As I eat some vegetarian chili, I thought I would sing, or rather type the praises of my favorite Philadelphia institution: Trader Joe’s. Ok—I realize that Trader Joes is not native to Philly. I have vague memories of a trip down their wooden checkout isles in Westchester the year before I started college, and I think a friend told me it originated out in LA. But because I never knew the wonders of this world of cashiers wearing Hawaiin-themed shirts, isles named after local streets, affordable bulk packages of organic and ethnic food, and ten varieties of hummus (that’s just a ballpark—it could be 8 or 12) I’m calling it a Philadelphia institution.
A friend told me her father knew the owner and that the target audience was college professors. Perfect! If I love it now, I’m assuming I’ll love it even more when I hopefully get my degree in around 4 years from now.
So why is it so wonderful? Trader Joe’s is not just a food market. It’s a topic of conversation. And there’s really no equivalent in New York. People might talk about nova from Zabar’s or exotic produce from Grace’s but there’s no place that makes for a talking point like Trader Joes. (Maybe it has something to do with the cost-factor. Afterall, it’s a rare occasion that people my age living in New York City frequent shops where you can pay close to two dollars for a peach). But Trader Joe’s—well, that’s a whole other story. Almost every person I speak to around here has a Trader Joe’s tip. And they talk about it with the same enthusiasm you might have about an article of clothing you bought on a serious sale—so talking about Trader Ming’s teriyaki stir fry sauce the way you might about velvet blazer from the Gap that looks designer but sold for 39.99. My personal favorites—in case you were wondering—are the frozen edamame, the garlic eggplant dip (kind of tastes like babaganoush, the unsalted, roasted almonds packaged by individual serving, that Italian Tongol canned tuna, the olive and goat cheese tapenade that you find near the hummus, and the small caramel wafers (they have a Dutch-sounding name that I can’t remember at the moment, but a friend introduced me to them and they’re just delicious!) I could pass along all the tips I’ve heard but perhaps I’ll offer on request.