Ode to the Philly Soft Pretzel

16Sep09

soft pretzel logo

This past Labor Day weekend I ventured home to Philadelphia to embark on a weekend of catching up with friends, swimming, damaging my liver, and of course, seeing my family. I hadn’t been back home in nearly 4 months and was experiencing some serious Illadelph withdrawal. It’s a shame that I couldn’t spend more time back home, Philly is an amazing place and I really miss the hell out of it – but I take what I can get.

Now when I come home for any period of time there are a number of food related rituals which I have to address – namely (1) eat a cheesesteak, (2) get a Chicken Mole burrito from Santé Fe Burrito, and (3) take a trip to Wawa. However during this brief trip I was only able to accomplish the first two on my list, as Wawa and myself were unable to reunite, once again.

 A little explanation:

I have to attribute my recent lack of motivation to visit Wawa whenever I am home to the fact that they changed there hoagie rolls. One upon a time, for 21 years of my life, Wawa carried only the finest, freshest, most delicious Amoroso’s rolls. But around a year ago, the Wawa corp. opted to shift their bread making operations from the trusted Amoroso factory in Philadelphia, to Omni Baking Co., based out of Vineland, New Jersey. As a result, Wawa now saves a ton of money through buying their bread from a manufacturer who operates out of a tax-free-zone, though it was we the loyal Wawa patrons who suffered.(http://www.philly.com/philly/jobs/industries/retail/20080727_PhillyDeals__Wawa_hoagie_rolls_now_from_Vineland.html). The Wawa rolls I once adored have now morphed into something just a tad superior to the glorified hot-dog rolls I have spoken of before on this blog (not to mention, and despite what they claim, a 6 inch is no longer 6 inches, and a classic is no way EVEN 9 inches). It’s really a damn shame; and Wawa has unfortunately gone down hill.

I still enjoy a Wawa hoagie. And no one can ever take away from my fellow Philadelphians and I, the countless Wawa runs we’ve made throughout all hours of the day and night. But something is clearly missing from the place I once so deeply loved.  

sante fe burrito

We all know how good cheesesteaks are, so I won’t even bother touching on that point here. Though I will say that unfortunately, I did not get a cheesesteak from my all time favorite steak spot, Jim’s on South Street. Say what you want about Jim’s, but that place holds it down. What I do want to harp on though, is the excellent Chicken Mole Burrito I ate some Santé Fe burrito. Ever since the Santé Fe Burrito opened up about a mile away from my parent’s house some 10 years ago, I cemented that they make my absolute favorite burrito – The Chicken Mole. Mole sauce carries a classic Mexican flavor, as its incredibly complex recipe exudes hints of chocolate, chilies, and some 20 other spices. Chicken, like many other Mexican dishes, is pretty much the only meat served with mole (at least that I’ve ever tried). Who ever thought to put chicken mole in a burrito is a genius. Seriously, seriously good stuff. Really, no other burrito I have ever had has such a unique and dynamic flavor. I think I could eat a chicken mole burrito everyday for the rest of my life.

Finally to the subject of this post, the Philly Soft Pretzel. The soft pretzel is perhaps one of the most underappreciated food relics of the Northeast (well maybe not in Philly, but certainly elsewhere). From the time I was a kid, soft pretzels were one of my favorite snacks. They’re delicious on their own, while they also compliment perfectly virtually any meal. When I was in school I would gladly substitute a soft pretzel for a bag of chips any day of the week. And not just a lunch snack, when dining at Chops, one of my favorite steakhouses in the Philadelphia area, you are served a basket full of various breads, crackers AND soft pretzels rather than the normal, boring bread baskets so many of us are used to. Not everywhere can make a good soft pretzel though. I remember going to New York as a kid and ordering a soft pretzel from a street vendor, expected the same greatness I was used to back home. Much to my dismay, the thing was horrible. It tasted burnt, soggy, and just flat out bad. I promptly threw the thing away and it was then that I first realized that Philadelphia does something special with their pretzels.

philly-pretzels

The concept of the soft  pretzel was originally brought to America by German immigrants in the 18th century, who for years had been enjoying pretzels as a dinner staple. Pennsylvania, home to a sizeable German population, soon became the epicenter of soft pretzel production in the US, establishing pretzel making operations all over the state. Soft pretzel factories also expanded to rival cities New York, and Chicago, though as my unfortunate experience as a child can testify, they simply didn’t know what was going on and their product suffered. Every Philadelphian can attest to how damn good soft pretzels are, though if you go to any other city in the country, the same sentiment cannot be expressed, or even comprehended.

Right before I got on the plane to come back to Vermont, I stopped at one of the many pretzel carts in the Philly airport and bought a couple to go. The next day I brought one to work and one of my co-workers asked me, “What is that”, pretty much inspiring me to write this post. First of all, I thought it unfathomable that someone would simply not know what a soft pretzel is…Oh, Vermont. Second, I felt that I had to express my love and appreciation for the snack which I have affectionately grown up with. (By the way, the Philadelphia airport sells GREAT pretzels. On par, if not better than anything you could find from a street vendor.) If you are ever in Philly, make sure to go to one of the many Philly Soft Pretzel Factories. I guarantee your amazement and subsequential addiction to those things – I don’t know how they do it (http://www.phillysoftpretzelfactory.com/).

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5 Responses to “Ode to the Philly Soft Pretzel”

  1. I want a recipe!!

  2. 2 K Kunze

    I am a Vermonter now, but I was born and raised in Phila Frankford Section. I agree with what you wrote and at times, some other Phila foods make it up here as well. No one understands our passion for the art of foods that all of the normal people grow up with in Phila. My children that moved up to Vermont, all share our passion. The only thing that bothers us is how “chez wiz” is now accepted on the Philly Cheese Steak as the standard. Where did they go wrong with that?

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  5. Hey there! Do you use Twitter? I’d like to follow you if that would be okay.
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