A Philly cheesesteak, easily mistaken for a dirty diaper. (Source: Pat’s King of Steaks)
The Art of Manliness did a piece on how you can make an authentic Philly cheesesteak at home. Being from Pennsylvania, I know that there will be some who take issue with this article. Mainly, with the very idea that an authentic Philly cheesesteak would be something that a person could make at home.
According to Pennsylvanians, the authentic Philly cheesesteak is something that a person can only find in Philadelphia. If the sandwich was assembled anywhere else, it’s not an authentic Philly cheesesteak.
It might seem petty to say that a sandwich is not authentic for having been made in a different location, even though it’s assembled with the same ingredients in exactly the same way, and that’s because it is. To understand this pettiness, one needs to understand the mystique surrounding the Philly cheesesteak.
To Pennsylvanians, there is no such thing as a bad Philly cheesesteak, and they hold the Philly cheesesteak as beyond reproach. If you don’t like the Philly cheesesteak sandwich, then it’s because you didn’t have an authentic one. As already mentioned, authentic Philly cheesesteaks are only made in Philadelphia. If you had one there, and still didn’t like it, then you went to the wrong place.
This provides ample opportunity for the Philly cheesesteak to escape criticism, because there are a number of restaurants in Philadelphia that claim to offer the authentic Philly cheesesteak, and in each case, there is dispute surrounding their claim of authenticity. So, you can’t criticize the sandwich unless you’ve had one from every possible establishment in town, otherwise, there’s at least one place for the fanboys to retreat to to defend their beloved sandwich.
For one thing, I don’t want to have to eat a couple dozen cheesesteak sandwiches before I decide I don’t like them. One should suffice. The fans can instead explain to me just what it is that each of these restaurants do that’s any different from one another, and explain just how that impacts the quality of the sandwich.
But what if you were to lose your mind and decide to go eat at every cheesesteak joint in Philadelphia? Upon completion of this task, do you finally have the right to criticize this sandwich?
There are different ways to order your cheesesteak. Not only that, you’re expected to order it with a proprietary cheesesteak lingo. For example, if you want a cheesesteak with onions, you’d say,
And then you’d feel like a moron, because it’s impossible to talk like that without sounding like one. Decoded, what this means is “with Cheeze Whiz, with onions”.
And no, I’m not kidding. The Philly cheesesteak is made with Cheez Whiz. While you’re mulling over just what tragedy of thinking resulted in a major American city accepting a sandwich made with Cheez Whiz as its representative sandwich, here is the Cheez Whiz ingredients list:
Whey, canola oil, milk, milk protein concentrate, maltodextrin, sodium phosphate, contains less than 2% of whey protein concentrate, salt, lactic acid, sodium alginate, mustard flour, Worcestershire sauce (vinegar, molasses, corn syrup, water, salt, caramel color, garlic powder, sugar, spices, tamarind, natural flavor), sorbic acid as a preservative, milkfat, cheese culture, oleoresin paprika (color), annatto (color), natural flavor, enzymes.
I thought it was illegal to call something “cheese” unless it actually contained cheese, but to Kraft’s credit, they don’t technically do that. They call it “cheez”, which may sound identical, but is spelled differently enough to get around the law and still trick poor people.
Another way to sound like a moron while ordering a sandwich is to say:
Which might have made your ears perk up a little, because even though it still sounds like toddler speak, it sounds as though there’s a variant without Cheez Whiz, and a sandwich made with steak and onions sounds pretty decent. The catch is, the “wit-out” part is referring to the onions, so you’d be ordering a steak and Cheez Whiz sandwich.
You can order the sandwich with provolone instead, but the catch is, you’re still going to come across those who will say that it’s not an “authentic” Philly cheesesteak unless the topping used is Cheez Whiz. And they might be right. The most famous cheesesteak stands in Philadelphia order huge containers of Cheez Whiz to slather all over their sandwiches.
The celebrated sandwich of Philadelphia, which you supposedly could not have had unless you made the long journey to that same city, is made with Cheez Whiz. This makes the Philly cheesesteak a paradox sandwich: even if it’s authentic, it’s still not authentic.
If you go to all this effort to have an authentic Philly cheesesteak for yourself, you finally get to say you don’t like it, right? Nope. Even if you’ve consumed every permutation of the set of cheesesteak in the city of Philadelphia and you still say you don’t like it, Pennsylvanians still insist that there is no problem with the Philly cheesesteak. Instead, they’ll say that the problem is with you.
And they’d probably be right. After all, you’d have had hundreds of Philly cheesesteaks just to say you don’t like them.
Don’t play their game. If a Philly cheesesteak fanboy starts going on about how their cheesesteak is great, have them tell you where you have to go to get the right sandwich. If another fanboy is in earshot, they’ll likely disagree about the choice of cheesesteak joint. You’d be surprised how likely this is, because even though not everyone has been to Philadelphia, you’ll find people who consider themselves experts on the Philly cheesesteak everywhere. These experts argue with each other at the drop of a hat, so they’ll be distracted with each other while you make your getaway!
If that doesn’t work, ask him how a Philly cheesesteak is made. You can have fun with this by seeing just how long it takes for the guy to admit that his sandwich of choice is made with an imitation cheese product. In some cases, they’ll know what you’re getting at, so they’ll try to avoid it for as long as it takes before you drop the fact-bomb yourself. Then you’ll have humiliated his favorite sandwich, and him.
Then you can tell him that you can make the exact same sandwich at home. You just choose not to.