The cheesesteak might be Philadelphia’s most famous culinary item but for many natives, there’s another sandwich considered to be the true taste of Philadelphia — the roast pork sandwich. Made from slow-roasted pork, sharp provolone, and sautéed broccoli rabe or spinach, the roast pork sandwich is a beloved culinary staple throughout Philadelphia.
What Makes it Special?
The Philly style of roast pork sandwich is believed to have originated from the Italian American community in South Philly, either from Italian porchetta or from leftover weekend pork roasts. Whatever the origin, the sandwich has remained popular and relatively unchanged for decades.
Compared to the cheesesteak, a roast pork sandwich is less heavy, with a cleaner taste that’s complex in both flavor and texture. The pork is usually massaged with a spice rub that contains some combination of garlic, salt, pepper, thyme, rosemary, and fennel. The addition of sharp provolone and broccoli rabe gives the sandwich a slightly bitter and intense flavor that marries well with the natural sweetness of pork. The roast pork sandwich has also remained a hyper regional specialty and difficult to find outside of Philadelphia.
Best Places for a Roast Pork Sandwich
John’s Roast Pork
Opened in 1930, this South Philly institution is a family-owned restaurant famous for its iconic roast pork. The bread is crusted with sesame seeds and features sharp provolone and sautéed spinach instead of broccoli rabe. A word of advice — the sandwiches are large so bring a hearty appetite.
High Street Philly
High Street Philly is a modern bakery and restaurant serving plenty of Philadelphia classics. Because it’s a bakery, their roast pork sandwich features a house-made artisanal loaf. The sandwich has an interesting twist on tradition — the broccoli rabe is fermented in a mixture of lemon, anchovy, and chili. The result is a deliciously innovative yet classic-tasting roast pork sandwich.
DiNic’s Roast Pork
Located in the vibrant Reading Terminal Market, DiNic’s roast pork is one of the most popular food stands in the market. On a busy Saturday, DiNic can sell up to 1,000 pounds of pork. The sandwich is also especially juicy and goes perfectly with the slightly bitter broccoli rabe.
Roast Pork Sandwich by High Street Philly
(By Christina McKeough, Executive Chef of High Street Philly)
- 1 boneless pork shoulder
- 1/2 cup salt
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 bunch thyme
- 4 sprigs rosemary
- 1/2 cup chopped garlic
- 2 tbsp black pepper
- 1 tbsp red pepper flakes.
- Rub pork all over with salt, sugar, thyme, rosemary, chopped garlic, black pepper, and red pepper flakes. Let cure, refrigerated, for 2 days.
- Wipe cure off, place in large cast iron pan and sear in 450 degree Fahrenheit oven for 15 minutes or until browned with 2 tbsp of oil.
- Turn oven down to 300 F, and continue roasting for 2 hours. Pork should be tender and read 143 F on thermometer when ready. Cool/rest for an hour before slicing.
For Broccoli Rabe:
- One bunch of chopped rabe (stem and leaves)
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 small sliced onion
- 1 tbsp chopped garlic
- Salt and pepper.
- Sauté one bunch of chopped rabe (stem and leaves) with 2 tbsp olive oil, sliced onion, and chopped garlic until wilted and tender.
- Season with salt and pepper.
For Rabe Kimchi:
- 2 bunches broccoli rabe
- 3 cups water
- 3 tbsp salt
- 1 cup chopped green cabbage
- 1 tbsp ground horseradish
- 1 shredded daikon radish
- 1 bunch chopped scallions
- 2 oz lemon juice
- 3 chopped anchovy filets
- 2 oz sriracha
- 1 tbsp chopped garlic
- Submerge rabe in salted water (brine) and let sit out at room temperature for 24 hours.
- Remove from brine and mix with chopped green cabbage, ground horseradish, shredded daikon radish, bunch chopped scallions, lemon juice, chopped anchovy filets, sriracha, chopped garlic. Combine well, and let sit in covered container, refrigerated for at least 3 days.
For Sandwich Assembly:
- To assemble sandwich: slice pork and layer on a fresh roll with sharp provolone, sautéed broccoli rabe, and 1 tbsp of rabe kimchi.
- Warm in 350 F oven until the cheese begins to melt and sandwich is warmed through.
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