As travelers, sometimes we feel an obligation to see things. I had been to Philadelphia before–once to run a marathon, another time to attend a wedding, and once more to eat a cheesesteak (more or less). On my most recent trip to Philadelphia, I felt like I should see the city, but I didn’t want to go through the trouble of planning anything. So instead of reading up on the best things to do in Philadelphia, I strolled the city without purpose or plan and gave command to my stomach and nose. Essentially, I wandered lost in search of great food (and also some incredible history). And luckily, I had the two perfect companions for wandering lost, my wife Marissa and her friend Jess, who could both audition and secure a place on the show The Amazing Race: The Quickly Going in Circles Series.
Food Tour of Reading Terminal Market
Our first stop on the Philadelphia Wander Lost Tour was the Reading Terminal Market, which hosts a delicious collection of food stalls, groceries, designer olive oil shops, butchers, bars, and bookstores. (The bookstore was deliciously informative). Jess selected our first bite, which was a combination of Polish pierogis and Southern BBQ chicken served by Asian girls working at the Italian-sounding Franks A Lot. The chicken was delicious, while the pierogis were standard. When it was my turn to select our meal, I lined up at the crowded Dinic’s, where pork roasts were stacked in trays on the counter like Thanksgiving turkeys. An assembly line of workers stuffed sandwiches with the tender pig and layered on the spinach, hot peppers, and provolone. For better or worse, it lacked the grease of a Philly cheesesteak, but was just as scrumptious. The girls were quickly full. (Note to self: Never go on food tours with wife and her friends.) Jess shifted gears and brought us to the bar.
History Tour of Philadelphia
Afterward, we walked down Market Street and reached the Liberty Bell. I gave an impromptu tour, bringing the girls up to speed on the Revolution, Constitution, and other pertinent events from the 1700s. They yawned. “I thought the bell would be bigger,” one said. “It’s not that impressive,” said the other.
After we left the tiny bell, I pointed at a statue. “That’s Barry. He was the–”
“Who cares about Barry?” the girls said.
End of History Tour Through Philadelphia
We reached South Street, which was decorated in brilliant street art, lined with crude sex shops, home to hip coffee houses, delicious cheesesteaks, and interesting furniture stores. Then we cruised Rittenhouse Square and grabbed a drink at one of the annoyingly, posh bars around the square.
We ended our evening dining at Han Dynasty. (I decided not to give the girls a history lesson about those four-hundred plus years of dyanstic order.) The restaurant–not the empire–had just been featured in the New York Times “36 Hours in Philadelphia” segment and a few others had recommended the restaurant to us. But aside from the Dan Dan Noodles, Spicy Crispy Cucumber, and Double Cooked Fish (all of which were delicious and recommended by the Times), the rest of the meal tasted as though a beginner chef was learning to use spices. The Cumin Style Beef tasted like it had drowned in cumin. And the only difference between our dumplings and the Dry Hot Pot (which earned a ten out of ten for spiciness) was that the former tasted like oil and peanuts and the latter tasted like oil and heat. In the end, I went home with a piece of Philly. My terrible indigestion lasted for three days.