Going to Philadelphia for a food tour means opening up to a whole new world. Once you start with a delicious cheesesteak, you will realize this was just the tip of the iceberg.
Photos: courtesy of Discover PHL
A trip to Philadelphia should start and end with food. This city is not only home for some of the most iconic foods in America, but also for traditional farmers markets, food trucks with bites from all over the world and excellent fine dining. In simple words: the Philadelphian food scene is a highlight you should not miss.
For me, the quest in experiencing Philadelphia´s cuisine started with a drink, as I visited Philadelphia Distilling. This local distillery in the colorful Fishtown neighborhood is the first craft distillery to open in Pennsylvania since Prohibition and an excellent place to taste modern and traditional cocktails, as well learn more about gin´s history in America.
Although Bluecoat American Dry Gin is Philadelphia Distilling´s signature drink, gin lovers will delight themselves when tasting Philadelphia Distilling’s unique blends. Moreover, visitors can also do a tasting tour and get a first hand look behind the scenes – of course, a round of gin is included.
Philadelphia Distilling was not the only place I visited in Fishtown; At this vibrant and newly gentrified neighborhood I came across an excellent variety of bars, restaurants, live music areas and art galleries. Fishtown is a very popular place for locals to go for a drink and definitely an area to get out of the daily routine.
Markets and more markets
Fishtown is the new cool area for eating, but food markets still own the crown when it comes to food. Locals and visitors love them. At the same time, you can spend hours wandering around the different kinds of food stands: From the historical food markets, Reading and the Italian, to the recently opened modern food hall, The Bourse, Philadelphia´s cuisine has to be explored here.
I went first to The Bourse, a former stock exchange house now turned into a food hall and located in the heart of the old city. Here I got the chance to experience the future in Philadelphian cuisine. More specifically, I found dishes from all other the world with a local Philly twist: Interesting ideas like the artisan grilled sandwiches at Mighty Melt or Korean/Mexican fusion at Takorean are good examples of new mouthwatering food combinations coming up and how Philadelphia´s contemporary cuisine is developing.
Once I explored the new cuisine, I had to go for the classics. The Reading Market is one of the most emblematic markets in the United Stated and an obligatory stop for all travelers. Colorful neon signs presenting dishes from all over the world, local vendors selling fresh fruits and vegetables and appealing smells in every corner makes Reading Market a large congregation for food lovers, in which all of us are invited.
The new Philadelphian cuisine
Of course, I couldn´t leave Philadelphia without trying its representative dish, the cheesesteak, and although Geno´s and Pat’s Steaks are the legends in the field, there are many different new locations, in which the traditional cheesesteak gets done in a more personal and unique style. Curious travelers can even find in modern food joints offering weird combinations like a cheesesteak donut or even a cheesesteak lasagna.
Philadelphia´s multicultural heritage has also brought some exotic dishes to this part of the world and while Asian, Italian and Mexican dominate the city, locals are slowly finding an appeal in more unusual cuisines like Ethiopian or Vietnamese. However, most of these restaurants recreate traditional recipes adding their own signature taste while using regional products or flavors from other cuisines.
Although this practice is more common in food trucks or street food stands at food halls, fine dining restaurants in the city are taking a leap too – The Moshulu, a large four-masted Tall Ship turned into a restaurant at the Delaware river, offers interesting combinations of flavor in a fine dining style as well beautiful views for a drink in the evening.
After so much food, I felt I deserved a hammock and a cold drink. For my luck, the Spruce Street Harbor Park offered the treat I was looking for. This is not only Philadelphia´s best beer garden, but a whole new relaxing experience. Visitors and locals come here to chill in the numerous hammocks located all over the park and meet old and new friends while chatting with a Yards beer in their hands.
Philadelphia knows its food. From the tasty street tacos at South Philly Barbacoa to Talula’s Garden´s Italian recipes, the city is growing up in flavors every single day. This is not the usual melting pot in cuisine, but a unique new glocal cuisine that made me want to stay longer and see the whole iceberg.