, is that the Tremont Deli Grocery in Spanish Harlem, which is operated by Antonio Banderas, is credited as being the spiritual birthplace of the chopped cheese sandwich. I mean, spiritual birthplace? What does that even mean?
The short documentary that First We Feast made (I’ll embed the video at the end of the article) did a fair attempt at pinpointing the origin of the sandwich, though. They went to the bodegas in Spanish Harlem which are largely owned by Arabic immigrants, and speculated that the sandwich’s influence can be traced back to an Arabic specialty, dagha yamneeya, which is essentially cooked chopped meat and vegetables served with Yemeni bread.
That, I think, is the closest, most traceable link to someone creating the chopped cheese. So I guess the Arab diaspora of Spanish Harlem have to live with the fact that the Spanish residents of Harlem completely took the chopped cheese sandwich and ran with it, making everybody outside Harlem think it’s a Spanish sandwich.
It’s a cruel world out there, guys.
How To Make Chopped Cheese Sandwich
It’s understandable that the chopped cheese draw comparisons to the cheesesteak. Instead of arming the sandwich with thinly sliced steak, ground beef is grilled with peppers, onions, and seasoning. Chopped with a spatula, covered with cheese slices, and dressed with lettuce, tomato, hot sauce, and mayo, the chopped cheese is a real street sandwich.
Yield: Serves 2-4 (enough for 2 chopped cheeses)
Prep/cooking time: 15 minutes
Chopped Cheese Ingredients:
- 2 deli-style hero rolls or seeded semolina long rolls
- 1 pound freshly ground beef
- 1 tbsp Canola oil
- 2 tbsp butter
- 1/4 cup grated yellow cheddar
- 4 slices mozzarella cheese
- 4 slices American cheese
- 4 tbsp Meat Hook spicy relish (recipe follows)
- 1 tomato, sliced
- 1 cup shredded iceberg lettuce
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Mayo, optional
Where To Get The Best Chopped Cheese Sandwich
Some would say that the best chopped cheese sandwich is found at the Blue Sky Deli in East Harlem. Colloqually known as Hajjis, it is considered the birthplace of the enigmatic sandwich. When Anthony Bourdain mentioned the chopped cheese in his Parts Unknown: Bronx episode it helped catapult the sandwich and the deli, attracting many people from outside New York City to make their chopped cheese pilgrimage.
So I guess that’s the nice way to say that the chopped cheese went through some heavy cultural appropriation. It didn’t take long until the “chop cheese” was found in places like the April Bloomfield-headed White Gold restaurant for $15.00. If you think that wasn’t a big enough crossover, what do you think about the sandwich all of sudden appearing at Whole Foods for $8.00? Jokes!
I’m still impressed with the depths of which First We Feast go into the chopped cheese sandwich origins and where to get a nice piece when in New York City. I recommend you check out the short documentary here below.
Need that chop cheese in my life!
Image source: First We Feast (duh..)