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Regional eats: What's in a name?

Sometimes, the only thing more fascinating than the food you’re eating is what that food is called.

For example, here in the city, Italian bread stuffed with meat and vegetables is called a hero, but, just a dozen miles north in Westchester, it's a wedge.

Cuisine name variations flourished in the 19th century, said John Mariani, author of "Dictionary of American Food and Drink,” because "America was more regional then.”

In fact, when it came to the pancake, "cowboys were calling them pancakes, the guys who worked on the railroads were calling them brakepads, other guys were calling them flapjacks, and of course New England had the Johnnycakes." Ethnic groups also played a role in the growth of certain monikers, and even corporations helped spread them in the 20th century (think Aunt Jemima. And Coke.) 

Luanne von Schneidemesser, senior editor of "The Dictionary of American Regional English," said variations live on, especially ones she calls "iconic." Tonic, for instance, is a soda around Boston. (Another iconic term is Wisconsin's bubbler, the name for a drinking fountain.) And new ones are no doubt forming as we speak, Mariani said. Here's a taste of some classic regional variations:

SANDWICHES

Hero
Where: New York City but scattered. The story: Only a "hero" can get through it? A link to the Greek treat gyro? Coined by a 1930s newspaper writer? Who knows for sure.

Wedge
Where:  Mainly Westchester County The story: The term is virtually unknown in much of New York City. This author grew up in Sleepy Hollow, N.Y., ordered a meatball wedge during a visit to Manhattan as a teen, and was greeted with a quizzical look. Its use may well end at the Harlem River, suggested Mariani.

Submarine

Where: Nationwide. The story: Seen as linked to its resemblance to submarines produced in Groton, Conn. The Subway chain was launched near here in the 1960s. Others find connections to Delaware and other parts of the East Coast.

Hoagie

Where: Philadelphia and South Jersey. The story: Competing theories. Some see a link to Hog Island shipyard in Philadelphia, where Dave Wilton writes Italian workers brought such sandwiches to work. Another scenario traces the name to a Philadelphia restaurateur.

Other variations:
Grinder and Spuckie (Boston), Bomber (Buffalo area), Torpedo (scattered), Po Boy (New Orleans)

MILK SHAKES

Frappe
Where: In Boston and much of New England The story: It’s a French word for stirred or whipped, explains von Schneidemesser. It's pronounced "frap."

Cabinet
Where: Providence, R.I. The story: This name is said to originate from the cabinet the mixer was housed in.

Interesting fact:
In parts of New England, a milkshake is actually milk that is shaken with flavorings until it’s frothy. No ice cream in sight.

FIZZY DRINKS

Pop
Where: Sometime you’ll hear soda pop, too. It’s found in the West and most assuredly in the Midwest.

Soda
Where: This dominates here in New York and in much of the East.

Tonic
Where: This is particular to the Boston area, and has managed to hang on despite its 19th century medicinal air.

Coke
Where: Even when the drink desired is not a Coke, people in parts of the South will use the word generically.


 

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