Wit’ and Wit’out

You mean there are people who've never had a Tasty Klair?

A young friend went through orientation at a nearby college last week. The highlight, for her, was a big spread of local food at the president’s welcoming reception. She recounted the bounty that was on hand to represent Philly: soft pretzels, cheesesteaks, hoagies, water ice, Tastykakes. She had a confession, too: “I didn’t know Tastykakes were only in Philly. I thought everybody had Tastykakes.”

She was the only native Philadelphian in her group, and says the outliers happily—if sometimes puzzledly—took in the array of Philly-centric goodies. It doesn’t seem peculiar to her that we call a particular frozen treat “water ice” (there’s another kind?), or that certain condiments accompany certain foodstuffs (mustard with pretzels but never, ever with cheesesteaks, which take ketchup instead).

This young lady has spent some time studying abroad, where she had to rely on natives to impart their eating customs to her. And she loves exploring foreign cuisines; she’s fearless about tasting such exotica as Kenyan goat-head stew. (“You could see things in it that you knew were ears.”) At the reception, the shoe was on the other foot; she was the one doing her best to explain Geno’s vs. Pat’s and the Krimpet to her wide-eyed friends. It gave her, she reports, a newfound sense of perspective: What’s dirt-common to one person can be mysterious and unheard-of to another. Though she’s still befuddled by the concept of a world without Tastykakes.