I have been enchanted by the Reading Terminal Market since I was a small kid. Eating lunch there, amidst the crowds of urban workers, shoppers and the stand-owners was like being in the center of the market square in some exotic land. It was there I had my first taste of foreign foods like falafel and gyros. The Market has not changed over the years, except to offer an even more diverse range of eateries and whole foods.
A total of 86 merchants offer everything from fresh-killed ducks to produce that is only hours out of the soil. Though the building was constructed in 1892 as a depot for the Reading Railroad, the markets that already occupied the site were included in the space. Three descendants of original merchants operate in the Market today. The following vendors are some of my favorites, but they are only a taste of what the Market offers.
Kamal’s Middle Eastern Specialties advertises a huge array of fresh fruit and vegetable juices in myriad combinations. A tall coconut-pineapple-mango juice is just the thing to complement traditional humus (garlicky chickpea spread), spinach pie or shawarma (marinated lamb). Inexplicably, Kamal’s also sells hookahs, which are water pipes used to smoke flavored tobacco. Perhaps Kamal is onto something, though, because hookah bars are becoming trendy in more cosmopolitan cities than ours.
At Delilah’s Southern Cuisine, a handwritten sign trumpets “OPRAH’S CHOICE! Best Mac ‘n Cheese!” If Oprah likes it, you know it must be good.
Follow the sweet aroma of chocolate and cookies to the far corner of the market, where in a delicious deadly triangle of calories, you find the Down Home Diner, Termini Bros. Pastry, and Chocolate by Mueller.
For comforting country food, the Down Home Diner cooks up roasted corn hoe cakes (like pancakes cooked on a clean hoe blade) and granny’s meatloaf. Oven-baked grapefruit with whole grains and dried fruits updates a menu that includes “corn mush” as a side. Spend the extra buck and get real Pennsylvania maple syrup with your breakfast. The friendly, overall-clad waitresses were more than happy to share their recommendations and knowledge of the Market with me.
At Mueller’s, you will find an anatomically correct array of solid chocolate noses, hearts, lungs, or the “Mike Tyson Special Ears that are OK to bite!” Among the chocolate teeth and lab rats, there is also a more conventional selection of chocolates, candies and jellies. Get the coconut clusters or the turtles-or get them all. You will not regret this. If you have a diabetic family member, they have sugar-free selections that actually taste good.
The Market is home to branches of several Philadelphia institutions, like Chinatown’s Sang Kee Peking Duck House and Termini Bros. Pastry. Crispy skinned ducks and rich cannoli live up to their reputations in both spots. Termini Bros. also makes the definitive gingerbread man or woman. This is a great treat for any kid, young or old.
If it’s meat-free for you, I like the Basic Four Vegetarian Snack Bar. The best menu item, just name-wise, is the BoloNo sandwich. I guess vegetarians get cravings for childhood Oscar Mayer after all. Also herbivore-licious are the fresh fruit and wheatgrass smoothies. Feel the vitamins coursing through your veins! If it’s tasty and never said oink, cluck or moo, they have it at Basic Four.
The glory of the Market is its unique personality, a melting pot of accents, flavors and styles. Much like Philadelphia itself, the Market is unpretentious, diverse and has something for everyone.
Felicia D’Ambrosio can be contacted at Caspian@temple.edu.