It’s late winter. I can’t remember the exact date, but I’m walking back to my apartment from the Academic Building. I found an empty classroom in PISB and pulled out a styrofoam take-out container from the Halal cart on 33rd street. Immediately, a wave of steam hits my face, and I began to devour the Lamb Gyro rice platter. Separating the chunks of ground meat from the vegetables, I started mixing the fluffy yellow rice with the white and green sauces. Unbeknownst to me, this would be my last takeout meal in Philadelphia.
On March 19, I left for Illinois. The campus was shut down, and classes were moved online. Graduation was delayed and it became clear that I was not coming back to Philadelphia. I would finish my last term in Drexel University at home on my computer.
Now, I’m in the south suburbs of Chicago craving cheesesteaks. It’s undeniable that I’ve fallen into a state of nostalgia for Philly Food. Drexel was by no means a food mecca, but the campus had a couple of hidden gems. The kimchi fried rice at Kami’s Food Truck was amazing, and I could always rely on Sheba’s Soul Plate for some incredible jerk chicken and greens. Plus, the rice platters at the Halal trucks had become a staple of my college diet.
When I traveled off-campus, whether to Center City, Old City or the 52nd Street Station, I was always eager to find a new place to eat. I loved spending my nights eating a pint of “industry” chirashi at Jesse Ito’s Royal Izakaya or enjoying a bowl of goat gongura stew on a Sunday afternoon at Amma’s South Indian Cuisine. These were more than just meals but experiences that were sometimes the highlight of my week.
I must confess that all of my Philly food memories aren’t necessarily good ones. I had disgusting rose cider at a Center City bar, mediocre and overpriced cheesesteaks at the Wells Fargo Center, and under seasoned fried rice on 12th Street. But even when the food wasn’t the best, the experience was always worth it. Honestly, now that I’m stuck at home, I would probably pay good money to eat some bad tacos in Old City.
Reflecting back at my time at Drexel, I realized a lot of my college years were spent walking around Philadelphia, finding random restaurants, and tasting new foods. Sometimes, my walks would be a quick 30-minute stroll. Other times, these walks could last an entire day. Even in my senior year, I would wander around Chinatown on Saturday nights, walk into an unfamiliar kebab shop and order haphazardly off the menu.
Though it will be a long time before I can wander the streets of Philadelphia again, I still have the memories, and I’ll always be grateful for that.
That’s why I’m writing this as a sort of tribute. It’s a way to appreciate all the fun, interesting, and even terrible meals I’ve had in Philly. Because at the end of the day, I’m thankful for my time in Philadelphia and I will remember the meals I had here for the rest of my life.