Earlier this year, INSIDER Food posted a video of a perky blonde woman named Sarah traveling to Harlem to try a chopped cheese, “New York City’s answer to the Philly Cheese Steak.” In the video, Sarah visits to Hajji’s—widely considered the “mecca of chopped cheese” on 1st Avenue—and informs her viewers that the sandwich is a cheeseburger on a “sub roll,” and a steal at only $4.
Unsurprisingly, the video has not gone over well in Harlem, an area of Manhattan with a long history of battling gentrification and cultural appropriation. On Facebook, hundreds of users have criticized the piece since it was posted in February, and now a video response from a 19-year-old writer and YouTube personalty from East Harlem named Jeffrey Almonte is going viral.
“A steal? A steal!? You would call it a steal when you come to the hood, right?” he says “I’m trying to have patience. It’s not supposed to be revolutionary. It’s a fucking sandwich.”
The video is hilarious and scathing, with Almonte referring to the video’s host as “Becky” and impersonating gentrifying yuppies from the Midwest. But the post also cuts at the deeper issues beyond the sandwich. A chopped cheese in Harlem costs $4 because that’s what the population has typically been able to afford, Almonte argues, and once new residents start to move in, the price of food, rent and other necessities inevitably goes up.
“We’ve been eating chopped cheese all our fucking life, that’s all we can afford,” says Almonte, whose video currently boasts 2.7 million views, 31,000 likes, and 13,000 comments. “Next thing you know they’re gonna say ramen noodles is a steal too.”
Almonte goes on to namecheck a laundry list of foods from other culture that white people have been accused of appropriating over the years.
“Y’all motherfuckers have Columbus syndrome and shit, wanna be exploring and discovering shit,” he adds. “INSIDER Food, suck my dick.”
In January, First We Feast delved deeply into the history of the chopped cheese, a sandwich that has become a beloved staple in Harlem, as well as other areas of the five boroughs.
“It’s not like a Wolfgang Puck dish,” the Harlem-born rapper Bodega Bamz told us at the time. “There’s not some secret ingredient, like, ‘Oh my god, where did you get the beef from, Poland?’ But it’s a piece of culture that New York only has. It’s for us.”
[via Jeffrey Almonte]