It’s easy to grab a soft pretzel and water ice before class, and removing the wrapper from a Tastykake cream-filled chocolate cupcake while relaxing in front of the TV is common practice. Such acts are part of being a true Philadelphian – where the motto is: “The greasier, the better.”
In fact, there are many companies, such as A Taste of Philadelphia, which thrive on the notion that Philly foods are hard to come by. Tempting non-city residents with packages like their “The Broad Street Combo,” the company offers a medley of the essentials: a cheesesteak, hoagie, soft pretzels, Tastykakes, Herr’s potato chips and more.
The Philly cheesesteak, perhaps the most popular Philly food of them all, has been a huge hit ever since it was first introduced in the 1930s by founder Pat Olivieri at Pat’s King of Steaks. In 1952, they added Cheese Whiz by popular demand and the rest is history.
“It’s definitely a staple in Philadelphia because you can’t talk about Philadelphia
without mentioning the cheesesteak,” said Geno Vento, son of Joe Vento, who founded the popular Philly cheesesteak hot spot known as Geno’s Steaks in 1966.
“I know there are a lot of versions of the Philly cheesesteak around the world but if you want it authentic, you have to come to Philly.”
While some attribute the lure of the Philly cheesesteak to the hype itself, many others boast that cheesesteaks in Philadelphia simply taste better.
“They just don’t make them the same anywhere else,” said freshman secondary education major Ryan Kalinowski.
“Huge chunks of steak, not chipped steaks – it’s just greasy here.”
It may seem unlikely, but grease seemed to be a deciding factor for senior film student Lindsay Morris as well, as she attributed the popularity of the Philadelphia soft pretzel to its “wetness.”
“You can go to the Soft Pretzel Factory on Frankford [Avenue] after midnight and get them for a quarter – it’s the best!” Morris said.
These twisted pieces of salted dough are also popular in places such as Germany and New York City, but the average Philadelphian consumes about 12 times more pretzels than the national average. To Morris, this comes to no surprise, “There are so many little elements that make a great pretzel and you can only get them in Philly.”
The soft pretzel is often the perfect companion to a water ice. Though Italian ice is popular in Europe and across the United States, only in Philadelphia and New Jersey do people refer to the popular frozen summer treat as “water ice.”
Rose’s Water Ice is a popular vendor in Philadelphia, and Rita’s Water Ice, the popular franchise with locations all along the east coast, was first opened independently in Bensalem, one of Philadelphia’s bordering cities. It was there that Rita’s popularity sparked, and the growing franchise began.
Like Philly cheesesteaks, water ices and soft pretzels are “often imitated, never duplicated” across the globe. There’s one company unique to Philadelphia that pre-wraps their goodness fresh at the bakery and keeps the key to their success hidden in Philly: the Tasty Baking Company.
It is responsible for the famous Philly treat – the Tastykake.
Tastykakes were first introduced in 1914, when Pittsburgh baker Philip J. Baur and Boston egg salesman Herbert T. Morris first went into business in Philadelphia.
Over the years, the name Tastykake has become associated with the moist, icing-clad cakes that line grocery store dessert aisles.
Companies like Hostess and Entenmann’s certainly offer up good competition, but for some, when it comes to cupcakes, there’s no substitute.
“I have to send Tastykakes to my uncle in South Carolina because they can’t get them there,” Morris said.
Whether it’s the idea of eating something at the location where it’s well-known or the fact that certain cuisines really do taste better when prepared where they came from, one thing’s for sure – Philly just wouldn’t be Philly without its famous foods.
Kristin Granero can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org