Why Are Philly Cheesesteaks So Popular In Lahore, Pakistan?

Folks from Philly or the surrounding suburbs tend to get pretty skeptical when they see a "Philly cheesesteak" in New York, Chicago, or LA. But how about Lahore, Pakistan? It's true: The famous Philadelphia steak sandwich has developed an unlikely following in the Punjabi capital, the second largest city in Pakistan. 

The restaurant Philly's Steak Sandwich has been serving a version of the cheesesteak to local residents of the Johar Town neighborhood of Lahore since 2021 when a native Philadelphian asked chef Mazhar Hussain to make him a rendition of the sandwich. Hussain had an inkling the cheesesteak would be popular, and he was right — students, families, and all other types of Lahoris crowd the restaurant every night to get a cheap bite packed with meat and cheese for just over $2.

Philly's Steak Sandwich is not the first Lahore restaurant to serve a cheesesteak. The fast food chain Café Zouk has been selling them since the 1990s, and other fast food chains CTC and Freddy's have served them since the early 2000s. But these more traditional renditions failed to capture the imagination of Lahoris in the same way that Philly's Steak Sandwich has. The secret to its success lies in its adaptation of the regional American dish.

Philly cheesesteaks in Pakistan combines foreign food with local seasonings

What makes these Pakistani cheesesteaks unique is their choice of seasoning. While a traditional Philly cheesesteak is made from an Italian roll, thinly-sliced ribeye steak, peppers and onions, and one of three kinds of cheese (provolone, American cheese, and Cheez Whiz), chef Hussain marinates the steak he uses for his sandwiches in tikka masala and red chili powder from the region. This adds a distinctly local touch, and the originality is heightened by the unusual cheesesteak flavors Hussain offers: jalapeño, fajita, and pepper. The shop offers other fast food like burgers and fries as well, but the cheesesteak is definitely what people show up for.

"I believe a major factor behind its growing popularity is this merger of the flavors of Philadelphia and Lahore," chef Hussain said in an interview with Philadelphia Magazine. This melding of flavors is common in the region, which might explain the dish's popularity since the cuisine of Pakistan (and Lahore in particular) has been influenced over centuries by colonial powers, integration of different cultures, and a complicated multicultural heritage. Afghan, Persian, Indian, British, and other food cultures have left their mark on Lahore, so adding Philadelphian food to the mix is an understandable next step in Lahore's fascinating culinary legacy.