Philadelphia Food: A Cultural melting pot

The city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania has been populated since the 17th century and the culinary influences have been wide and far-reaching ever since. In this city you can find food influenced by a number of cultures, including but not limited to African, Eastern European, Asian and Caribbean. Some foods are unique to Philadelphia; others are variations of those found in other parts of the world. No matter where it came from, food plays an important role in this city’s history and culture. This article explores some unique dishes that originated in Philadelphia, as well as several restaurants that serve them up today.

Philly Cheese Steaks

The cheese steak, Philly’s most iconic food, originated in the city in 1920 when Pat Olivieri and his brother Harry Olivieri created the sandwich at their hot dog stand near South Philadelphia’s Italian Market. Nowadays, cheese steaks can be found all over the city, with a large concentration of them being sold on South Street at places like Dalessandro’s or Geno’s. Cheese steaks are often served as breakfast fare (with eggs), lunch (with fries) or as an evening snack (with French fries). They’re sometimes served with fried onions or peppers. In Philadelphia parlance, cheese refers to cheese whiz — a creamy processed cheese spread invented by Kraft Foods Inc., and widely used in Philadelphia for its ability to melt easily.

Soft Pretzels

Philadelphia is known for their soft pretzels. The dough is made from a yeast and baking soda mixture, which makes it extra fluffy. They are then dipped in an egg wash, rolled in baking soda and salt before being baked. There are many variations of this classic snack food such as adding sugar to the dough or substituting with different types of flour. Philadelphia also has great pizza, hoagies and cheesesteaks! Some popular dishes include Italian Hoagie (provolone, ham, salami), steak sandwich (sirloin steak) and Philly Cheesesteak (thinly sliced ribeye steak). In addition to these staples there are some less common dishes that I would recommend trying if you’re in town for breakfast, lunch or dessert!

Water ice

Originating in Sicily, water ices are a treat that symbolizes the ethnic diversity of Philadelphia. The dessert is usually made with fruit and then frozen, though there are variations such as granita and sorbet. Water ice can be found at most Italian markets in Philly, but this one is worth a try. Rocco’s Italian Market is open 24 hours and sells authentic Sicilian food including water ices made with fresh fruit (and they’re delicious). There are even varieties like prickly pear, which you might not have heard of before. Even if you’re not craving anything specific, it’s worth stopping by to see what kind of flavors you’ll find!


The hoagie is a staple of Philadelphia cuisine and the sandwich has been named the Official Sandwich of Philadelphia by an act of the Pennsylvania General Assembly. The term hoagie comes from the word hoggie which was first used to describe a type of meat sandwich in South Philadelphia in 1920. The term comes from Hog Island, where freshly caught hogs were processed for food and eaten locally. Today, people can find all sorts of different types of sandwiches known as hoagies throughout Philly, but most often they are made with roasted pork (or Italian sausage), pepperoni, ham or prosciutto, fried eggplant or zucchini and cheese.

Sticky buns

The city has a long-standing tradition of honoring cultures from all around the world. It has been home to the likes of Betsy Ross, George Washington, and Benjamin Franklin. However, Philadelphia is also the birthplace of sticky buns. This breakfast treat takes two days to make and has risen in popularity over the past few decades. Sticky buns come from Pennsylvania Dutch cooking which originated from Germany and Switzerland in the 1700s. The savory pastry is made from dough that is rolled into an oval shape and then cut into six pieces. The dough is then layered with brown sugar, butter, cinnamon and raisins or currants before being rolled up into a spiral shape for baking purposes.

Roast Pork Sandwich

The Philly Roast Pork Sandwich is a humble, yet filling sandwich that’s as Philly as the Liberty Bell. You can find this delicious pork sandwich from street vendors to hole-in-the-wall shops. Roasted with a mixture of garlic, salt, pepper and other spices, the pork is served on a fresh Kaiser roll and topped with broccoli rabe (or broccoli). Eat this classic Philadelphia food for lunch or dinner and you’ll be sure to leave satisfied. If you want to experience more culinary variety in your dining experience, try ordering off one of the many Mediterranean menus around town. After all, if it weren’t for these immigrants coming to America, Philadelphia would have never become famous for its culture and cuisine!


Today scrapple is still popular in Philadelphia and can be found at many diners and even some convenience stores around town. It’s a mix of pork scraps, cornmeal, flour, and spices which are then mixed with water to create a pudding-like mixture that is baked for about an hour before it is cut into squares. Scrapple originated as the dish that was left over from butchers when they were cutting up pigs. The chunks of pork had to be boiled until all the fat was rendered out so it could be consumed safely, hence the name scrapple which means to scrape off (fat) or to strip off (meat).

Tomato Pie

Tomato Pie, also known as American Pie, is a regional specialty of Philadelphia. It consists of an outer crust that is either pressed into a pie plate or free-form and filled with a layer of seasoned tomatoes, topped with a layer of cheese. The pie is then baked until the cheese melts.
The Tomato Pie tradition has continued to live on in Philadelphia, with many restaurants specializing in just this one dish. There are also many variations on the recipe to satisfy customer’s preferences such as vegetarian tomato pies, beef tomato pies, or even vegan tomato pies.

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