I forgot which foodie show I was watching when they proclaimed Philadelphia to be one of the revered cities to seek luxury. I am not quite so sure about luxury related to today’s standards, but this underrated city certainly became my favorite city outside of my beloved coastal cities. I easily fall in love with international cities because of their uniqueness, but with US cities, I usually find myself bored with the run-of-the-mill surroundings and conservative American food.
However, Philly brings the exuberant ideals of the “American Dream” to the forefront for any traveler to experience. Just the embedded history as the nation’s originating capital should bring in tourists even from its own backyard. Add to that, the charm of the well-preserved architecture, the culturally diversified abundance of really good food, friendly locals, and, get this, no sales tax on sartorial needs which should make this city the ultimate destination to explore within the parameters of the contiguous United States.
Alright, I will admit that although I love to glorify the fuzzy feelings of cities I have frequented, what is most important to me is the memorable food. You can take photos of everything that is stagnant and have hazy recollections whilst viewing them, but nothing spikes the memory than food which lingers in your taste buds light-years after that initial visit.
My first stop in my month-long, recurring layovers to Philadelphia was the Monk’s Cafe. With all Belgian watering holes, what is a must with the famed bier is its mussels in varying broths and chips.
The Reading Terminal Market boasts almost everything under the sun. If I had more time, I would have visited here every single day, just to taste all of its vendors. A big part of this market was the far left side of the building dominated by the Pennsylvania Dutch, a.k.a Amish. At the mercy of the Amish were puffy and sweet baked goods, quintessential breakfast foods mostly consisting of scrapple and creamed chicken and waffles, and cheese galore. What is scrapple, you ask? I never knew until I tried it. The name is quite synonymous to what it sounds to be. It is scraps of some sort of meat; specifically pork (by the urbandictionary.com: snouts, tails, hooves, hearts, lips, ears, assholes, eyeballs, livers, spleens, and tongues) combined with cornmeal and spices cooked to a mush. WTF did I just eat? I must love Philly that much to stomach such an atrocity. Aside from my astonishing discovery, there was freshly made Indian, Thai, Southern, cookies, honey, you-name-it-you-got-it food.
During my last layover to this extraordinarily underestimated city, I incessantly announced to my crew that I craved raw oysters. My coworker was surely ambivalent as she was uncomfortable with the notion of raw shellfish especially from a non-oceanic city. Well, whatever. At least I purposefully avoided the “case of the Monday’s” associated with restaurateurs’ Chef’s Specials for week-old, land-grazing meats, and especially flesh from the sea. Surprisingly, I found that Philadelphia had the most fresh and plentiful seafood from God knows where? That Reading Terminal Market I mentioned before also had seriously crazy seafood. There were Amazonian-sized shrimp, glorious fish seemingly from around the world, and famed lobster and crab from Maine. I had my fix of oysters from the Oyster House near Rittenhouse Square. It was a buck per oyster during happy hour, so what would an oyster-fiend do? Order a dozen, just for myself. The oysters were local. I expected a murky taste as most Atlantic oysters perpetuate. However, they were neither here nor there. They were quite refreshing, yet not crisp as Pacific oysters. Interesting. I believe they were from the river. Not realizing how large American clams could grow and not knowing Americans would eat these badboys raw, I thought ordering only a half-dozen of clams would just wet the palate with itsy-bitsy clams. Gee, was I wrong. These clams were super-meaty. A bit too filling and gargantuan to me.
I did though, as my last resort to my ode to the historic Philadelphia, scarf down my last local oyster and NJ clam, and downed the inklings of the Pinot Grigio from the carafe and called it a wondrous night.