The World Behind Reading Terminal Market

Layla El Tannir, for GPA -- You never know what to expect in a behind the scenes tour organized by the Global Philadelphia Association and active members of Philadelphia’s global scene. Recently, GPA decided to tap into a rather exciting and integral part of Philadelphia’s food and railroad history, Reading Terminal Market.

As Rick Nichols, former Philadelphia Inquirer columnist once put it, Reading Terminal “is the beating heart…of old, original Philadelphia.”

Since 1990, it has been owned by the Pennsylvania Convention Center and managed as a nonprofit by the Reading Terminal Market Corporation. By 2000, Reading Terminal was 100 percent occupied by 80 merchants, a result of growth in the downtown residential population and tourism. Reading Terminal celebrated 120 years of bringing fresh and local food to Philadelphia in 2012. A highlight of 2014 was being named one of the Top 10 Great Public Spaces in America.

To get a real feel for Reading Terminal, this tour was designed to feature the diversity of what is on offer. The 80 merchants are categorized into bakeries, beverages, dairy and cheese, day stalls, ethnic groceries, flowers and plants, housewares, books, crafts and gifts, meats and poultry, Pennsylvania Dutch, produce, restaurants, seafood and specialty foods.

To start the tour, a global group with individuals hailing from China, the Middle East and Europe living and working in Philadelphia, gathered at the main information desk located next to Pearl’s Oyster Bar and learned a bit about the history behind the Market from General Manager Paul Steinke and Marketing Director Sarah Levitsky.

The first stop of the tour was to sample some cheeses at Fair Food Farmstand, a nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing local food to the marketplace and promoting a humane, sustainable agriculture system in the Delaware Valley Region. In essence, its mission ties back to Reading Terminal’s initial function as a place for local growers to bring their goods to city customers.

Although it seems cliché, no tour would be complete without a pretzel pit stop. Amish pretzels from Miller’s Twist are a completely unique experience. The tour watched the staff live in action, cutting the dough, rolling it out and twisting it into the classic pretzel shape. Attendees enjoyed small samples of the plain salted classic pretzel.

In keeping with the global element, the tour indulged in mini lamb gyros with extra tzatziki sauce from Olympia Gyro, a Greek food merchant. Flying Monkey Bakery made their famous pumpkin whoopie pies for the group to enjoy and Valley Shepherd Creamery also offered some of their finest cheese. Chocolate by Mueller added licorice to the mix, in the forms of sweet and salty.

After working its way through multiple courses at the Market, the tour concluded at Old City Coffee. Since 1988, Old City Coffee has roasted 100 percent Arabica beans at Reading Terminal in its coffee roasting machine there. Old City Coffee handed out espresso and a lesson in roasting coffee, detailing the measurements, the color differences and the noises affiliated with the process.

Overall, it was a great experience for the global Philadelphians to learn more about the food scene that exists within Reading Terminal Market and the history that is affiliated with GPA’s bid to make Philadelphia the first city in America with World Heritage City designation.

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