There's another side to Philadelphia food that's cheaper and more popular than those fancy sit-down restaurants.
Take the hoagie, also called a sub, a hero or, if heated in an oven, a grinder. There are a hundred variations of these sandwiches, but almost all come on long rolls and contain meat and cheese plus lettuce, tomatoes, onions, perhaps hot peppers and a few dashes of oil and vinegar or a slathering of mayonnaise.
Then there is the cheesesteak, a Philadelphia institution. Make the trip to Geno's Steaks, 1219 S. 9th St. (at Passayunk Avenue and Federal Street) in south Philadelphia. Some swear it is heresy to put Cheez Whiz on these "steaks," which are really paper-thin slices of beef sautéed on a hot grill. But they do it here to great effect.
Geno's seems bigger and more popular than nearby Pat's King of Steaks. (Maybe the bright lights and orange-and-white décor draw folks.) If you choose an outdoor table at Geno's, get close enough to the order window to hear how the locals do it.
"Whizwid" means a cheesesteak with Cheez Whiz and fried onions, just as "Whizwiddout" means with Cheez Whiz but no onions. Aficionados may scoff at using orange processed cheese on their steak, but some of us think the result is downright tasty.
Pretzels, sold on seemingly every street in Philadelphia, are like nothing you've tasted from a supermarket bag. These are soft, big and generally light on salt. You can make a small meal out of one slathered with mustard.
The best place to savor all of this varied cuisine is the Reading Terminal Market, 12th and Arch streets. It's a city treasure: a combination of small eateries, many of them ethnic; high-quality seafood, meat and produce dealers; and a few specialty vendors selling gourmet cookware, Pennsylvania-made gifts and other trinkets.
Get your hoagie at Salumeria, which also puts together some mean Italian pasta salads. For cheesesteaks, try the Sandwich Stand, which I prefer, or Rick's.
Mexican? The 12th Street Cantina.
Seafood? Pearl's Oyster Bar, known for its waitresses ("Hiya, hon. Whaddaya havin'?")
Coffee? Old City.
Cookies? Famous Fourth Street Cookie Co.
Ice cream? Bassetts, the best.
For true Pennsylvania Dutch food (pork and sauerkraut, or potpie), find the Dutch Eating Place and settle in for a hearty lunch. Here and at the market's Down Home Diner, you can find another Pennsylvania Dutch specialty, scrapple, a dish I practically grew up on.
Scrapple is what we used to call a "parts of the pig" meat, the remnants of a butchered porker that are ground up, seasoned and mixed with cornmeal to form a loaf, which is then sliced and fried in a little oil, so the exterior is brown and crispy while the inside remains soft.
Although it's good at any meal — in our family it was sometimes served at supper — it's considered a breakfast dish. Crazy as it might sound, you eat it with maple syrup.
Great stuff! And a lot cheaper than a meal at Le Bec-Fin.