Born in the bodegas of Spanish Harlem, the Chopped Cheese Sandwich is a true New York Original. Not a cheese steak, not a burger. This is a CHOPPED CHEESE SANDWICH! Enjoy!
By Eli Rosenberg
The bodega in East Harlem looks like many others, its awning advertising coffee, candy, and hot and cold sandwiches. But it is the chopped cheese that draws people from far away.
This bodega, Hajji’s, is in the midst of a name change to Harlem Taste, an effort, perhaps, to harness its reputation as the birthplace of the sandwich.
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.
But talk to some of the workers at Hajji’s and they will tell you about Carlos Soto, a longtime deli man who they said died of cancer in 2014. Carlos created the sandwich at some point during his more than 20 years working at the store, they said.