The Sweet Side of Philadelphia

Trying homemade water ice at Joseppi's.

I tried water ice for the first time at Joseppi’s.

Besides the accents found here, what I’ve noticed that really distinguishes Pennsylvania from other states I’ve visited is the enthusiasm for sweet frozen treats. While living in Massachusetts for a few years, I visited several other states along the East Coast, but before moving to Glenside, Pa., I had never heard of such a thing as “water ice,” or as some native Pennsylvanians pronounce it, “wuh-ter ice.”

Anyway, here are my thoughts on the different varieties I’ve tried—and a word about the shaved ice I get back home in Hawaii.

Both of my roommates are from Philly and know great places to try the frozen delicacy and suggested we go try some. One of them suggested Rita’s, a chain of water ice shops that’s very popular in the area. However, my other roommate recommended trying homemade water ice first, so we went to a small, family-owned water ice shop called Joseppi’s. It was a bit of a hole-in-the-wall, but the water ice was fresh, homemade, and cheap—great for a college student on a budget.

For my first time at Rita’s, I tried their gelattis. They were really good! I loved the island fusion with strawberry custard.

During Orientation, Arcadia gave out free Italian ice to all the incoming freshmen. At first, I didn’t know there was a difference between Italian ice and water ice. I thought they were the same thing. If that was true, then this would have been my first water ice experience. But a lot of the native East Coasters here were quick to correct me, as if it was insulting to compare the two.

Bassetts Ice Cream is another great place to go to for a nice cold treat. On the third day of Orientation, new Arcadia students got to go on a scavenger hunt in Philadelphia. I picked this up at the Reading Terminal Market, where we had our dinner.

I absolutely love anything cold and sweet, especially since I’m from Hawaii, where the weather is constantly warm. It was always nice to have something cool on a hot day. So, when I first heard about water ice, I thought it was probably referring to shaved ice, a popular frozen treat back home.

I was surprised to find out that practically no one here knew the majestic masterpiece known as shaved ice. Actually, I was pretty outraged at the sad deprivation people here were unknowingly suffering from.

Shaved ice is exactly that—finely shaven ice (it’s finer than the ice on a snow cone)—with flavored syrup added to it. Some shops have the option of adding ice cream in the middle with various toppings, as well. They usually look prettier than this; I just decided to wait until it was melting before taking a picture.