4/5: Not Just Cheesesteaks

As one of the TPC staff told me, “Philly is a food city.” And she was right–Philly is a great city for enjoying food. I don’t think I’ve been to a bad restaurant so far — a few overpriced ones, maybe, but the food has been good everywhere.

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Sabrina’s Cafe

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Huevos rancheros from Cafe Lift

 

 

Sandwiches are big here. There’s the cheesesteak, of course, but there’s also the roast pork sandwich from DiNic’s, the amazing grilled cheeses at Meltkraft, the egg sandwiches you can find at nearly every bodega and corner cafe. Brunch is also popular, and there seems to be no shortage of places to get it. For breakfast burritos and tasty huevos rancheros, the hipster-y Cafe Lift (two blocks from our loft) is one of my favorites. For super creative and fun breakfasts, Sabrina’s Cafe is the way to go (when we were there they even had a special girl-band-themed menu).

In my opinion, the crown jewel of Philly food culture is Reading Terminal Market, a large indoor market with dozens of restaurants, delis, grocers, and other specialty food purveyors. I’m slowly working my way through the market, and I might even be able to try everything before my time is up. The record so far:

  • Salami sandwich with lettuce, herb mayo, and pickles at Wursthaus Schmitz
  • “Brielle” grilled cheese with brie, cranberry sauce, caramelized onions, and pine nuts at Meltkraft (A-MA-ZING)
  • Italian hoagie with fresh mozzarella, roasted peppers, artichoke, and basil from Mezze
  • Roast pork sandwich with provolone from DiNic’s
  • Grilled cheese with spinach, goat cheese, and caramelized onion at Molly Malloy’s (see a pattern yet?)
  • Veggie eggs benedict at Pearl’s Oyster Bar
  • Salad, hummus, pita, and tabbouleh from Kamal’s
  • Chocolate chip cannoli from Termini Bros. Bakery
  • Hand-rolled apple fritter from Beiler’s (my first hand-rolled donut…so good)
  • Chocolate chip and oatmeal raisin cookies from 4th Street Cookie Co. (made me actually appreciate oatmeal raisin for once)
  • Fresh-squeezed orange pineapple juice from Lancaster County Dairy
  • Warm baguette from Market Bakery (ate it with fresh mozzarella and pesto from Claudio’s…mmmm)
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Pizza at Bufad (5 min from our loft!)

Some other tasty spots around the city? King of Tandoor for Indian food, Bufad for pizza, and Citi Market for my favorite cheap, fast sandwiches around the corner from TPC.

To be honest, though, I haven’t eaten out a ton here in Philly because I’m on a pretty strict food budget. I’ll typically buy groceries every weekend, which uses up most of my budget, and I might have $10-20 left over for eating out during the week. I’ll usually get myself something to go on Tuesday nights becuase I have to go straight from work to class, but I try to keep it as cheap and fast as possible. My favorite spot so far to pick up a quick dinner? Le Bus bakery, near Rittenhouse Square, is just a tiny hole in the wall, but recently I got a container of vegetarian chili and a poppyseed bagel (a filling dinner) there for only $4.50. $4.50!!! Compared to the $9 I spent on a sharp cheddar and chutney panini at Metropolitan Bakery around the corner, it was the deal of the century.

As I’ve mentioned before, despite the abundance of tasty restaurants in Philly, grocery shopping is a major hassle. Though we live on the edge of Center City in a pretty busy area, the closest grocery store is Whole Foods (a 20-minute walk). Don’t get me wrong, I love me some Whole Foods, but it’s earned its nickname (“Whole Paycheck”) for good reason. Plus, 20 minutes is about the furthest I’m willing to walk to get groceries on a regular basis. Though Reading Terminal is closer (10-minute walk), it has limited hours and selection. The best place for groceries is by far Trader Joe’s, which has a good selection and reasonable prices, but it’s a 35-minute walk. I typically go there every 3 weeks or so to pick up some of my favorite items, but as I’ve learned, carrying 30 lbs of groceries home is a pretty miserable task. Though there are a few other grocery stores in Center City, they all require a subway, taxi, or bus ride from where we live, which effectively eliminates any savings on food prices.

Nevertheless, I’ve been making it work. And I have to say, I think I’ve made myself some pretty damn good meals, considering our tiny kitchen, limited supplies, and the trek to the grocery store, including curry, vegetarian chili, pasta primavera, baked eggs in tomato sauce, broccoli and tofu stir fry… Yum! But now I’ve gone and made myself hungry again… *sigh*

3/26: East vs. West

Before I left home to come to Philly, everyone warned me that the East Coast would have a very different culture than what I was used to. I’ve lived on the West Coast my whole life and had never been to this part of the country before, so after everything I’d heard, I was expecting a bit of a culture shock. Yet, surprisingly enough, I haven’t noticed a huge difference in the culture here. Maybe it’s because I’m from a major city, and cities tend to have the same sort of feel: bustling, fast-paced, anonymous…those are all things I’m used to. I had always heard that East Coast-ers tended to be rude, or aloof, or generally unfriendly, but that has not been my experience here in Philly. For me, the differences have been more subtle. Here are a few I’ve noticed:

1. Walkability and Public Transportation: Not only is Philly easily navigable because of grid system, but it’s mostly flat, with only the Schuylkill and Delaware Rivers posing any natural obstacle in the city’s layout. Because of this, it’s very easy to walk around the city, and you could–theoretically–pretty much walk from one end to the other, if you wanted. In my hometown of Seattle, that would be far more difficult because of the water and hills the divide up the city. Philly also has a far more complex public transportation system, called SEPTA. It includes everything from trains to trolleys to buses to subways. This can be confusing at times, but it’s obviously a well-used system and much more extensive than anything I’ve seen on the West Coast, where people rely much more on cars.

2. Parks and Green Spaces: In major West Coast cities, there seem to be far more parks and green spaces than here on the East Coast (or at least in Philly). Of course, this is probably because East Coast cities are much more condensed while West Coast cities tend to be more sprawling. But in Seattle, nearly every neighborhood has a large park of some kind, and there are smaller parks and green spaces scattered throughout the city. Here in Philly, the only real park is Fairmount Park–which, to be fair, is one of the largest city parks in the country–but other than that, the only green spaces I’ve seen have been the few public squares on the edges of Center City. And because most houses in the city are rowhomes, it’s very rare for anyone to even have a yard or other personal green space.

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The view from Logan Square

3. People: Though I’ve always heard stereotypes about people on the East Coast being rude, that has not been my experience here in Philly. For the most part, people here are a lot like people in any major city, in my opinion–they’re always busy and in a hurry to get somewhere, so don’t expect them to smile or say hi if you pass them on the street. But I do feel like people in Philly are more vocal and outgoing than in my hometown of Seattle. And in many ways, this makes them more friendly–I have had several strangers be extremely kind and generous to me. Once, when I got into the elevator to go up to our apartment, another woman stepped in and said warmly, “Good morning, honey!” We chatted for a minute while she went up a couple of floors, but she talked to me as if she’d known me forever rather than just having talked to me for the first time. Other people in our building have been the same; recognizing that we had just moved in, they welcomed us and showed genuine interest when they asked where we were from and what we were doing in Philly. Another time, when I was at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, a friendly security guard named Gerard struck up a conversation with me. Recognizing that I was a student, he asked about my classes and we chatted about our favorite pieces of art in the museum.

4. History: There is so much history here in Philly, and on the East Coast in general! You can hardly turn a corner without passing some interesting old building. And as a history major, I love it–I’m a total nerd for American history, so it’s been really exciting to see the city that was so central to the country’s beginnings.

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Signers’ Hall at the National Constitution Center

One of the most interesting pieces of history I’ve gotten to experience here in Philly is the pervasive Quaker culture that has been so influential to Pennsylvania. William Penn, the state’s founder, was a Quaker, and his influence has trickled down throughout Philadelphia’s history. The strict alcohol laws in PA are due to the Quakers, as are historic sites like Eastern State Penitentiary (the first “penitentiary” ever built, it was a revolutionary approach to prison for its time). It’s also pretty common to pass buildings that say something like “Friends’ Meeting Place” which designate that they house Quaker meetings. Even the name “Philadelphia” (“City of Brotherly Love”) is based on the Quaker values of peace and acceptance.

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Eerie halls of Eastern State Penitentiary

 

 

3/13: A Little of Everything

The staff at TPC warned us that time would start flying by once we started our internships, and boy, were they right! I almost couldn’t believe it when I checked the date to see that it’s already the 12th of March–it feels like the month just started yesterday! Since my program does not have a spring break, we end on April 29th, meaning that I only have about 7 weeks left. My time here suddenly feels so short… Though I admit I’ll be happy to go home and see my friends and family, I am also terrified that I will run out of time to do everything I wanted to do in Philly. After all, who knows when I will ever be here again?

…But enough with the mini panic attack. A lot has happened in the last few weeks, and I feel like I haven’t yet covered it all. So, here’s a little of everything:

Internships: I’m at the Rosenbach three days a week, from about 9:30 am to 4:30 pm, where I’ve been working on several different projects. I’ve been looking through old newspaper clippings to find info related to the 150th Anniversary of Alice in Wonderland; reading letters from early missionaries in Washington state so I can write a blog post about the massacre at the Whitman Mission (Walla Walla shoutout!); and researching how different museums and libraries use social media so that I can help develop a long-term strategy for the Rosenbach’s social media presence. For my one-day-a-week internship with Food Nerd Jr., I’ve been going to weekly team meetings and working on designing a template for their very first email newsletter. We hope to have the first edition done around the end of March (!!!).

Classes: I haven’t written at all about my two classes at TPC, so I’m remedying that now. Both are with my advisor Mark (simply by coincidence), and they’re very reading and writing-heavy. My seminar, which is about 3-4 hours on Monday mornings (ouch), is called Power & Authority. It’s very different from any other class that I’ve taken, since we are looking at broad, abstract concepts–like how things such as place, space, site, voice, etc. play into power and authority–and then trying to apply them to very concrete examples, like our workplace or locations in Philadelphia. My elective, which takes up about 3 hours on Tuesday evenings, is called Exploring Relationships in Fiction & Film. We cover a variety of topics relating to gender, sexuality, and–of course–relationships, and it’s also a challenging class in that it forces us to confront our own opinions and experiences on these issues.

In the City: Up until this weekend, the weather had been absolutely terrible here. Maybe I’m just a West Coast wimp, but I got pretty sick of the snow, ice, and constant below-freezing temps. But magically, this week decided to jump straight into spring, and now temps are in the 40s-60s range. I was about ready to cry with joy when I saw the predicted 47-degree high!

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After my last post, I’ve been making a conscious effort to get out and do stuff each weekend. Last Friday, my friend and I got to go to the Philadelphia Flower Show thanks to the generosity of my wonderful grandmother (thanks Grandma!). It’s a major event that draws people from around the world every year, and it’s held in the Pennsylvania Convention Center just a couple blocks from our loft. This year the theme was “At the Movies,” so all the major displays were based on Disney or Pixar movies. Here are a couple of my favorites:

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Prince of Persia: dumb movie, beautiful display

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Frozen

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Mulan

As you can probably tell from the photos, the displays were huge, and included real plants, flowers, trees, and water…I can’t even imagine how long it took to build each one!

Then, on Sunday, my roommate and I went to a documentary screening about the early punk rock scene in Washington, D.C. The movie was Salad Days, and it was shown in the basement of our building at a venue called Underground Arts. It was a pretty good documentary, though I’ll admit that I don’t know anything about punk music, but mostly it was just fun to go to an arts event without even having to walk outside.

Well, that’s the recap for now…stay tuned for more blog posts about eating in Philly and East Coast culture!