Nearly every major metropolis has cultivated a food product that contributes to its fame. Earlier this year, The American Obesity Association named Philadelphia the nation’s second fattest city. What statistics don’t show is how enticing Philly’s foods are, making them so hard to resist. If you’re willing to commit a carb-crazed crime, here are a few of the culprits that’ll have you doing time – in the gym.
Suspect No. 1: Tastykakes
In 1914, a Pittsburgh baker and a Boston businessman came to Philadelphia to create a delightful snack convenient enough for consumers working at nearby factories. Upon sampling the first batch of chocolate cupcakes, the salesman’s wife declared them to be “tasty” thus, the company was named Tasty Baking Company, later nicknamed Tastykake. According to the Tasty Trivia page on the company’s Web site, Kandykakes are the company’s best-selling product. In fact, they use enough peanut butter in making Kandykakes each year to make 80 million peanut butter sandwiches. Tastykakes can be found at grocery stores nationwide.
Suspect No. 2: Italian Ice
Rita’s Water Ice’s homepage offers a brief history of Italian ice. Apparently ancient Romans would collect ice from nearby mountains and mix it with fresh summer fruits to create a cool, refreshing treat. Italian immigrants brought this tradition with them to South Philadelphia at the turn of the 20th century. Today, walk-up windows still serve customers seeking relief from summer’s sweltering heat. Pop’s, located at Broad and Oregon streets, is known for its ingenuity in flavors. Temple student Elena Gonzales said their banana split “is like a little piece of heaven.” While mom-and-pop shops continue to thrive, Rita’s Water Ice has become the largest chain in the country. Started by a Philadelphia firefighter in 1984 who sold his flavored ices from the porch of his home in Northeast Philadelphia, there are now 280 Rita’s franchises. The red and white awning on South Street is probably the easiest place to find this balmy weather mainstay.
Suspect No. 3: Cheesesteaks and Hoagies
There’s a reason South Street is the place where all the people meet. The scent of seared meat and sizzling onions that inhabits the air at Fourth and South streets will seduce you to devour an authentic Philly cheesesteak from Jim’s. The line wraps around the corner night and day, the smell will invade your skin, and the grease will sit in your stomach for days. Yet, to conclude a night of debauchery or as salvation the morning after, the trek to Jim’s is well worth it.
The word ‘hoagie’ may be unfamiliar vernacular for some, but nearly everyone has had a sandwich of its kind. During the 1930s, Al DePalma coined the term after he witnessed a bunch of workers at the naval shipyards gorging their sandwiches, remarking they looked like a “bunch of hogs.” According to Wawa’s Web site, he started a luncheonette nearby with built-to-order sandwiches that promised to satisfy their ravenous appetites and became “The King of Hoagies.” Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell once declared hoagies as the “official sandwich of Philadelphia.” Tony Luke’s, located at Front and Oregon streets, is arguably the king of hoagies today.
Suspect No. 4: Soft-Pretzels
According to legend, the pretzel was invented by an Italian monk in the sixth century, who molded dough to represent arms crossed in prayer. The pretzel is believed to have arrived in America with a group of Germans, now known as the Pennsylvania Dutch, in the 1700s. At any major intersection in the city, you will likely find a pretzel peddler who will handover a slab of pretzels stuffed in a brown paper bag. For pretzels most pleasing to the palate, warm and laden with salt, go to the Federal Pretzel Baking Company at 638 Federal St. A closer alternative, but just as good, is the Pretzel Factory in the concourse at 1515 Market St.
Not in the Line-Up: Philadelphia Cream Cheese
Kraft’s Web site reports that although it adopted the city’s name for creame cheese products, Philadelphia cream cheese is not an indigenous product. It was created by a dairy farmer in Chester, N.Y. in 1872. Eight years later, a distributor began calling it Philadelphia Brand because quality products originated or were associated with this fair city and he wanted to piggyback on its success.
If you’d like to sample some of Philadelphia’s most popular treats yourself or send a gift package to someone else, visit the Pennsylvania General Store at Reading Terminal or go to www.pageneralstore.com.
Brooke Honeyford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.