Homestyle cooking from Lancaster County
The Pennsylvanian Dutch have stalls selling some of the most delicious foods in Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal market. I visited this bustling 114 year old market hall with nary an idea of what to eat, overwhelmed by the choice. Everywhere I looked signs advertised a delicious sounding delicacy. To narrow down the choices I picked up a map of the market, but that listed so many more food outlets that I’d need several weeks to properly taste everything on sale. A few recommendations from locals reverberated around my head but I had almost decided on having lunch at a creperie. I’m a Francophile and like all right-thinking people believe that if you’re not sure, eat a crepe. However as I walked towards the creperie I came across the Dutch Eating House. An old-school sit-at-the-bar setup with red-cushioned stools unmoveable around two long bars and the waitresses walking in between. It was busy, which is always important for an out-of-towner looking for food. In fact that is probably the only vital rule when looking for food whilst travelling. Go where it’s busy. So I did. I sidled onto one of the stools and looked expectantly at the waitress.
‘Could I see a menu?’
I looked at the lengthy selection looking for a burger. I didn’t really mind what it was as long as beef was involved. I looked around at the other diners. Different excitements rose up from every plate. I looked at the menu and couldn’t link anything I saw to anything on the menu.
‘Have you decided?’
‘What do you recommend?’
‘The Super Turkey Melt’
‘What is that?’
‘A grilled turkey sandwich.’
That sounded good. And it sounded healthy. It wasn’t a beef-burger, but the waitress seemed to think it was a good bet. I ordered one, with a glass of homemade lemonade.
The waitress deposited my order with the chefs and I looked around at my fellows. Huge meals sat in front of most of them and I congratulated myself on just ordering a turkey sandwich.
Then an enormous plate of food was placed in front of me. I looked in shock at the mound of calories. I was about to say there’s been a mistake, I ordered a turkey sandwich when the waitress said, ‘Turkey melt, enjoy.’
I think I might have said ‘Wow.’
I’ve had grilled turkey sandwiches before, but this compared to those like a brand-new Bentley Continental to an abandoned burnt-out Mini. I investigated the food with a fork, pushing away layers like an archaeologist -though with less note-taking and a nicer aroma. The bread was hot. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was coated with butter and grilled. Under the top layer was some turkey. Fair enough, it was billed as a turkey sandwich after all. It was a hearty trencherman’s serving though, a meal-in-itself lump of breast meat. Under it was a big piece of provolone cheese. That would be the melt. Huge tomatoes, pickles, lettuce, added to the sandwich. A pile of home-cut fries completed the platter.
‘I’ll just eat half,’ I said to myself. ‘If that. Maybe I’ll just eat a third. And I certainly won’t eat any fries.’
Then I tried the fries just to see what they tasted like. Oh they were good, with the skin on and crispy and so moreish that I changed my mind.
‘I’ll eat the fries and just have a couple of bites of the sandwich.’
So I had a bite of the sandwich. It was delicious. I mean utterly tongue-bamboozlingly delightful. Buttery bread, the grilled turkey, fresh tomato, a dash of cheese – it all went together as though this was the only meal that those ingredients had been created for.
I ate the whole sandwich. And all the fries. I even considered one of the Apple dumplings that my neighbour had for pudding. But there are, unfortunately, limits to what one human can eat. Let’s just say the Reading Market Terminal is first on my list when I next go to Philadelphia.