Panzarottis: Perfect Food or Most Perfect Food?
It turns out Camden is known for more than just Walt Whitman’s tomb and ranking in the top most violent cities in America. Did you know Panzarottis were invented in Camden?
What?! You haven’t heard of a panzarotti? You tourist! This little pocket of pizza perfection is no mere calzone or pizza turnover. One bite and your taste buds will travel to hot cheese Nirvana, where tasty sweet sauce and fried dough dance in the Elysian Fields…of your mouth.
It all started where all good food starts: Italy. The land of many sauces, cheese and loud relatives produced the Tarantini Family, who ended up in Camden in the 1960’s. When money got tight, Mama Tarantini, who made panzarottis for her ten kids, suggested to dad that he sell her delicious deep fried treat on the street for a quarter. It quickly became a local favorite and four generations of Tarantinis now keep the panzarotti factory running in Cherry Hill.
Essentially the panzarotti is a pocket of pizza dough, stuffed with cheese and the family sauce, then deep fried to perfection. Pizza toppings are, instead, stuck inside the panzarotti for additional awesomeness. Imagine a tiny pizza, folded up into a flat ball and then deep fried and you sorta have it. The sweet and savory taste is unmistakable and vendors as far away as Maryland sell this miracle of cheese. Ponzio’s restaurant in Cherry Hill even has a mini-panzarotti appetizer on the menu.
When my wife’s cousins flew in from England, we wanted to give them a taste of South Jersey cuisine. So along with a spread of hoagies from our local sub shop, I ordered six panzarottis and cut them into fours for appetizers. It was a huge hit.
If you are new to the panzarotti remember, it is made from deep fried dough. It’s sort of like eating a large pizza donut. Personally, I could probably down about three of four, but I’d have to counteract that with some salad and a gallon of orange juice just to be safe. It’s a treat or an incredibly luxurious entree.
But when you’re traveling around South Jersey, accept no substitutes. Look for the Original Tarantini Panzarotti sign and logo in your local pizza parlor. That way, you know they actually have raw panzarottis from the Tarantini factory.
And the next time you’re in Camden visiting the Aquarium, taking in a show at the waterfront or trying to get your jacket back from a grabby crackhead, remember, if you smell a sweet sauce and cheese, someone nearby is selling the hometown favorite.
Then get into your car and drive to Cherry Hill to get one.
by Tony DiGerolamo