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Eating Our Way Through Reading Terminal Market
Giant handmade pretzels? Tender baby-back ribs? A traditional Philly cheesesteak?
After a morning spent touring a mere fraction of Philadelphia’s 3,500 public murals, our feet were tired and our stomachs were rumbling. The murals had been a visual feast, but, by 1 o’clock, we were ready for a feast of a different kind: one that most definitely involved some hands-on, interactive elements.
Our only problem was deciding to lunch at the historic Reading Terminal Market, where the extensive, aromatic choices left us waffling (no pun intended) for another 45 minutes over which food stalls to visit.
Ultimately, we decided that a divide-and-conquer strategy might work best. We’d separate, purchase some items, and meet back at our lunch table to share the spoils. I went for the Cajun chicken Alfredo (anything with Alfredo sauce is A-O.K. in my book) from Beck’s Cajun Café, Jeanne returned with pretzel dogs from Miller’s Twist, and Lauren scored the mother lode: a Philly cheesesteak from Spataro’s Cheesesteaks and a grapefruit-sized apple dumpling from the Dutch Eating Place. Best of all: None of us had spent more than $10 on lunch.
We spent the next hour sampling and people-watching at the busy market, which was originally opened by the Reading Railroad in 1892. At that time, the market sat below the tracks of the railroad’s massive train shed and was touted as the greatest food market in the world. And, in our book, it definitely rates in the top 10, alongside Pike Place Market in Seattle and the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto.
We worked off our lunch as we ambled about the market, watching a young Pennsylvania Dutch woman twist dough into giant pretzels and trying to decide if a better take-home souvenir would be handcrafted jewelry from Amazulu, a jar of golden honey from Bee Natural, or handmade soaps and skin-care items from Terralyn: Bath, Body, Spirit. Yet again, we were stymied by too many good choices.
The market, which is celebrating its 120th anniversary in 2012, is open daily. And for those who want to know the fascinating stories behind such Philly food favorites as cheesesteaks, hoagies and pretzels — as well as the history of the Reading Terminal Market itself — there is the Taste of Philly Food Tour, a 75-minute, food-writer-led walking tours every Wednesday and Saturday. Tours are $15.95 for adults, $8.95 for kids 7-11, and free for those age 6 or younger. Reservations are required; call (215) 545-8007 for more information.