What can you get for $15 these days? Quite a bit, if you know where to look. Welcome to our new series on how best to turn a Jackson into a feast and still have enough to pay for SEPTA there and back.
First up is Reading Terminal Market, the thriving indoor array of stalls and stands and shops that’s a direct descendent of the open-air bazaar from which Market Street got its name. We’ve got three different ways to make the most of it.
If you’re visiting Philly (or with out-of-towners), or only get to RTM once a year or so, these are world-famous classics you can only find here and you don’t want to miss.
Pulled Pork Sandwich at DiNic’s ($10.50)
This is not the more commonly talked about roast pork (see: Travel Channel, Best Sandwich in America), for which the sliced pork really needs a ladleful of jus on top to keep it from being too dry. No, this is juicy shreds of meat pulled from a whole roast pork shoulder just seconds before landing in your sesame-seed hoagie roll. Definitely add sharp provolone, and also broccoli rabe if you like deliciously bitter things. The line is always long, but moves fast.
Cannoli at Termini Bros. ($3.50)
File under if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it: Third-generation Philadelphians Vincent and Joey Termini still use the same techniques and recipes their grandfather did when he started this South Philly bakery 94 years ago. Get the ricotta chocolate chip filling if you want the real deal.
The Pennsylvania Dutch
RTM is home to one of the best collections of Amish-run establishments outside Lancaster County, serving local products cooked in old-fashioned style. Word of warning: the PA Dutch section of the Market closes early, around 3 PM weekdays, and isn’t open on Sundays at all.
Pretzel at Miller’s Twist ($2)
This is the original of what Auntie Annie’s copied, bastardized, and placed in airports around the country. Not like a Wawa or street pretzel, this twist is buttery and ultra-soft, and will leave your fingers lickably slicked with salty grease.
Lunch Special at Dutch Eating Place ($6.50-$7.50)
Not only do you get a huge platter of food plus a drink in these daily-changing specials, you get to sit down right there at the snaking formica counter and dig in with real silverware (a premium at RTM). Pick from choices like a house-ground cheeseburger and fries, chicken and waffles or roast turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy. Each special also comes with lemonade or iced tea.
Half-Dozen Donuts at Beiler’s Donuts ($5.25)
Do you really need six donuts to finish this meal? Not in the slightest, but these glazed fritters are not only extremely fresh (you can watch them come out of the huge vats of bubbling oil and get iced and stuffed right there), they’re also super cheap. Bring ‘em back home or to the office; you’ll get popular quick.
The Global Village
Dozens of cultures from all over the world are represented among the 80-plus food stalls around the market, so there’s no excuse for getting bored, even if you eat at RTM several times a week. Here’s a solid route for a lunchtime culinary trip around the world.
Samosa at Nanee’s Kitchen ($3.25)
Two Pakistani sisters with an Indian mother fuse the cuisines of those two countries for a wide-ranging menu full of vegan and Halal options. Best deal is the samosas, pocket pies with an extremely flaky crust that are more filling than you’d expect. Chicken is a favorite, but they also come in spinach-ricotta and other flavors. Pick mild, sweet or spicy (really hot!) for your sauce on the side.
Salmon Curry at Little Thai Market ($7)
Skip the Pad Thai and the chicken dishes (both are pre-cooked and sitting in a steam table) and go for the fish here instead. A huge portion of salmon is grilled to order and set over steamed broccoli and rice, then doused with a surprisingly delicate red curry cream sauce. Note: like many establishments here, this is a cash-only operation.
Cookies at Famous 4th Street Cookie Co. ($4)
OK, not really exotic, but definitely a great soft landing for the return home. Cookies are sold by weight, but you can expect them to run approximately $2 each. Tip: Before you choose your flavors — white chocolate macadamia, chocolate chip pecan — ask if any of them are still hot from the oven. Tip No. 2: Near closing time (5 PM, or 4 PM Sunday), any cookies still in the case go for $1 each.