Come and visit the Italian Market in Philadelphia! The South 9th Street Market, often referred to as the “Italian Market,” has a rich palate of foods and cultural influences. It’s a “must-see” stop and very uniquely Philadelphian. Originally it was referred to as the 9th Street Market, with the Italian influence inferred since the majority of the residents were Italian decent. The “Italian” part was not made official up until 1970 - almost one hundred years after the market was created. If you stop to ask directions to the Market, please do not ask for “Little Italy.” Many locals are very proud of the name and its roots as an outdoor Market. You may get directions to New York City if you ask for “Little Italy”. This has been witnessed a few times by our guides.
+++On our popular Real Philadelphia Tour we will stop at the Italian Market as well!+++
The Italian Market in Philadelphia is first and foremost a market with a wide range of specialty foods, spices and produce. Many local chefs come early in the morning to shop for their restaurants, so if you want to spot a chef in his or her “whites”, go to the Market early. Many shops actually close around 3 or 4pm since they open so early to cater to the chefs.
You might be surprised by how inexpensive everything is compared to other supermarkets or specialty food stores. This is a bit of a “best-kept” secret of Philadelphians and above that, the Market helps fuel the growing food scene, of which locals are very proud as well. Since many of the vendors go early each morning to procure the food items they sell directly from the distribution center, so there is no middle-man and the overhead costs are literally the cost of the awnings they stand under.
When to go?
This Market can get very crowded on weekends, so if you intend to do some serious shopping go early or during the week. Even though the Market is outdoors, it does run all year round and many vendors and a few brave shoppers will keep warm at the oil drum bonfires (an old habit that has become almost a tradition at the market).
Finding bathrooms can be a challenge. Many shops do not have one, since they are very small or because the staff often live above the store. However, the Market now has a wonderful and quaint Italian Market visitor center at 919 S. 9th Street and there is a public bathroom. Alternatively, if you ask nicely, Anthony’s Coffee or Gleaners’ Coffee shops will let you use theirs. The trick is be friendly!
Specialty Food Shops
If you are hungry, Philadelphia's Italian Market is the place for you!! You may get overwhelmed by the selection and array of foods in the Market. Here are a few suggestion to help you get started and familiar with the Market:
- Few realize how long the Market really is and many miss out by not venturing its full length. At the North end of the Market near Fitzwater, is Sarcone’s Deli - famous for their hoagies (sandwiches) - we recommend the Italian one.
- Just a few doors down is Ralph’s, the oldest family run Italian run restaurant in the country. If you want to stroll off 9th Street, you can head to Dante’s and Luigi’s on the corner of 10th and Catherine Streets, which is the oldest Italian Restaurant in continuous operation in the country and frequented by the famous Ecuadorian American chef Jose Garces!
- Back to 9th street, you can go to Monsu or Sabrina’s for a nice sit-down meal.
- If you want something sweet, head to 10th and Christian Streets to grab a cannoli at Isgro’s Bakery.
- If you walk down 9th street again, you get into the heart of the Old School Italian shops with Lorenzo’s, George’s, Anthony’s Coffee shop and next door their chocolate shop, Claudio’s well known for their cured meats, and DiBurno’s original location famous for their cheese knowledge and featured on Anthony Bourdain’s “Layover Show” in Philadelphia.
- If you keep heading south on 9th Street you will find a sandwich heaven called Paesano’s and which is across from the must-see kitchen wares shop Fante’s. If Fante’s inventory does not have a kitchen item they will find it or it does not exist.
- At Washington Ave and 9th you find two of the oldest families’ shops in the Market, Giovanni’s Produce and Anastasio’s Seafood.
- As you walk south, you suddenly leave the Italian market neighborhood and get the newest of neighborhoods, you are now walking in Mexico. This colorful street is getting new flavors from the growing Mexican and Vietnamese families moving in and they bring more spice to an already delicious Market.
- If you have Pat’s and Geno’s on your travel itinerary they are at almost the end of the Market near Federal Street. If you make it this far, you will also most likely stop at a chocolate shop called Rim Café, run by an energetic French Gentleman, where you might have the best hot chocolate in your life!!
The exact birth of the Italian Market is credited to the mid-1880s and an Italian Immigrant Antonio Palumbo opening a boarding house for the growing immigrant population. Philadelphia already had a Northern Italian community that the Sicilian community felt excluded from due to old tensions originated back in Italy. Many began to settle in South Philadelphia in the area we call today Bella Vista, to get away from those tensions and built their own community. The South 9th Street Italian Market runs along 9th Street from Wharton to Fitzwater Streets.
Palumbo’s boarding house became a cultural center of the Market as business rapidly sprouted up. As families settled and put down roots in the neighborhood, the boarding house changed into a restaurant, event space and concert hall. Many growing up there had their birthdays or Communions celebrations there. Famous performers of Mario Lanza, grew up in that neighborhood, Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra all performed there. Tragically, it was burnt down in the 1990s and there is now a Rite Aid on the site.
Much of this community is Catholic and the first Nationally Church was founded in 1852, St. Mary Magadelene De Pazzi for this growing Catholic community. It happens to be next door to the Mario Lanza Museum. Each year, there is a Procession of the Saints on the 3rd Sunday of May. This is a wonderful time to see the Italian Market neighbors and locals come out in celebration. It is hosted by St. Paul Parish located next to Isgro’s Bakery. Parishioners and devout Christians will carry almost 20 different statues of the saints through the Market and into the neighborhood. Kids that have just taken their first Holy Communion will be part of the procession dressed in fine white clothes. One lucky girl will be chosen as the May Queen and given the privilege to crown the Blessed Mother during the 10am mass.
With all the food and culture that the Italian 9th Street Market offers, every traveler to Philadelphia needs to make a stop to visit!
Written/edited by Jennifer Hensell