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A History Of Philadelphia In 10 Dishes


Modified: January 3, 2024

by Florina Ricketts



Welcome to the rich culinary landscape of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. This vibrant city is not only known for its iconic landmarks and historical significance but also for its mouthwatering food scene. From delectable sandwiches to sweet treats, the dishes of Philadelphia reflect its diverse cultural heritage and have become staples in the local cuisine.


In this article, we will take a gastronomic journey through the city and explore ten iconic dishes that define the culinary identity of Philadelphia. From the classic cheesesteak to the unique scrapple, each dish represents a piece of the city’s history and showcases the creativity and passion of its residents.


Philadelphia’s food culture is deeply rooted in its working-class background, and many of the city’s signature dishes were born out of necessity and ingenuity. These dishes reflect the resourcefulness of the community and the desire to create hearty, satisfying meals using locally available ingredients.


As you delve into the following sections, you will discover the stories and origins behind each dish, gaining a deeper appreciation for the culinary traditions that have shaped Philadelphia’s gastronomy.


So, get ready to tantalize your taste buds and learn about the ten dishes that have become synonymous with the city of Philadelphia. From savory sandwiches to delectable desserts, these culinary delights are sure to leave you craving for more.



Ah, the hoagie! This iconic sandwich is a must-try when visiting Philadelphia. Packed full of delicious meats, cheeses, and toppings, the hoagie is a local favorite that has gained national recognition. But what exactly is a hoagie, and where did it come from?


The hoagie, also known as a submarine or grinder in other parts of the country, is a sandwich made with a long roll filled with various cold cuts, cheeses, vegetables, and condiments. It is believed to have originated in the Italian-American communities of Philadelphia in the late 19th century.


The story goes that Italian immigrants working in the shipyards would bring large sandwiches for lunch, made with Italian meats, cheeses, and a variety of toppings. These sandwiches were called “hoggies” or “hoagies” after the workers’ nickname for the shipyard workers, known as “hoggies.”


Over time, the name stuck, and the hoagie became a beloved part of Philadelphia’s food culture. Today, you can find hoagie shops all over the city, each offering their own unique twist on this classic sandwich.


One of the most famous variations of the hoagie is the “Italian hoagie.” Made with a combination of Italian meats such as ham, salami, and capicola, along with provolone cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and oil and vinegar dressing, this hoagie is a flavor explosion in every bite.


Another popular variation is the “cheesesteak hoagie,” which combines the beloved cheesesteak with all the fixings of a traditional hoagie. Picture thinly sliced steak, melted cheese, peppers, onions, lettuce, and tomatoes, all nestled in a soft roll. It’s a mouthwatering combination that satisfies even the most discerning taste buds.


Whether you opt for the classic Italian hoagie, a creative gourmet version, or the meaty goodness of a cheesesteak hoagie, you can’t go wrong with this Philly favorite. Grab a hoagie to-go, find a park bench or a sunny spot by the Schuylkill River, and enjoy the flavors of Philadelphia in the form of a delicious sandwich.


Soft Pretzels

No trip to Philadelphia is complete without indulging in one of its most beloved snacks – soft pretzels. These salty and doughy treats have become synonymous with the city, and you can find them everywhere, from street vendors to specialized pretzel shops.


The origins of the soft pretzel can be traced back to Germany, where they were initially known as “bretzels.” German immigrants brought the tradition of pretzel-making to Pennsylvania in the 18th century, and it quickly became a staple in the local culinary scene.


Unlike their crunchy counterparts, soft pretzels are boiled before being baked, which gives them a chewy texture and a golden brown crust. The distinctive shape of the pretzel, with its twisted loops and crossed ends, is said to represent crossed arms in prayer.


Soft pretzels are typically served hot and brushed with melted butter, sprinkled with coarse salt, and served with dipping sauces such as mustard or cheese sauce. The combination of flavors and textures makes for a delightful snack that perfectly balances savory and salty notes.


In Philadelphia, soft pretzels have become a cultural icon. They are widely consumed at sporting events, carnivals, and even breakfast. It’s not uncommon to see locals munching on a soft pretzel while walking down the streets of Philly.


The soft pretzel tradition in Philadelphia is so significant that it has even inspired the creation of the “Pretzel Museum,” a museum dedicated solely to the history and art of pretzel-making.


So, whether you enjoy a soft pretzel as a quick snack on the go or make it a part of your breakfast routine, this simple yet satisfying treat is sure to capture your taste buds and leave you craving for more.



When it comes to iconic Philadelphia dishes, the cheesesteak reigns supreme. This mouthwatering sandwich is a culinary legend that has gained worldwide recognition and has become synonymous with the city itself.


The cheesesteak traces its roots back to the Italian-American community in South Philadelphia. Legend has it that in the 1930s, Pat Olivieri, a hot dog vendor, decided to grill some thinly sliced beef and serve it on a roll. A passing cab driver smelled the aroma and asked for a steak sandwich. Word quickly spread, and the cheesesteak was born.


Today, the cheesesteak is made with thinly sliced ribeye steak cooked on a griddle with onions. The cheese is a crucial component, and the traditional choice is Cheez Whiz, although provolone and American cheese are also popular options. The sandwich is typically served on a long roll that is lightly toasted and can be topped with condiments like ketchup, mayonnaise, or hot peppers.


The debate over the best cheesesteak in Philadelphia has been ongoing for decades. Two of the most famous institutions frequently cited in this battle are Pat’s King of Steaks and Geno’s Steaks, both located in South Philadelphia. They have been serving up classic cheesesteaks for generations, with lines of hungry customers snaking around the block.


Despite the friendly rivalry between Pat’s and Geno’s, numerous other restaurants and food trucks across the city serve incredible cheesesteaks. From local neighborhood joints to gourmet establishments, there is no shortage of options to satisfy your cheesesteak cravings.


When biting into a Philly cheesesteak, you’ll experience a perfect harmony of flavors and textures. The tender ribeye, the caramelized onions, and the oozy, melted cheese combine to create a culinary masterpiece that has captured the hearts and taste buds of locals and visitors alike.


So, whether you prefer to enjoy your cheesesteak “wit” (with onions) or “witout” (without onions), don’t miss the opportunity to indulge in this quintessential Philadelphia delicacy. Just be prepared to enter into friendly debates about the best place to get a cheesesteak – it’s a topic Philadelphians are passionate about!



For those curious about trying unique and truly local cuisine, you must acquaint yourself with scrapple. This lesser-known Pennsylvania Dutch specialty has deep roots in the region and has become a beloved breakfast staple in Philadelphia.


Scrapple is a type of sausage-like loaf made from pork scraps and cornmeal, along with a blend of spices and seasonings. The traditional recipe includes ingredients like pork liver, heart, and other organ meats, which are finely chopped and combined with cornmeal, herbs, and spices, such as sage, thyme, and black pepper.


The mixture is then cooked until thickened and poured into loaf pans to cool and set. Once hardened, the scrapple is sliced and fried until crispy on the outside, creating a contrast of textures that is both comforting and delicious.


While the origins of scrapple can be traced back to German settlers in the region, its popularity among Philadelphia residents grew as the city embraced a hearty breakfast culture. Scrapple became a cost-effective way to utilize every part of the pig and create a filling and flavorful morning meal.


Today, scrapple remains a popular breakfast option in Philadelphia. It is often served alongside eggs, toast, and other breakfast staples, providing a savory and satisfying start to the day.


While it may not be for everyone, scrapple is an integral part of Philadelphia’s culinary identity. Its unique combination of flavors and textures reflects the city’s working-class roots and the resourcefulness of its residents.


If you are adventurous and want to experience a true taste of local Philadelphia fare, don’t hesitate to give scrapple a try. You may discover a surprising new favorite that showcases the ingenuity and creativity of Pennsylvania cuisine.


Tomato Pie

When it comes to savory delights in Philadelphia, tomato pie is a local favorite that often flies under the radar for visitors. Tomato pie is a unique variation of pizza, and it has become a beloved comfort food for many residents of the city.


Unlike traditional pizza, tomato pie has a thin, focaccia-like crust that is light and airy. The dough is topped with a thick layer of rich tomato sauce, which covers the entire surface of the pie. The tomato sauce is typically flavored with garlic, basil, oregano, and olive oil, creating a burst of robust flavors.


Tomato pie is often served at room temperature or slightly warm, which allows the flavors to meld and intensify. It is not typically topped with cheese, although grated Parmesan or pecorino Romano can sometimes be sprinkled on top for an extra savory touch.


While the origins of tomato pie are unclear, it has gained prominence in Italian-American communities in Philadelphia, where it is a popular item at bakeries, delis, and pizzerias. Many local establishments have perfected the art of making tomato pie, and the recipe has been passed down for generations.


Part of the charm of tomato pie is its simplicity. The focus is on the interplay between the tangy tomato sauce and the delicate crust, resulting in a harmonious balance of flavors. Its popularity lies in the fact that it’s a satisfying and affordable option for a quick lunch or snack.


If you’re in Philadelphia, make sure to seek out a local bakery or pizzeria for a taste of authentic tomato pie. It’s an opportunity to experience a unique local specialty that showcases the city’s diverse food scene.


So, don’t miss the chance to try tomato pie and indulge in a slice of Philadelphia’s culinary heritage. It’s a flavorful experience that will leave you yearning for more of this underrated delight.


Water Ice

When the hot summer months roll around in Philadelphia, locals and visitors alike turn to a refreshing and flavorful treat known as water ice. This frozen dessert has become a beloved staple of the city’s culinary landscape, offering a delightful respite from the sweltering heat.


Water ice, also known as Italian ice, is a frozen dessert made with water, sugar, and various fruit flavors. It is similar to sorbet but has a smoother and lighter texture. The process involves mixing fruit juice or puree with the sugar and water, and then freezing the mixture to create a refreshing and flavorful icy treat.


Water ice comes in a wide variety of flavors, ranging from traditional options like lemon and cherry to more unique blends like mango, blueberry, and even chocolate. Each flavor is bursting with the natural essence of the fruit, providing a sweet and tangy taste that is sure to delight.


While water ice can be found in many parts of the country, Philadelphia has adopted this frozen dessert as its own. The city’s Italian-American community has played a significant role in popularizing and perfecting water ice, with many family-owned businesses carrying on the tradition for generations.


One of the most famous water ice establishments in Philadelphia is Rita’s Italian Ice, which started as a single stand in South Philadelphia and has now become a beloved chain across the country. Other local shops and ice cream parlors also offer their unique takes on water ice, each boasting their own signature flavors and methods.


Water ice is not only a delicious treat, but it also holds sentimental value for many Philadelphia residents. It is a nostalgic reminder of childhood summers spent cooling down with a cup or cone of colorful and refreshing water ice.


So, the next time you find yourself in Philadelphia during the summer months, be sure to seek out a local water ice shop and indulge in this beloved frozen delicacy. It’s the perfect way to beat the heat and savor the flavors of the city.


Roast Pork Sandwich

While the cheesesteak often takes the spotlight when it comes to iconic Philadelphia sandwiches, the roast pork sandwich is a hidden gem that should not be overlooked. Bursting with tender and flavorful pork, this hearty sandwich has a devoted following among locals and those in the know.


The roast pork sandwich is a true representation of Philadelphia’s culinary heritage. It starts with slow-roasted pork, cooked until it becomes tender, juicy, and infused with savory flavors. The meat is often seasoned with garlic, rosemary, and other herbs, which further enhance its taste.


One of the essential components of the roast pork sandwich is the provolone cheese, which adds a creamy and slightly tangy element to the dish. The sandwich is typically served on a long roll, which can hold up to the succulent pork and its accompanying juices.


To take the roast pork sandwich to the next level, it is often topped with broccoli rabe—a leafy bitter green sautéed with garlic and olive oil. The bitterness of the broccoli rabe is a perfect counterbalance to the richness of the pork and cheese, creating a flavor combination that is both robust and harmonious.


While the roast pork sandwich may not have the same international fame as the cheesesteak, it’s highly regarded among locals as the ultimate comfort food. It captures the heart and soul of Philadelphia’s culinary tradition, showcasing the city’s love for hearty and satisfying sandwiches.


Finding the best roast pork sandwich in Philadelphia can be a quest in itself, as there are numerous establishments that have perfected their own unique version of this delicious sandwich. Family-owned delis, food carts, and specialty shops all offer their interpretation of the roast pork sandwich, each with its own loyal following.


So, if you’re seeking a true taste of Philadelphia, do not miss out on the savory delight of a roast pork sandwich. It’s a sandwich experience that will leave you craving for more of this lesser-known Philadelphia treasure.



When it comes to sweet treats in Philadelphia, one name reigns supreme – Tastykake. These delectable snacks have become a beloved part of the city’s culinary culture, offering a wide variety of tempting pastries and cakes that are sure to satisfy any sweet tooth.


Tastykake, founded in 1914, has a long history in Philadelphia and has become an iconic brand in the region. Known for their wide range of individually wrapped snack cakes and pastries, Tastykakes can be found in convenience stores, supermarkets, and vending machines throughout the city.


One of the most famous Tastykake offerings is the Butterscotch Krimpet. These moist and fluffy sponge cakes are filled with a rich butterscotch icing, offering a perfect balance of sweetness and creaminess in every bite. Another beloved option is the Peanut Butter Kandy Kake, a chocolate-covered yellow cake topped with a layer of creamy peanut butter.


In addition to their classic varieties, Tastykake also offers seasonal and limited-edition flavors, such as Pumpkin Spice and Salted Caramel. These special releases generate excitement among Tastykake enthusiasts and provide a delightful twist on traditional favorites.


What sets Tastykake apart is not only their delicious flavors but also their commitment to using high-quality ingredients and traditional baking methods. The cakes are baked fresh and packaged to preserve their freshness and taste.


For many Philadelphia residents, Tastykakes evoke nostalgia and bring back childhood memories of enjoying these delectable treats. Whether it’s packing a Krimpets in a lunchbox or enjoying a cupcake as an after-school snack, Tastykake has become a part of Philadelphia’s cultural fabric.


So, if you’re in Philadelphia, don’t miss the chance to indulge in a Tastykake. Whether you have a sweet tooth or are just looking to experience a delicious local treat, Tastykakes are sure to delight with their range of flavors and satisfyingly sweet goodness. Grab a few to share with friends or enjoy them as a personal indulgence – Tastykakes are a true taste of Philadelphia’s sweet side.



When it comes to Italian desserts, few are as beloved and iconic as cannoli. And in Philadelphia, you can find some of the most incredible cannoli outside of Italy itself. These sweet treats have become a staple in the city’s dessert scene, offering a delightful combination of crispy shells and creamy fillings.


A cannoli consists of a crisp and flaky pastry shell, typically fried to golden perfection. The shell is traditionally filled with a sweet and creamy ricotta cheese filling, often flavored with vanilla, chocolate chips, or candied fruit. The combination of the crunchy shell and the smooth, luscious filling creates a textural and flavor contrast that is simply irresistible.


Philadelphia’s thriving Italian-American community has brought their culinary heritage to the city, and cannoli shops can be found all around, especially in South Philadelphia. These shops take pride in making fresh cannoli daily, ensuring that each bite is as authentic and delicious as possible.


What sets Philadelphia’s cannoli apart from others is the emphasis on quality and craftsmanship. The ricotta filling is often made from scratch, using high-quality ingredients, resulting in a rich and creamy texture that sets it apart from mass-produced alternatives.


One of the most famous cannoli shops in Philadelphia is Termini Brothers Bakery, a beloved institution that has been serving up freshly made cannoli since 1921. Their delicate and flavorful cannoli have become a favorite among locals and visitors alike, drawing crowds eager to indulge in this Italian delicacy.


Whether you enjoy a traditional cannoli or opt for a creative twist with unique fillings and toppings, you’re in for a sweet and satisfying treat when you bite into a Philadelphia cannoli. The burst of flavors and delightful textures will transport you to the streets of Italy, even if just for a moment.


So, if you have a sweet tooth and a craving for authentic Italian flavors, don’t miss the chance to experience the joy of a cannoli in Philadelphia. It’s a dessert experience that will leave you wanting more of these delectable delights.


Peanut Chews

If you’re a fan of peanuts and chocolate, then you simply can’t miss out on trying Peanut Chews when in Philadelphia. These delightful chocolate-covered treats have been a local favorite for over a century and offer a perfect balance of sweetness, nuttiness, and chewiness.


Peanut Chews were first created in 1917 by the Goldenberg Candy Company, which was founded in Philadelphia by David Goldenberg. Originally marketed as an energy bar during World War I, Peanut Chews gained popularity due to their delicious taste and high protein content.


The candy bar consists of a chewy, molasses-based nougat center that is generously packed with roasted peanuts. The nougat is then coated in a rich, smooth milk chocolate shell, creating a satisfying combination of textures and flavors.


What sets Peanut Chews apart is their unique and distinctive taste. The sweet, caramel-like molasses flavor of the nougat pairs perfectly with the salty crunch of the peanuts, while the smooth milk chocolate adds a layer of indulgence.


Peanut Chews have become an iconic part of Philadelphia’s culinary landscape. They are often enjoyed as a snack, a quick pick-me-up, or a sweet treat to satisfy a chocolate craving. They have also become a staple at sporting events, where locals cheer on their beloved Philadelphia sports teams while munching on Peanut Chews.


Over the years, Peanut Chews have gained a loyal following, not just in Philadelphia but across the United States. Their unique taste and satisfying texture have made them a beloved candy bar, capturing the hearts and taste buds of generations.


If you’re visiting Philadelphia, make sure to grab a package of Peanut Chews to enjoy the city’s quintessential treat. Whether you’re exploring the city’s historic sites, strolling through its neighborhoods, or simply in need of a delicious snack, Peanut Chews are a delightful way to experience Philadelphia’s sweet side.


So, satisfy your sweet tooth and indulge in the irresistible combination of peanuts, nougat, and chocolate that can be found in the iconic Peanut Chews. It’s a taste of Philadelphia’s confectionery history that will leave you craving another bite.



Philadelphia’s culinary landscape is a vibrant tapestry of flavors and traditions that reflect the city’s rich history and diverse communities. From savory sandwiches like the famous cheesesteak and roast pork sandwich to sweet treats like Tastykakes and cannoli, the city offers a wide array of iconic dishes that have captivated both locals and visitors for generations.


Each dish tells a story, showcasing the ingenuity, resourcefulness, and cultural heritage of the people who have shaped Philadelphia’s culinary identity. Whether it’s the Italian influence seen in hoagies and cannoli or the working-class roots of dishes like scrapple and tomato pie, these creations are so much more than just food – they are a window into the city’s character and spirit.


Exploring the culinary scene in Philadelphia is a journey of discovery and indulgence. From street vendors to family-owned businesses to gourmet establishments, every bite is an opportunity to experience the unique flavors and traditions that make this city a gastronomic delight.


So, the next time you find yourself in Philadelphia, don’t just visit the iconic landmarks and museums, but also immerse yourself in the local food culture. Indulge in a cheesesteak or a water ice, savor the sweetness of a cannoli or a Peanut Chew, and explore the hidden gems in every neighborhood.


Philadelphia’s dishes not only provide a flavorful experience but also serve as a reminder of the city’s vibrant history, diverse communities, and the passion of its residents. Each bite is a connection to the past, present, and future of Philadelphia’s culinary heritage.


From the first bite to the last, you’ll discover why Philadelphia is a city that delights the senses. Its iconic dishes are more than just food – they are a celebration of tradition, a reflection of innovation, and a testament to the rich tapestry of cultures that have shaped and continue to shape this remarkable city.


So, get ready to embark on a culinary adventure and savor the flavors of Philadelphia. With each bite, you’ll not only satisfy your appetite but also gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for the vibrant and diverse food scene that makes this city truly special.