Philadelphia’s 9th Street Italian Market

I used to go to the Italian Market before I lived in South Philly, but now that I’m right around the corner, I’m there several times a week – I rarely go to the super market more than once a month (if that). I mean, with butchers that will cut to order, fruits and veggies at a fraction of the price of the mega mart (and actually seasonal) including herbs and sometimes more exotic items than can be found at the Acme. I’ve also started eating more fish, which has always freaked me out at the supermarket. Actually, I’ve started eating more healthily in general (except of course when I splurge on cured meets and cheese or handmade pasta, or pastries up the street on Christian…). My conversations about the Italian Market vary; people either have their favorite shops and an anecdote, or a weird apprehension to experiencing the market on their own. I’ve offered to be a personal guide for a few people, but I decided to also write a primer on sorts on the subject so that more people could enjoy this urban outdoor market.

Philadelphia’s Italian Market is located on 9th street, roughly starting at Fitzwater Street and heading South from there, blending effortlessly into the Passyunk Square neighborhood, which is full of South Philly restaurants and shops. (There are also some shops off the main strip, which still totally count.) The area was originally named for the Italian Immigrants that moved into the area towards the end of the 19th & beginning of the 20th centuries; and as the cultural landscape has evolved over the years, the market is often referred to as The 9th Street Market. Of course there are the Cheese Rivals (DiBruno’s v Claudio’s) or the Butcher Battles (Espositio’s v. Canulli), Handmade Pasta Campaigns (Talluto’s v. Superior) and Cannoli Conflict (Termini’s v. Isgro’s). But where the market really shines is the vast cultural diversity available; incredible variety in produce and various Tortillerias, not to mention all of the great places for Pho, Korean BBQ, and a gigantic Asian Supermarket all along Washington. In the latest evolutionary advancements of the 21st century, the Italian Market has made the foray into Twitter and Facebook, to help you navigate the storefronts & food stalls that line this little piece of living history.

The Italian Market isn’t just for food – Fante’s Kitchen Wares has just about every kitchen gadget imaginable, including a coffee and tea section, extensive baking supplies, and a serious selection of professional grade kitchen knives (they will even sharpen them while you wait for $2 a blade). Most people are friendly and nice, though it wouldn’t be Philly without a few curmudgeons; everyone’s a distinct character, and I pretty much love them all. One of my favorite things to do is walk up and down the market, sensing out the best deals, the freshest produce, getting to know my neighbors, and enjoying the Philly-ist of Philly communities.  There are a few tips I’d like to share with the uninitiated, and hopefully get more converts to this heart of Philadelphia experience.

Pro tips:

  • The majority of the Italian Market is closed on Mondays, and by far their busiest days are Saturday & Sunday (when the prices also seem to magically inflate). Fridays are a little bit crowded, but manageable. Pretty much any day  if you go closer to closing time, there might be a line at the butchers or cheese shops, but if you have time to wait, it’s worth it. Some people say stuff is fresher on Tuesday and Wednesday, but I haven’t really noticed a difference.
  • Pick your own produce, to be sure you get what you want, I’ve had several experiences where the good stuff is out front, and the bag you get home with is gnarly and questionable, so avoid the concern all together and do your own picking, that way you have no one to blame but yourself.
  • Buying in bulk is the best deal (and for the price, some waste is to be expected) but if you don’t want 10 lbs of potatoes for $5, you can easily ask for 2 lbs for $1, sometimes you just need a small piece of ginger for a quarter (or sometimes for free if you’re getting other stuff & the vendor is feeling generous).
  • During the week, the vendors start clearing out around 3ish (earlier if weather is bad) later if it’s nice out – it’s kind of up for grabs. Though the store fronts are generally open til 5-6
  • There’s plenty of parking in the area (including a municipal lot on 8th, before Washington) but if you decide to drive through, or on any of the streets surrounding, don’t be surprised if you get stuck behind an unloading truck, or waiting for a crowd of pedestrians crossing the street, or inexplicable traffic, which will later turn out to be a forklift driving between the various warehouses in the district.
  • The market is fairly walkable from most of the city, but if you tend to shop big – invest in a granny cart, and always be sure to bring your reusable tote, regardless :D
  • If you don’t know, ask, if someone makes you feel dumb, ask someone else (there are plenty of vendors competing for business, if you’re not digging the vibe from one, move on, there are enough options for you to be choosy about where you take your business). A good attitude & sense of humor take you a long way in this area.

Most importantly: ** Don’t let it intimidate you – the Italian Market is fun and delicious! ** It’s a great area to explore for the culinary-ily curious.

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