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So bad it’s good

One of the beautiful things about being an editor for a pharmaceutical industry publication and not an all-out healthcare publication (and I’ve worked for some of those, too) is that I’m not going to get a ding on my employee evaluation for recommending heart-clogging foods. Granted, I’m still not going to recommend them for regular consumption, but with the American Society for Cell Biology’s Cell Bio meeting coming up soon in Philadelphia (and we’ll be doing pre-show coverage of it in the November issue of ddn), I thought I might dust off an article I wrote in May 2009 for the ASMS show, which was also in Philly, and tease your tastebuds.

You, know, just in case you’re going to the Cell Bio meeting or otherwise will have business in Philly soon.

Just don’t send me the bill from your cardiologist.

Chowing down

It’s not always healthy, but Philly boasts some tasty traditions

PHILADELPHIA—Apologies to anyone watching their cholesterol, but Philadelphia is home to several gastronomic delights that would make most cardiologists cringe, and they must be mentioned to anyone who hasn’t had a chance to visit the city yet. And yes, the first stop is, as required by federal law, to speak about the cheesesteak—or Philly cheesesteak to the non-natives.

A sandwich made from thinly sliced pieces of steak and melted cheese on a long roll, called a hoagie roll, cheesesteaks are one of the favorite foods of the denizens of Philadelphia. Philadelphians Pat and Harry Olivieri are often credited with inventing the cheesesteak in the early 1930s at their hot dog stand near south Philadelphia’s Italian Market. The popularity was such that Pat opened up his own cheesesteak restaurant, which still operates today as Pat’s King of Steaks. The chief rival of Pat’s, and the other most well-known cheesteak purveyor, is Geno’s Steaks—they are located across the street from each other on 9th St. and Passyunk Ave. in South Philadelphia.

White American cheese, provolone, and Cheez Whiz are the most frequently used cheeses and most-often-available options for a cheesesteak, and you should specify which you want when you order. Swiss, cheddar, and mozzarella are available at some places. And if you hear someone follow up their choice of cheese saying “with” or “without,” that’s Philadelphian shorthand for with or without onions. Other toppings, depending on the shop, can include green peppers, hot sauce, ketchup or pizza sauce.

Another popular sandwich in Philly is the hoagie, which is a kind of submarine sandwich, and when cooked in an oven, is known as a grinder.

Legend says that an area of Philadelphia known as Hog Island, a shipyard during World War I, was where the hoagie originated, as immigrant workers took large Italian sandwiches made with cured meats, spices, oil, tomatoes, onions and peppers for their lunches. Because of the location of the shipyard, the workers were nicknamed “hoggies,” and at some point the sandwiches they ate adopted the same name, which because “hoagie” sometime after World War II.

Despite the more city-themed Philly cheesesteak’s fame, former Philadelphia mayor Ed Rendell declared the hoagie the “Official Sandwich of Philadelphia.”

Not a sandwich lover? Well, Philadelphians are also known for their soft pretzels. In fact, the state of Pennsylvania is responsible for the lion’s share of pretzel production, hard or soft, in the United States. Many will tell you that the best pretzels are to be found from street vendors, small mom-and-pop stores or directly from the factory.

Pretzels wrapped in plastic often tend toward being stale, soggy or too hard, and the best packaging is reportedly a paper bag. Don’t buy pretzels that look moist, because it’s the salt that extracts the water and it the pretzel isn’t dry and golden, it probably isn’t fresh.

Yet another local favorite is the oddly named water ice, which is a variation on Italian ice. Some describe it as a combination of Italian ice and a snow cone that is blended into a smooth semi-frozen slush. Because it is usually fruit blended with ice and has a very smooth texture, it is also sometimes mistaken by outsiders as a smoothie.

If those last two entries seemed a tad too healthy, not to worry. Pennsylvania is also one of a handful of states well-known for serving scrapple, which Wikipedia describes as “a savory mush of pork scraps and trimmings combined with cornmeal and flour, often buckwheat flour.” The resulting mush is formed into a loaf, from which purveyors slice off portions and fry them before serving. Some shops offer a vegetarian scrapple, made from soy protein or wheat gluten, and which reportedly is seasoned more sweetly than typical meat scrapple.

Finishing off with yet another food that should be eaten in moderation, Philadelphia is also home to the Tastykake brand of snack foods, which includes Krimpets, a sponge cake snack with icing and/or filling; Kandy Kakes, chocolate-covered cakes with filling; Kreamies, two-layer cake snacks with filling in-between; and many other concoctions.

That being said, Philadelphia is also home to a wide range of restaurants and cuisines, from the quick and greasy to the leisurely and exotic.

Just a tiny sampling of some of the eateries and restaurants available are the Naked Chocolate Café in the Center City portion of Philly, a chocolate boutique and dessert shop; the upscale “neuvo latino” eatery Alma de Cuba, also in Center City; Morimoto, which is co-owned by Chef Masahuru Morimoto of “Iron Chef” fame and serves up Japanese and fusion cuisine in the Center City; Italian restaurants DiPalma Ristorante and La Famiglia in the Old City area; Mediterranean restaurant Tangerine in Old City; Bistro Romano in Society Hill; farm-fresh- and organic-oriented White Dog Café in University City; and RoseLena’s, which served up Italian with an exotic flair in South Philadelphia.


October 18, 2010 Posted by | Academia & Non-Profit, Labwork & Science | , , , | Leave a comment