Tourists At Home: Philly's Italian Market
We often take the place we live for granted. We get caught up in our day to day routines and forget to explore and truly appreciate the place we call home.
I spent 6 years living in Western North Carolina, just outside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I regret the countless trails I haven’t hiked, waterfalls I haven’t seen, and one very unique ancient rock covered in petroglyphs that I have yet to see in person.
And now, back home in Philadelphia, I have a list of things I want to do that continues to grow faster than I can check them off -- restaurants, parks, museums, different neighborhoods, and walking tours. So this summer I’ve decided to be a little more intentional, and so I set aside time each month to explore one or more of these spots that I’ve been overlooking.
Usually I guide myself on these adventures, but last month I was offered a private guided tour, courtesy of Zeeno, a new app being piloted in Philly. Zeeno is the Uber or Lyft of local tours and allows users to connect, through the app, with local guides and tours that match their unique interests.
I chose the Heart of South Philly: Italian Market Tour. Philly’s famed Italian Market with its rich history is just a few blocks from my house, but I hadn’t taken the time to explore it or learn the history.
The extent of what I knew going into my tour was that the Italian Market started with a boarding house run by an Italian man named Frank Palumbo. He offered such a great deal that his house quickly became the go to spot for “fresh off the boat” Italian immigrants. As people settled in, they usually found homes to rent close by. Naturally, as demand grew, street vendors started popping up and the Italian Market was born.
I also knew, that today, the Italian Market is less a symbol of Italian culture and more a symbol of Philly’s rich immigrant population. While still referred to as The Italian Market, the neighborhood is actually now home to some of Philly’s best Asian and Mexican food. But that was the extent of my knowledge, and I was excited to see what the tour would have in store for me.
I met up with my guide, Brittany, at a park on the corner of the Italian Market. Here she got me checked in on the app, gave me an overview of the plan, pointed out a beautiful view of the skyline, and off we went.
The tour perfectly combined the history of the area with the experience of hanging out with a local friend and learning about her favorite spots. As we walked, Brittany pointed out the former location of Palumbo’s boarding house (now a Rite Aid), the oldest Italian restaurant in America, and shared stories of mobsters. She, showed me where to get the most popular cannolis in the city, let me in on the secret behind some local pizza competition/drama, pointed out significant pieces of street art, and gave recommendations for her favorite restaurants. We talked about the growth of the market, the changing demographic, and ways the city could do more to support the community.
Oh - and we decided to close out our time together by indulging in quesadillas (the best I’ve ever had) at a hole in the wall Mexican spot!
My Zeeno tour was the perfect introduction to the Italian Market. Exploring it with Brittany, someone who has lived in this neighborhood for years and genuinely loves it, gave me such a deep appreciation for its history and restaurants that I want to keep coming back to learn more and to try all the restaurants. Like I said, my list of things to do in Philly just keeps getting longer…
I know most of you reading this don’t live in Philly, but I am sure you have your own list of places in your local area that you would like to check out -- stores, neighborhoods, towns, restaurants, museums, parks, dance classes. While you may never check everything off the list, I invite you to join me in setting the intention of exploring more of home at least once per month.
And if you’d like to check out Zeeno, they have been generous enough to create a discount code for Her Bags Were Packed readers. When you’re registering use promo code “HBWP” (for Her Bags Were Packed) to receive $5 off your first local tour experience.
And don’t forget, they also offer the opportunity to become a guide in your hometown.
Please note, if you decide to use the HBWP promo code when booking with Zeeno, Zeeno will share portion of their proceeds with me (after the tour guide receives their cut). Thank you, in advance.