Saying “yous guys” and adoring the E-A-G-L-E-S, Eagles, are just a couple hallmarks of those who have grown up in Philadelphia. But one of the main examples of our city’s distinct culture is our celebration of food. With Pennsylvania Dutch, Italian, and early American roots, the cultural influences all combine to create a smorgasbord for the palette. If you’ve moved away, you’ll understand how the cravings for certain foods kick in pretty quickly. Here are just a few of the foods we locals enjoy when we go home to Philadelphia.
Sure, you can find them in other locales, but there’s nothing like a true Philly cheesesteak. The thinly sliced griddled meat topped with cheese, onions, and peppers, wrapped in a freshly made bun with a side of marinara sauce… heaven. It’s little wonder that first on the agenda of a trip home to Philly is a b-line for a cheesesteak from any place that’s named after the owner, like Giuseppe’s, Geno’s, or Tony’s.
2. Ice cream with jimmies
If you venture outside of Pennsylvania and order ice cream with jimmies, you’ll get a blank stare. There’s something comforting about ordering you mint choc chip cone and the server asking if you want jimmies rather than sprinkles.
3. Shoofly pie
It’s always a disappointment if Philadelphian relatives come to visit you out of state without toting at least two homemade shoofly pies. The gooey molasses bottom, cake middle, and crumbly sugar topping — all held together within a flaky, homemade pie crust — tastes like home.
Like our cheesesteaks, the taste of just-baked Italian bread makes all of the difference to our hoagies. Whether you take yours with oil, vinegar, or mayo (or all three together), the thinly sliced cold cuts and freshly shredded lettuce are a combo that tells you you’re home in Pennsylvania.
5. Black licorice
Good & Plenty’s tiny sticks of black licorice are a must movie candy and hard to find out of state. They taste even better if you bite off the outer layer and then slowly chew the inside.
6. Soft pretzels
The smell and texture of soft pretzels wrapped in a warm paper bag is a true cornerstone of our city’s culture. Whether you grab yours from Wawa, The Philly Pretzel Factory, or from someone selling them on the street, it’s a classic staple.
7. Spiced wafers
Don’t be too hard on yourself if you end up ripping into the black and orange box eating an entire sleeve of them within an hour of landing. We’ve all been there.
“Nobody does bake a cake as tasty as a Tastykake.” I have to agree with this old TV commercial. No doubt you grew up with one tucked into your school lunch. The popular favorites of Butterscotch Krimpets and Chocolate Junior keep it simple and sweet. My favorite, Kandy Kakes, which has just the right amount of peanut butter, takes the crown.
9. Sticky buns
On the weekends, my family would head to the local mart to pick up a box of Fleck’s Sticky Buns. Whether they were donned with raisins or pecans, the sugary glazed buns gave permission to lick my fingers. A fond childhood memory I’m sure many of us who grew up here cherish.
10. Fresh cookies
It’s especially exciting if a trip home includes a stop at Reading Terminal Market. After browsing the stalls, a treat from The Famous 4th St Cookie Company is the perfect finish. From simple sugar cookies to the popular chocolate chip walnut flavor, eating a warm cookie immediately and grabbing a few to take home is always a good choice.