Sunday, March 21, 2010

Lunch at the Reading Terminal Market

It was just before noon on a Wednesday and we had just purchased wild sockeye salmon and crabmeat from John Fish Market; broccoli, mushrooms, bananas and red peppers at Iovine Brothers Produce; and a free range chicken at Godshall's Poultry. Now we are having an early lunch at the counter of Sang Kee Peking Duck. I’m enjoying roasted pork and duck with Bok Choy over white rice while Maria is eating sesame chicken. We did all of this under one roof.

Sang Kee Peking Duck

If Philadelphia has a gastronomic heart and soul it would have to be the Reading Terminal Market. It is one of the oldest and largest public markets in the U.S., not to mention one of the finest. There are more than 80 merchants that sell everything having to do with food. They share the space with vendors who sell books, crafts, plants and flowers. The butchers are skilled, the produce is always colorfully arranged, the pastry and candy shops are visually stunning and the restaurants represent a variety that is rare.

The counter at DiNic's

Maria and I have been shopping in this vast market since the 1980s, before we knew each other, when there was talk of closing the 118-year-old market as part of the construction of a new convention center. Instead, the city’s leaders listened to its constituents and embarked on a plan not only to save the market but to renovate it. The results have been better than anyone could have imagined. The aging and neglected structure was replaced with new HVAC systems. The light colored interior is highlighted by the reds, greens and blue colors marking the food stands. Plenty of attractive light fixtures hang down from the market’s high ceilings. The floor plan provides plenty of access for shoppers and the layout makes it easy to find your way around. Outside of its busiest times, such as a major convention, the place is designed well enough to handle the crowds.

A woman enjoying an ice cream at Bassett's

As market veterans, we chose our time to shop carefully, before the noontime rush. We were able to see our regular vendors and chat with them while it was still calm. As we ate, the terminal began filling up with hungry people for lunch. Locals, conventioneers and tourists wait in line at the sandwich shops, such as DiNic's for its famous pork sandwich and Carmen's Famous Italian Hoagies and Cheesesteaks for its Italian Hoagie with Prosciutto. They all mingle comfortably at tables set up throughout the market. Locals with their shopping lists in tow walk with purpose while out-of-towners stroll at a leisurely pace and stop to examine nearly every stand. They all mix well with the hungry lunchtime crowd. The sound of friendly conversation fills the space.

The counter of the Dutch Eating Place

Below is the first part of a video I took while walking through the market:

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