18 August 2010

Comfort Food (Shopping) and New Places

I've been living in Philadelphia for the past three years and I'm ready for a break.

I moved here for school and was excited to be in a new place with people I didn't know. The disappointment came slowly; I realized that, while I wanted to try something new, not everyone else did. Friends were hard to find because everyone at Temple seemed to be from around the area and came to college with their friends and groups from high school intact. My classes weren't what I had expected and as the first year ended, I was no closer to finding a major. I missed my family and the familiarity of my life in Ohio. At home, I knew the streets I drove on and who to call when I needed to get out of my house.

It's gotten easier, though. I've made friends, gotten a bike, called my mum a lot, and found places that feel comfortable. Like my grandma, I like visiting grocery stores when I go somewhere but finding places to shop for food in the city has been more difficult that I would've thought. Growing up in suburban Cincinnati, there was a Kroger a mile away so I didn't have to hunt down stores to buy fresh produce or bread. The urban grocery shortage wasn't something I'd been forced to consider before, though I know I didn't feel any of its effects seriously during the semester I ate grilled cheese after grilled cheese in my dorm's kitchen.

Freshman year, the only place I knew how to get to was city hall, but now I can find my way almost anywhere. I've been to every grocery I've heard of and been disappointed with their selection, paid too much, and gotten there to find it's been demolished. Hopefully the little bit of knowledge that I have can help someone else moving here because regardless of how lonely, overwhelmed, or upset you are, you need to eat so that you can get past it.

+Rittenhouse Market
18th and Spruce
This one's just not worth visiting. It may be convenient for the people who live in Rittenhouse Square, but if you go there, you'll be paying way more than you have to for a very small selection of items. I suspect that this is because people who live in Rittenhouse can afford to go out to eat a lot or get their groceries shipped to them but I don't/can't/won't.

+Food and Friends
20th and Spruce

This guy, on the other hand, is completely lovely. It's got a great name and it's probably one of the prettiest grocery store I've ever visited. Despite Pennsylvania's asinine liquor laws, Food and Friends somehow managed to squeeze in an entire aisle of beer by the bottle so that you can create your own six pack or just buy a single bottle on your way home at night.

+Trader Joe's
22nd and Commerce (between Market and JFK)
Trader Joe's is like that friend you forget about because you've both moved and now you live so far apart but when you finally do see each other, you're suddenly reminded why you were such good friend in the first place and promise to see each other more often. I went here the other day and was amazed at how cheap everything was. I got 8 ounces of goat cheese for $3.50 (4 ounces is $5.99 at Acme, $4.99 at Whole Foods, and $4.50 at Reading Terminal) and organic, vegetarian-fed, free range chicken for $4.98 (the same amount at Acme runs around $8.95 and isn't special hippy chicken.) They keep prices low by only carrying their own store brand so this might not be your thing if you're particular about a certain type of yogurt or rice but usually their version is excellent.

+DiBruno Brothers
19th and Chestnut
The only reason to visit this store is to marvel at the outrages prices people are paying for really boring things. You might initially being excited by the panache, but there's nothing here you can't find anywhere else. I peeked in their pastry case and their cakes looked like they were covered in whipped icing. Whipped icing is cheap and gross and lackluster baked goods are bad news for everyone.

+Reading Terminal Market
12th between Filbert and Arch
If I can find a market half a good as this in the cities I move to, I'll be lucky. Reading Terminal is all about variety. I come here to buy most of my produce (Iovine's near the back right corner has everything plus granola, dried fruit, and nuts and gives a student discount on Wednesdays and Sundays) but they've got at least two cheese shops, a spice store, bakeries, honey, jewelry, ice cream, handmade soaps, bookstores, and dozen of little restaurants that serve Indian, Middle Eastern, Japanese, as well as local food.

6th and Berks
I did most of my emergency shopping trips here last summer only because it was close to my apartment. It's not convenient--you have lug your groceries back up a hill to get back to Temple--they make you check your bag when they get there, and there are birds flying up and down the aisles. It's not without it's charms, though; in the city of brotherly love with bars named things like "Sisters," "Uncles," and "Sugar Mom's" it's good to know that other family members aren't being forgotten. And while most grocery stores have aisles for baking needs and cereal, Cousin's has two entire aisles labeled "Goya."

+That New Temple Grocery
Broad between Oxford and Jefferson
I would have killed for a grocery store during my first two years at college when I lived on Temple's campus. Compared to other options in the city, this one's not so special but it beats biking two and a half miles to get to the nearest grocery.

+The Foodery
10th and Pine
Like Food and Friends, The Foodery sells beer by the bottle. I mentioned Pennsylvania liquor laws before but my excitement about beer in corner stores might make more sense if I spelled it out for you. You can't sell beer in the same store that wine and liquor are sold. You can't sell any of the three in grocery stores. Liquor stores close at 9 and all day on Sunday. You can buy beer at beer distributors but you can't buy any less than a case or you can carry out at bars but they raise the price and you have to tip the bartender.

+Whole Foods
10th and South
Meh. Whole Foods is alright if you're looking for free samples or a DivaCup, but you can get anything here, including organic items, somewhere else. I've heard that they sell bulk flours (Essene, a natural food store near 4th and South, does too) which is something I'm into, but I'm holding out for finding a wholesale bulk store in the city.

10th and South
SuperFresh is great if you're just looking for a regular grocery store and it's in a pretty convenient location. It might be slightly pricey but if you're just looking for orange juice or a box of pasta, this is just fine.

+The Italian Market
9th between Fitzwater and Wharton
If you're looking for some obscure fish, meat, fruit, or vegetable and can't find it anywhere else, it's probably hiding somewhere in The Italian Market. Since it runs up and down one street, it's a easy to check everything out before going back and buying what you want since you might have instant buyer's remorse when you realize that the tomatoes half a block away are fresher and cost half as much. Two of Philadelphia's cheesesteak places are at the south end, if you're into that sort of thing, but think about not visiting Geno's because Joe Vento is not a nice man.

Passyunk between 10th and Dickinson
The proximity of a grocery store was one of the main reasons I moved into the neighborhood I've been living in for the past year. It was great to only have to walk a block to get food during the winter and if I'm cooking and realize I've forgotten something, I don't have to go far to get it.

+Amish Farmer's Market
Passyunk between Cross and Tasker

Every Wednesday afternoon in the summer, all the Amish come to the square outside my house to sell vegetables and sunflowers and honey. The kids who run the stands are so nice and polite even when people are pushy about buying things. For a fun recycling adventure, buy a single beer on Tuesday night to have with dinner and then use the bottle as a vase for flowers that you buy on Wednesday.

A Biking Trail

View Food in Philadelphia in a larger map

I haven't been everywhere in Philadelphia, but I know it's not my home. I'm ready to get lost in a bigger city with a culture that's not quite so cold. I'm leaving to study abroad in Barcelona on September 3rd and I'm apprehensive but excited.

This time, I already know what it's like to be alone and I'm okay with it.

I'm taking my helmet and signing up for Bicing, so that I can explore the city when it gets a little too lonley or loud to take. I'm not expecting it to be perfect, but the challenges seem less unexpected this time--languages, school, my new family, managing money, missing home, traveling. Right now, though, all I can think about is visiting the Boqueria.


emily said...

i like this. i wish i could say it more sincerely than it sounds, so come here and let me show you.

Maika said...

I stumbled across this blog post and it resonates with me since I just moved from Philadelphia (where I so desperately felt I need to leave and now am missing it like a lost best friend and feeling lonely in Oregon). I especially like the video you posted on how to be alone. I wish you well in Barcelona. I hope you learn a lot about life and yourself! I know I'm learning a lot about life and myself having moved 3000 miles away.

laura said...

Emily: Let's meet up in Montreal this winter, alright?

Maika: I hope Oregon is everything you want it to be. I hope Barcelona is even a little of what I want it to be.