Showing posts with label hoagie. Show all posts
Showing posts with label hoagie. Show all posts

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

PHILADELPHIA FOOD

by Sheila Connolly

Drum roll, please: Today marks the debut of my new Museum Mystery series, which opens with Fundraising the Dead. The series will take you behind the scenes in some interesting Philadelphia museums (and you’ll probably learn more than you want to know about what really goes on there). I’ll bet you never realized that fundraisers make great sleuths—they know everybody, and nobody notices them. Did I mention I used to be a fundraiser? We had files on everybody who was anybody. Anyway, in honor of Nell Pratt’s first public appearance, I’m going to talk about Philadelphia food.

What’s the first thing you think about when you hear “Philadelphia” and “food” in the same sentence? If you know Philadelphia at all, the Reading Terminal market has been providing wonderful fresh meats, fish and vegetables for a century or so. But you won’t get to explore that until the next book!

This time around I'll just give you the basics:

Cheese Steaks: If you haven’t been living in a cave most of your life, you know what these are: a long roll sliced in half, with a layer of shredded beef cooked on a grill (the flat kind, not the barbecue kind), with a thick layer of gooey orange cheese on top. Onions optional. Okay, there are variations, but this is the essential sandwich.

There are two major competitors who claim to be the best and/or most authentic cheese steak vendors in Philadelphia (and probably the world), Pat’s and Geno’s. If you’re in Philadelphia and you want to compare, it’s easy, because they’re across the street from each other, at the intersection of Ninth Street and Passyunk Avenue in South Philadelphia.

Scrapple: This local product has always mystified me. Wikipedia defines this as “a mush of scraps and trimmings combined with cornmeal, flour and spices. The mush is formed into a semi-solid congealed loaf, and slices of the scrapple are then pan-fried before serving. Scraps of meat left over from butchering, not used or sold elsewhere, were made into scrapple to avoid waste.” Doesn’t that sound yummy? Once on sleep-over when I was in elementary school, a friend’s mother served it to me without identifying it, and I politely ate it. When I went home and told my mother, her horrified response was, “you ate WHAT?” Needless to say, it wasn’t on our menu at home. Maybe it’s an acquired taste, like Irish black sausage.

Soft pretzels: I really don’t understand these. They’re most often sold by street vendors, sprinkled with coarse salt and squirted with yellow mustard. If you read the Philadelphia papers, you see a lot of health code violations slapped on these vendors. You do NOT want to know what they find in those pretzels.

Hoagies: Now the story gets interesting. Most regions have some variation of this sandwich heaped with meat, cheese, and any number of other items. They call them grinders, subs, and a lot of other things. But the Philadelphia legend holds that the “hoagie” originated with Hog Island, an area on the southwest side of Philadelphia, near where the Delaware River and the Schuylkill River meet (if you’ve ever been to the Philadelphia Airport, that’s the place, thanks to a lot of landfill.) It was home to a major shipyard during WWI and WW2, and a professor at the University of Pennsylvania claims that the Italians working on Hog Island created the sandwich.

Philadelphians are very committed to “their” version of the sandwich: You take an Italian roll, sprinkle it with oil (not mayo!), add shredded lettuce, onions, sandwich meats and sliced tomato, then sprinkle with herbs and salt and pepper. Most also include cheese, usually provolone. No pickles!

These are the biggies. There are other food products associated with Philadelphia: Campbell’s Soup (well, it’s across the river in Camden, NJ); TastyKake, founded in 1914 and still going strong; the Fleer Corporation, which was the first company to successfully manufacture bubble gum (I grew up chewing its Dubble-Bubble, invented in 1928), which sadly went bankrupt after selling off a lot of its products. As for Dubble-Bubble, it went to Tootsie Roll, and they changed the recipe. It’s just not the same.

Aren’t you glad that Nell Pratt likes to eat (but she doesn't really care about cooking, so no recipes)? I plan to send her to a lot of restaurants, where she can hang out with her colleagues to try to solve a few Philadelphia crimes.