Cuisine of Allentown, Pennsylvania
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The cuisine of Allentown is greatly influenced by the diversity of the area's population and Allentown's proximity to Philadelphia and New York City. Popular foods include a local variant of the cheesesteak, many types of pizza, pierogi, and soft pretzels.
Allentown is a city of great culinary variety. Its long standing food traditions are based on the regional influence of Pennsylvania Dutch and Moravian culture, and the traditions brought with the immigrants who came to Bethlehem Steel through the late era of the industrial revolution. More recent immigrants have brought exciting new variety to the food scene as well.
Pennsylvania Dutch foods are very popular. Most of the diners in the Lehigh Valley area still exhibit a strong Pennsylvania Dutch influence in their menus. Scrapple is a pudding formed of pork scraps and cornmeal, served sliced and fried. Liver pudding is made out of pig liver and head parts, mostly leftovers from the animal. Head cheese is parts of the head of a pig or calf that are made into a gelatin and mixed with vegetables. A variant is souse, made from pig's feet and pickled with vinegar. Chow-chow is a mixture of pickled vegetables made into a salad. It is usually sweeter than when it is made in the South. Lebanon bologna is a sausage that tastes more smoky than others. Cole slaw is usually served as a side with sandwiches. Apple butter can be used on toast or used as an ingredient in another food. Shoofly pie is a somewhat-sweet pie made out of molasses and sugar. Funnel cakes are found at fairs and festivals across the region. Fasnachts are made for the day before Lent begins. Many of these treats can be found at the Allentown Farmer's Market, locally based grocery stores, and local events like fairs.
Slavic and other Eastern European immigrants of the late 19th and early 20th century brought many of their traditional foods. For instance, pierogi are boiled and later fried dumplings. In common usage they ore often filled with mashed potatoes, sometimes with cheese and other ingredients. Traditional pierogi have a much wider variety of fillings, including saurkraut and meats; these are often available as handmade delicacies in specialty settings, such as church parish fairs and ethnic clubs. Other traditional dishes, such as halupki and goulash, continue to be passed down through generations.
Another Slavic contribution to the culinary scene is a variety of specialty baked goods, including holiday-specific delicacies such as kiffles, kolacky, nut rolls and the Easter bread known as pashka. These can be found at the Allentown Farmer's Market, Egypt Star Bakery, and Vallos Bakery in nearby Fountain Hill, as well as many church sales and festivals. Most of these contributions have been adopted by the region's majority Pennsylvania Dutch population.
While the ethnic groups that arrived a century or more ago exert a strong influence over regional cuisine, more recently arrived ethnic groups also have a great influence on Allentown's palate. Many Latinos have opened bodegas, small markets or grocery stores specializing in Latin American cuisine and products. There are Indian, Thai, Middle Eastern, Greek and Japanese restaurants and markets, many along Hamilton Boulevard and MacArthur Road. The Elias Farmer's Market and Sam's Farmer's Market cater to the Middle Eastern community as well as other ethnic communities in the region.
The Allentown area is also known for casual and finer dining. Seafood houses such as Youell's Oyster House, country inns in the suburbs of the city such as the Inn of the Falcon, and local steakhouses like Gregory's are all renowned.
Allentown is known for a slightly altered version of the Philly cheesesteak. The chipped beef, cheese, and roll are similar, but it is usually topped with a special "steak sandwich sauce", which will be some form of tomato sauce, especially ketchup. It is often typical of Allentown cheesesteaks to feature American, provolone or mozzarella cheese instead of Cheeze Wiz, which is common in Philadelphia. Along with the sauce, onions come standard, and pickles and hot peppers are often added upon request. Zandy's Steak Shop, The Brass Rail, Stahely's and many others in Allentown have this kind of steak sandwich.
Hoagies are popular in the area due to their creation in Philadelphia, and like the cheesesteak, every restaurant wants to compete to be the best. Also like in Philadelphia, Wawa convenience stores are prevalent and popular.
Allentown's proximity to New York has led to the area having some great pizza. Pizza shops can be found scattered throughout the city, with residents arguing over who has the best pizza in the city.
The soft pretzel dates back to 7th century France and was brought over to Pennsylvania by the Pennsylvania Dutch in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Soft pretzels are sold at various places and vendors across the city.
Water ice and ice cream were not invented in the area but are popular because of the very hot and humid summers. There are specialty "microbrew" ice cream producer-shops in the Lehigh Valley, including Nuts About Ice Cream in Bethlehem.
Until the locally owned Hess' department store closed in the early 1990s, it's in-store restaurant was a local mainstay; a visit to the restaurant was an eagerly anticipated coming of age rite for many an Allentown child. Its strawberry pie, in particular, was renowned and is still remembered with great affection by locals. Many bakers enjoy the competition of trying to redact the "Hess' Strawberry Pie" from these cherished memories, and these recipes and memories are periodic features in local newspapers.
A well-known fast food restaurant chain is Yocco's Hot Dogs. Yocco's Hot Dogs has hot dogs made with any toppings, but they suggest their own creation. Yocco's traditional hot dogs come with onions, mustard, and the family's original chili sauce. Yocco's has six locations in the Allentown area.
Beer is a popular drink in the Lehigh Valley, as is in any city across the country. Yuengling, the country's oldest brewery, is based in Pottsville, Pennsylvania. Their beer is very popular throughout the region. The Lehigh Valley also hosts several craft brewers, including the Allentown Brew Works, Brew Works on the Green, the Bethlehem Brew Works in Bethlehem and the Weyerbacher Brewing Company in Easton. Nearby Emmaus hosts Shangy's, one of the most comprehensive beer distributors in the region.
A-Treat soda is made in Allentown and is available mostly in eastern Pennsylvania only.
Just Born candy factory is located in Bethlehem and is the maker of Mike and Ike, Hot Tamales, ZOURS, and Marshmallow Peeps. Josh Early Candies, made locally, has a store on Linden Street in Bethlehem and a store on Tilghman Street in Allentown.
Allentown hosts many of the fast-food and casual dining chains typically found across the United States.
The Lehigh Valley AVA is an officially-designated American Viticultural Area located in the Allentown area. The wine region includes 230 acres (93 ha) of vineyards and 9 wineries. An average of about 20 percent of Pennsylvania's wine is made from grapes grown in the Lehigh Valley.
- Yocco's, Allentown, Pennsylvania, retrieved 2009-07-10