Essen Highlighted on WHYY Series


It’s no secret Philadelphia is a top-notch foodie destination.

With its wide array of diverse cuisines that reflect the cultures of many living here, Philadelphia is as much a travel destination for its tourist attractions as for its food, beyond the cheesesteak.

Owner of Essen Bakery Tova du Plessis with micro series host Joy Manning of Edible Philly | WHYY

Philly Eats the World, a new micro series on WHYY hosted by Edible Philly Editor Joy Manning, highlights some of the many offerings this city is home to, particularly those created by ethnic communities seeking to reflect their culture through food.

The program airs after each episode of PBS’ No Passport Required, in which chef Marcus Samuelsson of Harlem’s Red Rooster travels to different American cities to “explore and celebrate the wide-ranging diversity of immigrant traditions and cuisine woven into American food and culture.”

No Passport Required airs on Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on WHYY, while the complementary segment of Philly Eats the World highlights where you can find the featured cuisine locally.

“[No Passport Required]’s focus on immigrant food traditions in major cities across the U.S. is so celebratory and fun,” said Caitlin Corkery, producer of Philly Eats the World. “We wanted to invite our audience to connect to those same kinds of experiences right in their own backyards.”

So far, the show has highlighted the Indonesian flavor at South Philly’s Hardena as well as Jezabel’s Argentine Cafe in Fitler Square.

And those with a particular inclination toward babka and rugelach should tune in Aug. 14 as the series turns its lens on Essen Bakery, the South Philly joint started up in 2016 by Johannesburg, South Africa, native Tova du Plessis.

“Our host Joy Manning recommended Tova as an example of an immigrant baker in Philadelphia doing tremendous work,” Corkery said. “After seeing her in action and trying out her chocolate babka, we couldn’t agree more, and we’re delighted to spread the word to our audience.”

The segment, like the others that have already aired, runs less than two minutes — long enough to inspire a hankering for rugelach. Du Plessis sits outside the bakery with Manning, each with a coffee mug and plate of tantalizing thick-breaded pastry.

The two dish about du Plessis’ initial inspiration for opening Essen, which means “to eat” in Yiddish, and the top goods visitors should try there.  

Du Plessis immediately agreed to be on the show when Manning asked.

“There are a lot of travel shows where you get to see food in different countries, and there are a lot of shows that are shot in America but they’re usually on a set or featuring more high-profile restaurants or they’re very thematic, like Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, like going to a specific kind of place,” she said, “and this is exploring ethnic food in America, which I don’t think there are many shows like that.”

While Samuelsson has yet to visit Philadelphia, du Plessis said the WHYY series certainly highlights the city’s culture.

“Philly is such a major immigrant city in America and, as a result of that, we have these communities all over Philly, immigrant communities, that are still cooking food from home,” she noted. “So we actually have incredible international restaurants — African restaurants, South American restaurants, Asian, and many more. We almost have at least one restaurant to represent every part of the world.”

For her, the PBS series also inspires conversation about the “identity crisis” many immigrants — including Samuelsson, who is Ethiopian-born and Swedish-raised — experience.

As a Jewish, South Africa native who has lived in America since she was 18 and has familial roots traced back to Eastern Europe, she often asked herself questions about her identity when she was growing up.

As Samuelsson goes into people’s homes and explores their experiences as immigrants in America, it’s brought up a lot of discussion to which du Plessis can relate.

“Marcus touches on those points a lot,” du Plessis said. “I really understand having all these things that identify you and not feeling the pressure to make one more important than the other and society does place that pressure on us, on all of us.” 

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