Must-Eats in Philadelphia

>> Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Over at Serious Eats, they asked for the must-eats in the city we live in and I got to think about Philadelphia. It's really hard to find something that only pertains to the city and can't be found anywhere else.

When visitors come to the city for the first time, they will ask about cheesesteaks. Cars will drive by and a head would pop out asking where the cheesesteak places are and the other questions is always asking for the best place for them. Between Jim's, Tony Luke's, Pat's and Geno's, and I've tried 3 of the 4, I've always thought I have the best experience at Geno's. It must be the whole experience of the neon lights and the fluorescent lights make the whole place look like it's still day. For an authentic experience, it's best to go at night after exploring the bars and order a "wiz with". The melty cheesewiz glue everything together and it's what makes the sandwich. It's funny, the first time I came to Philly and got brought to have a cheesesteak, I was fully expecting some slab of steak with cheese, definitely not a sandwich with chopped up beef.

Soft pretzels is also something else that Philadelphia is famous for, that's probably due to the large German population that settled in our area. We also benefit from the Amish st the Reading Terminal Market which have their produce, cured meats and baked goods for sale. The soft pretzels in Philly are more bread like with a slight salted crusted outside and soft bread center. Tastes great with mustard.

There's Hershey chocolate from middle Pennsylvania that have a slightly off after taste, Philly cream cheese actually doesn't come from Philly. There are a few restaurateurs that made the culinary scene in the city exciting, but there aren't any particular dish that stands up and scream uniqueness anywhere. Personally, if I can pick something that is not gimmicky or touristy, I would choose to have a hoagie.

The word Hoagie was actually originated in the Philadelphia area, it's a long submarine sandwich with various meats, cheeses and lettuce created to feed Italian workers that works at Hog Island's WWII shipyard, so it was dubbed a "Hoagie". Philadelphia is blessed with a large Italian population that know their food. The hoagie has prosciutto di parma, capicola, genoa salami, provolone, lettuce, tomatoes and onions. I usually get mine with sweet pepper and mayo, but the locals like it with hot pepper, oil, salt, pepper and oregano.

What makes the sandwich great is the bread, specifically bread from a local bakery named Sarcone's. It's sesame seeded, chewy with a firm crust. The sesame also gives it a fragrance that adds another level to the sandwich. The bread from Sarcone's are distributed throughout South Philly's Italian restaurant, it becomes a selling point, something that the restaurant owners are proud of having. The bakery usually closes it's door after the bread are sold out which is usually before 2pm and it is closed at least 3 months of the year when the family leaves for Italy. I guess there is so much business for them that it has become a non-issue. There are also a vegetarian antipasti hoagie that uses all kinds of pickled vegetables. I'm dying to try that.

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