Try heading to Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market on a Saturday afternoon, and you’ll be doomed to inch along the surrounding streets at a crawl, cursing the car in front of you that just stole your spot, and wondering at what point you just turn around and go home. When you finally find parking and make it inside, you’ll dodge elbows and shopping bags, wait in long lines and accidentally touch many more strangers than you really want to consider. All this hassle, just for groceries? The produce and sandwiches can’t actually be worth it, right?
Wrong! So, so wrong.
Living and working in central PA, I only make it to the Reading Terminal Market on weekends. While the crowds may be aggravating at times, I never regret making the effort. The Reading Market isn’t the oldest farmer’s market in Pennsylvania (that title goes to Central Market in Lancaster), but it is certainly the largest. The market houses more than 80 vendors selling everything from shoofly pies to Thai spices, fresh oysters to locally grown apples. That variety and quality is hard to find elsewhere, and makes fighting your way through the crowds well worth it.
The Monopoly Market
The Reading Terminal Market traces its history back to 1680, when Philadelphia’s farmers and fisherman sold their goods in informal markets near the river around Front and High streets. As these outdoor markets grew and the area expanded, it is no wonder that High Street came to be called Market Street. Eventually the markets were moved into two enclosed markets at 12th and Market streets. The actual Reading Terminal Market building itself was built in 1891 when the Reading Railroad company began construction on a new railroad system at 11th and Market, and agreed to house an enclosed market underneath. The city moved the two existing markets into the new building and opened the Market in 1892.
The Market has seen some rough times, falling into disrepair and disarray after World War II. It was neglected and left to crumble until the mid-80’s when the City of Philadelphia included an improvement initiative for the Market into plans to build the Convention Center. Now the modern Reading Terminal is once again flourishing, packed every week with vendors and patrons.
Bringing the Rural to the Urban
The modern Market’s mission statement has 5 main tenants, one of which in particular speaks to me. The Reading Terminal Market considers it part of its mission “to strengthen the historic link and mutual dependency of our rural and urban communities.” That ties directly to what the Made From PA blog is all about – showing how rich and wonderful PA’s food production culture is and that it can be truly accessible to PA residents no matter where you live. That’s why I decided to include Markets in the blog. I want to highlight not only the individual amazing items grown or produced here, but I also want to bring attention to the organizations that are making an effort to bring those products into PA’s cities and towns.
Not everything sold in the Reading Terminal was produced in Pennsylvania. That’s to all of our benefit. You can get exotic teas from the Herbiary or French linens from Contessa. And don’t skip the amazing imported cheeses from Salumeria.
But the Reading Terminal Market is also committed to supporting local producers. Take the following Market policy: “In filling vacancies which may arise in the Market, general preference shall be given to growers and purveyors of local and regional produce.”
And this is Made From PA, right? So let’s talk about some of the PA products you can find at the Market.
- At Iovine Brothers, they believe in sourcing locally as much as possible and will promote locally grown produce with obvious “LOCAL” signs throughout the market. Iovine buys from local producers like Shady Brook Farms in Yardley and the Philadelphia Urban Creators. Iovine Bros. has a great selection of fresh produce as well as dry goods, and often features specials if you look around the edges of the market.
- In early 2015, a new charcuterie and butcher shop joined the market. La Divisa Meats cures and ages their own meats and sausages using humanely raised, grass-fed animals from a number of PA farms.
- And of course, we have to talk about the Pennsylvania Dutch stands. The Market has more than 10 different PA Dutch vendors selling prepared foods, deli items, baked goods and more. Shops like the L. Halteman Family Country Foods sell meat and dairy products that come from their own family farm. They also sell homemade sausages, locally made jams and jellies, honey and Lancaster County produce.
And while I can’t vouch that they’re using PA ingredients, you can also pick up any number of delicious prepared foods that are at least produced in PA. Some highlights: the cheesesteak from Spataro, which can challenge the big guys from South Philly, and the chocolate chip cookie from the Famous 4th Street Cookie Company, served warm with tons of gooey, melty chocolate.
Made From PA Tips:
$4 Parking. Parking is at a premium around the Reading Terminal Market. Between the bustle of Chinatown on one side, and the Convention Center on the other, finding a street parking spot can feel impossible. But don’t fear the garages! There are 2 local garages that offer 2 hour parking for $4, if you can get into them. You just need to spend at least $10 at the Market and have your shop vendor validate. Believe me, a $10 minimum purchase won’t be hard for you.
- 11th & Arch Streets (Expert Parking)
- 12th & Filbert Streets (Parkway Garage)
Grab a Sip. Fighting the crowds and hunting for the perfect ingredients is thirsty work. So while you’re at the Market, make your way to the back and try to find a seat at Molly Malloy’s, the Market’s only bar. They have 24 beers on tap, and you’ll always be able to find a number of Pennsylvania-brewed beers among them. They actually have a pretty decent selection – last time there I was able to get a nice sour beer I enjoy on draft, which is rare.
Get the Pasta. As an Italian American cook, it pains me to admit this, but I don’t make my own pasta. I hope to one day, but for now I look for other Italians I trust to make it for me. If you feel the same way, find By George! along the Filbert Street side of the Market. Look past the neon lights trying to talk you into a cheesesteak (remember, for those go to Spataro!) and you’ll see that By George! sells a number of different types of fresh pasta that are cut to order for you. They also sell a wide variety of sauces to go with your pasta. The diablo is delicious with their fresh fettuccini. And while you’re at it, pick up a loaf of bread from Metropolitan and make a meal of it.