No visit to Philadelphia is complete without a visit to the Reading Terminal Market (tagline Fresh and Local Every Day) located in downtown Center City across from the Pennsylvania Convention Center. The market is one of the largest and oldest markets in the U.S. with its origin in 1892 as part of the Reading Railroad train shed (the market was located below the tracks). Over the years with the bankruptcy of the Reading Railroad and neglect, the market was in disrepair. In the 1980’s, the city embarked on a massive relocation of the commuter rail system to bypass the terminal and in the 1990’s the Convention Center bought the building and set about to rebuild the historic market and train shed. All of this happened before I started working in Center City, so I only know the Reading Terminal that I visit weekly. I often think how nice it would have been to see the old train station live (not in historic photos) and the market area prior to all of the new buildings which are now almost 25 years old. For the past twenty five years, many vendors have come and gone but the spirit of the market remains as each day it is filled with locals, tourists and convention attendees – it really is a gem in Philadelphia.
Before you enter, you will hear the street musicians outside the market and see the One Step Away vendors who are trying to combat homelessness by writing, producing and selling a street newspaper for $1.00 (it is a great local cause to help people earn money to find housing and jobs).
As I enter Reading Terminal Market, the four corners are enough to keep me blissfully happy without exploring the middle of the market.
In one corner, my favorite Amish counter, The Dutch Eating Place, for breakfast (blueberry pancakes, crispy bacon and fresh squeezed orange juice) or lunch (hot turkey platter with fresh squeezed lemonade). In another corner, I’m indulging my sweet tooth at the PA General Store with locally made treats and goods such as chocolate from Asher’s, John & Kira’s and Neuchatel and my favorite cookies from Hope’s Cookies. Across the aisle are freshly made baked goods from Metropolitan Bakery (love their sour cherry sea salted chocolate chip cookie). A new entrant to the tempting baked goods is Beiler’s Donuts which are made right in front of you – try to buy (eat) one! All are included in my Philly Dessert Guide!
As you wander the aisles trying to decide what to try first, you may hear live music coming from the piano player in one of the seating areas. You will see the lines at the stands (which move quickly). You will wonder if you can snag a seat (this takes a bit of skill to learn the nuances of when someone is done eating and about to leave their table) – we generally find a table and take turns going for our food during busy times. You will start to eat your food and then look around and see all the other foods people are eating – don’t worry you picked well for today, you can come back later to try something else. If your visit is short, many vendors have online ordering to ship in the U.S. I always encourage folks to take foods with them on the car/plane ride as it will be better than what is served along the way (I always travel with Hope’s Cookies).
The far corner of the market is where Iovine Brothers Produce sells a myriad of fresh fruit and vegetables (a healthy balance). The final corner for me is Termini’s Italian bakery – cannoli or baker’s cheesecake anyone? If these are not enough to tempt you to bring your stretchy pants and divorce your food journal when you visit Philadelphia then step inside the four corners to the fresh fish, market made cheese at Valley Shepherd Creamery & Meltkraft, DiNic’s Roast Pork (best sandwich in 2012 by the Travel Channel’s Adam Richman) and over 70 tempting stalls to eat, drink and shop while supporting the local small businesses.
To say Philly is spoiled with food choice is an understatement, the Reading Terminal Market alone can keep you busy for days while trying to eat your way through all of the options. Other famous vendors are Bassett’s Ice Cream (since 1861 – the oldest ice cream shop), Bassett’s Turkey and the Down Home Diner. I read a post recently of a man in Vancouver, Canada who shipped Bassett’s Ice Cream to a friend in Seattle and then drove down to pick it up – that is dedication! The Amish section of the market is a big draw, their stalls are open Wednesday – Saturday. There is a demonstration kitchen, private event space and market tours every Wednesday and Saturday at 10 a.m (there is a fee for the tour). For the holidays, a big draw is the toy train display, it reminds me of my childhood when we would visit the light show and see the toy trains with Santa at Gimbel’s.
The Reading Terminal Market really does a great job to showcase the diversity of our city through the food and brings people together with the many events throughout the year. So if you visit the market on your Philly visit, do reach out and I can save a table for you!