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Reading Terminal Market: A Historical Gem

Reading+Terminal+Market+has+an+array+of+food%2C+in+addition+to+stands+like+flower+shops.
Emma Cahill
Reading Terminal Market has an array of food, in addition to stands like flower shops.

Maybe you’ve tried Geno’s and Pat’s, hopefully even D’Alessandro’s, but the Philadelphia food scene has much more to offer than just cheesesteaks (although we admit, the cheesesteaks are pretty good, too). Looking to immerse yourself in Philly cuisine beyond the hoagie? Take a trip to Reading Terminal Market, the Mecca of Philadelphia food stands. 

Reading Terminal Market, located right by the Philadelphia Convention Center and easily accessible from the Jefferson Station SEPTA stop, opened in 1893 and has been a Philadelphia staple since. Today, the market has more than 80 merchants that offer something for everyone. 

With grocers, prepared food stands, bakeries and much more, it is where “real people come for real food,” Annie Allman, CEO and General Manager, said.

Behind each merchant, there’s an interesting story to accompany it. This is the case for the stall, “Really Reel Ginger.” This stall has everything and anything ginger, ranging from ginger candies and immunity drinks and even soap. According to Allman, the merchant took family tradition and combined it with a new flavor palate. With stories like this embedded in each stall, there is a real personal aspect to the market. 

“The owner went to Africa for the Peace Corps, met his wife,” Allman said. “And his wife’s family tradition was very ginger-based for health. And so they started a business off one product and came in here and sold it in a day still a few times a week and it has grown into a full-time merchant. It’s about the stories behind these products. That’s really the fun part.”

Not only do the merchants have a personal connection to the market, but so do the shoppers. Although the market is definitely a tourist destination, it would be nothing without the support of local Philadelphians. 

“If it wasn’t for I called them ‘my little lady Shoppers from North Philly and West Philly,’ I don’t think it would have survived,” Allman said about the market during the pandemic. “I think that there’s just some magic here. It’s diverse. It’s welcoming. People try to take their time with customers.”

The market also works to incorporate the youth of Philadelphia through robust programming including children’s story hours, programming with the local Boys and Girls Club and working with high school culinary programs.

So, how does one brave this market full of many options to choose from? Well, you’re in for a treat, as Allman has the ultimate guide for how to navigate this iconic market. 

Allman knows all too well the story of the college student who is looking for an easy and inexpensive meal. For Villanovans, Allman recommends heading to the market early, around 8 to 10 a.m. to check out the local butchers and fishmongers. She encourages students to take advantage of the knowledge from the merchants.

“Ask advice,” Allman said. “Say, ‘I’m trying to feed my four roommates this week, what do you have on special? What’s easy? What would you suggest?’”

Not a great cook? Supplement your purchases with premade foods from stalls such as Butcher’s Pantry or By George. While the foods are homemade by local chefs, it makes quick and easy meals to heat up in your microwave or oven. 

Fortunately, Reading Terminal Market also offers a lot of meals that offer bang for your buck. When asked about the best way to spend $20 at the market, Allman gave the rundown on which stalls to hit up when you want a great deal. 

“You can get a ton of good scratch-made food from Tambayan,” Allman said. “Dienner’s Bar-B-Q Chicken, which has Lancaster County’s rotisserie chicken and roasted vegetables, is also a great option. As well as Careda’s Caribbean, if you like Caribbean food.” 

As for us, we had the ability to choose among the 80 vendors for lunch and dessert. We both opted to grab lunch at Olympia Gyro, a stand that boasts a 30-pound roast of gyro meat, which they cut right before our eyes. Run by Athens Voulgardia, Olympia Gyro has been his life since his parents emigrated to America from Greece and bought the stand in 1984. We both have dreamt of this gyro every night for dinner since.

Looking for something to satisfy your sweet tooth? Well, we pursued what Allman referred to as the “danger zone:” a whole row of bakeries and pastry stalls in the market. We tried the mini tiramisu cake from Termini Bros Bakery, and it had the perfect balance of sweetness paired with that smooth espresso taste. We also tried the donuts from Beiler’s, a Lancaster County classic that makes freshly-made donuts every day. Although it is unconventional, the maple bacon donut proved to be an excellent combination of salty and sweet. The Boston creme, vanilla M&M and Nutella donuts were also great choices. 

Whether you are in Philadelphia for the local Christmas displays, or just want to venture out as the semester winds down, Reading Terminal Market is a perfect stop during your tour of the city. 

 

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About the Contributors
Chloe Miller, Co-Culture Editor
One of two Co-Culture Editors for The Villanovan in 2023, Chloe Miller is a senior studying Communication specializing in Public Relations and Advertising. Chloe has held the position of Co-Culture Editor since Fall 2021, and has written articles on the Philadelphia Justice Project and the ultimate SEPTA Train Guide during her time as Co-Culture Editor. A spirited addition to the editorial staff, Chloe prides herself on her ability to identify what language someone took in high school. Her work has also appeared in Lancaster Online.
Emma Cahill, Co-Editor-in-Chief

Emma Cahill is one of the Co-Editors-in-Chief of The Villanovan in 2024. A junior Political Science and English double major, Emma held the position of Co-Culture Editor in 2023. Emma has covered anything and everything during her time writing for the paper, ranging from March Madness in New Orleans, to horoscopes, to interviewing Sebastian Stan. Emma is a very passionate person, namely about her family and friends, Taylor Swift, and especially Long Island bagels. When she is out of the office, Emma can be spotted giving tours of campus for Blue Key or strolling around Villanova with an iced coffee in hand.

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