Thursday, August 30, 2012

Reading Terminal Market, Philadelphia's foodie paradise

Any self-proclaimed "foodie" worth their salt should feel compelled to visit the Reading Terminal Market if they are in Philadelphia. It is a place out of an earlier time, when refrigeration was rare, and produce had to be sold as close to the transportation bringing it into a young and rapidly expanding city center. This market occupies an entire city block underneath the Reading rail terminal (now the Market East rail station). It's location in the heart of a hungry city, and arms length from the trains that brought in supplies and produce made it a natural place for a market to develop and thrive. Now that food can easily be stored and preserved anywhere, such a market is no longer a necessity, but Philadelphia's has been preserved out of tradition, and is now part marketplace, and part food court- a center of activity, and a place to go for high-quality food and produce still made with artisan-level care and skill. Below you will find a series of photos I snapped, along with the meal I enjoyed there.

I arrived shortly before closing time, so the market was not terribly crowded. I knew of, and had sampled food from some of the vendors before (particularly DiNic's) but had not actually been in the market myself- so I wandered around and pndered which of the many stalls to visit for my meal. I ended up going with the first stand that offered me a sample- Beck's Cajun Cafe, who offered a small taste of their "Gator Gumbo"

The "gator" in the gumbo was in the form of an alligator sausage. The gumbo itself was served over a healthy portion of rice, and was rich and spicy, with deep, complex flavors throughout. The sausage tasted vaguely "like chicken" - but was obviously something different, and something very good. The heat level was right on the money- assertive, but not overwhelming- enough to leave you in a light sweat to remember your meal by. The sweet cornbread served on the side was just the right thing to hit the pause button on the heat of the gumbo. It looks good, it smells incredible, and it tastes great. This is a dish clearly made by people who care about food.

That theme seems to pervade everything in the market- it is a place where people who care about food come to meet, to make, to buy, and to eat great food and quality ingredients. One can easily understand how places such as this were once the heart and center for most activity in the fledgling cities in the not-so-distant past, and remain a treasured tradition today.

Beck's Cajun Cafe

The Market near the L.D. Bassett ice cream stand

Dienner's Bar-B-Q Chicken

The cheese case at Salumeria

Cured meats at Salumeria

Tommy DiNic's - home of the "Best Sandwich in America"

Sweet as Fudge Candy Shoppe

The Original Turkey

The Italian Sausage section at Martin's Quality Meats and Sausage 

Philbert the Pig, a statue by Eric Berg - the Market's mascot - donations dropped in the base are used to support healthy eating programs at the Food Trust.

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