What is the Italian Market?
You can’t live in or near Philadelphia long without knowing about the Italian Market. It is a collection of store fronts, mostly selling food (meat, cheese, pasta, charcuterie, pastries, etc.). These businesses are owned by Italian-Americans, whose families have long lived in this area of the city. With produce buskers lining the sidewalks and a decidedly down to earth vibe, you won’t see elegant store design and flashy, trendy window displays. Nope. This is gritty, real shopkeepers who don’t need smoke and mirrors to lure you in–their patrons come because of the quality of their products.
Why is there an Italian Market Festival?
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Philadelphia has a lot of “firsts” and “oldests”. The beloved Italian Market in South Philly is one of the best. What does that mean? That the purveyors of food (like DiBruno’s, Tallutto’s, Esposito’s, Isgro’s and Claudio’s) and other retail items (Fante’s, my favorite store of all time) are dependably knowledgeable about their products and only carry high quality items. They may not be in fancy packaging, but your purchases will be best in class. So….because it is not only historic, but genuinely the pinnacle of quality as well as Italian pride, we celebrate with the Italian Market Festival every May.
What Happens at the Festival?
Other than the usual (shops open for business), the festival features the quintessentially Italian Procession of Saints, live music, arts and crafts, plenty of food tasting opportunities and the obligatory grease pole climbing competition. (As an aside, to understand the tradition of climbing greased poles in Philadelphia, which made headlines when the Eagles won the 2018 Super Bowl, click here.) Another traditional Philadelphia event sponsored by the festival is the Johnny Marzano Halfball Tournament. Halfball is a simplified version of baseball, to be played in limited space. Marzano grew up in South Philly playing it and this tournament is a nod to the major leaguer’s love of his roots.