Regular readers will be familiar with the mission behind this blog… to showcase notable food finds from my exploration of markets of Philadelphia’s Asian diaspora communities. Since I moved to Philadelphia a few years ago I have spent a lot of time navigating such neighborhoods by foot, bicycle, and computer. I really was beginning to think that I had discovered all of the major food centers for Philadelphia’s Asian communities. It seems that is not the case! Today I found a huge plaza with a large and fascinating market, as well as a small collection of cafes and shops specializing in Vietnamese foods. I’d like to share that with you here.
As you can see from the road sign (which is missing some of the plaza’s newer cafes/restaurants) there is a lot of exciting culinary ground here to cover. The plaza’s primary establishment is the large supermarket, named “New Ben City Supermarket”. The plaza is at 5520 Whitaker Ave in Near Northeast Philadelphia.
What is “Ben City”? Is that referring to the city of Ben Franklin? Maybe he founded the first supermarket too? The names of the market in Vietnamese and Chinese provide the actual meaning behind the store’s name, which is also illustrated as a faint image on the market’s sign: the most famous market landmark in Ho Chi Minh City, the Ben Tranh Market, Chợ Bến Thành. The Chinese version of that famous place is on the sign 檳城, but online sources from Vietnam seem to use a different character for this place: 濱城.
The actual Bến Thành market in Saigon has a special place in my heart, because I made an important purchase there 20 years ago… a thin-bodied cut-away handmade red acoustic guitar. A real beauty. Unfortunately for me, too many dry winters have now rendered the instrument unplayable…
How did I miss this huge and notable marketplace in Philadelphia? In fact, I only learned of it by accident from a business card address for a great Vietnamese cafe on Washington Ave (that recently underwent a face-lift), Như Quỳnh Bakery. I was impressed with that bakery/cafe, with their hot food, banh mi (with in-house baked breads), iced coffee, and desserts. It turns out they have a sister location at the Whitaker Ave location in near Northeast Philly, which prompted my curiosity. This Whitaker plaza is actually very similar to that Washington Ave plaza where Hung Vuong is, with its pho shops, coffee shops, and other businesses.
So, I jumped on my bicycle and rode over to the area to check it out. I’m happy I did, as the market is great. It has extensive offerings for produce, meat, and fish. Fresh herbs (my last post detailed that topic) are also considerable. There is even a roasted duck and pork section.
I can’t believe I didn’t know this plaza was here, especially when I am a relatively frequent visitor to the Hong Kong Supermarket a few blocks away.
Finally, I stopped by one of the cafes (Tu’s Tea & Bánh Mì) and had a classic banh mi. It was delicious, and umami rich with a sprinkling of chicken stock powder (that might sound disgusting to some… I’ve been noticing that lately at other Asian eateries too) and the traditional pâté. The price was amazing at $3.75.
If you live in Northeast Philly, this might be a great option for you to obtain Southeast Asian ingredients, and getting your pho and banh mi fixes!