South Philly’s Melting Pot: from wooder ice to palaterias

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South Philly’s immigrant communities have long recognized the need to cool down with an icy treat on a hot summer’s day.

South Philadelphia is well known as the birthplace of water ice, a summertime staple for generations, thanks to the immigrant innovation of the residents of the Italian market a hundred years ago. But the innovation didn’t end there. A new generation of South Philadelphians are striving to create and market their personal—and culinary—heritage. Here’s a look at how the summertime flavors of our neighborhood continue to evolve.

John’s Water Ice701 Christian Street, 19147

Watch out, Mister Softee, there’s a new truck making its way through the streets of Philadelphia. The John’s Water Ice Truck is bringing their popular semi-frozen fresh-made treat on the road as part of the food truck trend. For those unable to make the trek to the original Italian Market location, the truck will pop-up at private and public events, as well as roaming the streets with a rotating menu of favorites and seasonal flavors, along with the classic soft pretzel pairing.  Meanwhile, John’s Water Ice will continue to be a destination for those in search of that quintessential summer snack.

D’Emilio’s Old World Ice Treats1928 E Passyunk Ave, 19148

John’s isn’t the first to take water ice on the road. Inspired by pushcarts of yore, D’Emilio’s Old World Ice Treats began as a motorcycle cart providing artisan sorbetto at farmer’s markets and festivals, before opening their storefront location near the gateway to East Passyunk Avenue in the autumn of 2019…just in time for the end of the season and the start of the pandemic.

But D’Emilio’s Old World products have endured thanks to modern technology—with Caviar providing delivery, orders accepted via text massage, payment through Venmo, and updates on their daily sundaes, ice treats, and gelati flavors, provided on their instagram.

El Pueblo Refresquería1142 S 9th St., 19147

The character of the Italian Market continues to change as it welcomes each new wave of immigration, El Pueblo Refresquería (also known as Bambino) is an example of the innovation that comes with that change. This hidden gem has shockingly cheap homemade ice cream scoops with constantly changing flavors such as cheese, avocado, rice, and guava, beyond the traditional chocolate and strawberry.

This paletaria—popsicle shop—also sells pre-packaged Mexican popsicles in a similarly diverse selection of familiar and exotic flavors. These include tamarind, watermelon, mango, coconut, and lime. But they are perhaps best known for their Chamoyada – a sweet and spicy shaved ice drink made with fresh mangos and chamoy sauce (a salty, sweet, sour, sauce made from chilies and pickled fruit.) They also provide savory Mexican snacks such as elote (corn on the cob dressed with spice, citrus, and cream) and carved blossoms of fresh whole mangos.