At the end of July, we spent a long weekend exploring Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Today I will be covering our visit to the Please Touch Museum, Chinatown, and Franklin Square along with a recipe inspired by our travels, Cheung Fun (Steamed Rice Noodle Rolls). Here are my previous posts covering our stay at The Logan Hotel and our visit to Reading Terminal Market, The Academy of Natural Sciences, and Rittenhouse Square.
Disclosure: I received tickets to the Please Touch Museum in exchange for featuring the museum in this post. All comments and opinions are my own.
Please Touch Museum
We went to the Please Touch Museum on our last day. This incredible two-level museum is completely hands-on and the perfect place for younger children to explore and spark their imaginations.
It has been housed in the beautiful Memorial Hall at Fairmount Park since 2008. Memorial Hall was originally built in 1876 as an art gallery for the Centennial International Exhibition, the first World’s Fair in the United States. The Philadelphia Museum of Art was also once housed here. Walking through the entrance, we were amazed by the incredible architecture and 59 ft high ceilings.
Please Touch Museum is accessible via public transportation (PHLASH and SEPTA bus route 38), but we drove after checking out of the hotel. They have a devoted parking lot, currently 12 dollars for non-members, and I also saw a few cars parked nearby on the street.
It is open 9-5 Monday to Saturday and 11-5 on Sundays. Check the admission prices and more about the hours here. As a note, deeply discounted admission is currently available for $2 from 4-7 pm on the first Wednesday of each month.
The entire museum is stroller/wheelchair friendly with an elevator and room to navigate in the cafe and restrooms (the restrooms also have child-sized sinks). Stroller storage is available in the self-service coat room. Evan tends to be sensory-seeking so he was right at home here, but there are a few places set aside for peach and quiet if a break is needed. Evan appreciated going through the museum stories before our trip. The museum also has a program called Play Without Boundaries with early opening times and other activities for children on the spectrum and with learning/developmental disabilities.
Our first stop was Roadside Attractions. This area, with the Please Touch Garage, was Evan’s favorite section. He especially loved changing tires, working on an engine, and guiding cars through a car wash (one of his obsessions that has continued to grow since he was around 2 years old).
They were also able to explore a city park complete with a food stand, ride a SEPTA bus, operate a backhoe, and more.
Storyland was the temporary exhibit featured during our visit. This area highlighted seven childhood classics such as The Tale of Peter Rabbit, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, Abuela, Where’s Spot?, and more with bilingual interactive activities and a reading corner. It recently closed, but the next temporary exhibit taking its place is Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood: A Grr-iffic Exhibit from September 28th, 2017 to January 15th, 2018.
Evan and Claire both enjoyed building rockets and blasting them off in Flight Fantasy. Evan got a rocket through the bottom ring on his very first try!
Claire spent most of her time in City Capers. This section takes children through a supermarket complete with details aisles and checkouts, medical center, construction zone, restaurant, and other stores made just for their size. Claire particularly enjoyed the kitchen while Evan pretended to be a doctor.
Front Step, one of the three toddler zones, is also in this area. It was a great place for her to relax without being overrun by the bigger kids.
We also spent a lot of time in the Wonderland exhibit, one of my favorite spots. I love the amount of detail put into this area.
Here you can explore whimsical mazes, have a tea party, paint white roses red, and navigate the Hall of Mirrors.
River Adventures was another favorite for Claire. Here the kids manipulated water with jets and dams while playing with boats, rubber duckies, and other toys that float. I particularly appreciated the blue smocks and hand dryers available to help keep clothes somewhat dry. The clouds floating above were a nice touch.
Evan spent a few minutes in the Imagination Playground creating sculptures from foam blocks while Claire counted and chatted with the collection of rubber duckies (you will find collections of toys displayed throughout the museum).
Our last stop was a ride on the carousel (tickets available at the front desk). The Woodside Park Dentzel Carousel was built in 1908. It spent some time in the Smithsonian Institution warehouse before being restored and finding a home here at the museum. Claire was particularly fond of the pigs.
We ate a late lunch at the Please Taste Cafe before the long drive home. Family favorites like pizza, chicken tenders, soups, and sandwiches can be found alongside salads, snacks, and beverages. You can also bring in your own food. We had no problem finding seating in the main dining room (there is additional seating near the carousel as well). It is a bright and open space filled with fun picnic-themed paintings.
Other exhibits include the Please Touch Garden located outside the Please Taste Cafe, Centennial Exploration with trains (this area was very quiet and a great spot for a breather while the kids played with trains and blocks) and a closer look at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition, Please Touch Playhouse Theater, and the Elaine Wideman Vaughn Program Room.
Allow for 2-3 hours to see everything, though we could have easily spent all day at the Please Touch Museum. It was the perfect end to our weekend. The museum often has special events and performances, so check the calendar to see what is going on during your visit.
Philadelphia Chinatown (費城華埠) was first established during the 1870’s. Based in the City Center, it is bordered by Vine Street to the north, Arch Street to the south, North Broad Street to the west, and North Franklin/North 7th Streets to the east.
The Chinatown Friendship Gate (photo above) was created in 1982 by Chinese artisans and engineers in a Qing Dynasty-style as a symbol of friendship with Philadelphia’s sister city, Tianjin. It is located by the intersection of 10th and Arch Street.
Chinatown was a little less than a mile walk from our hotel, so we ended up eating here a couple of times.
Our first stop was Nan Zhou Hand Drawn Noodle House. This was one of our favorite meals of the weekend and also one of the least expensive. We ordered the Scallion Pancakes (recipe here), Fried Mini Buns with Condensed Milk (recipe here), House Special Noodle Soup, and Noodles with Pork Soy Sauce. Servings were large with plenty of delicious noodles.
Claire really liked her smoothie from here.
For dessert, we walked over to Teassert Bar for Rolled Ice Cream. First developed in Thailand, this style of ice cream is made by mixing the custard base with desired flavors on a frozen grill, spreading the mixture into a thin layer, then scraping the frozen ice cream into thin rolls.
Claire and I split the S’mores Ice Cream Rolls while Chad and Evan shared a Hong Kong Waffle with Vanilla Ice Cream. You can also find Bubble Tea and Non-Dairy Sorbet here.
For breakfast the next morning, we went back to Chinatown to meet up with a friend at Yummy Yummy on 10th Street. The interior is a bit cramped with only three chairs set up as bar seating, so take-out is best here. The menu is extensive with a variety of steamed buns, takoyaki, rice, noodles, rolls, and even Hong Kong waffles. We shared Cheung Fun (Steamed Rice Noodle Rolls) with a Mixed Sauce, Spring Onion Noodles, and a Green Tea White Chocolate Hong Kong Waffle.
After waiting in lines for Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, the playground at Franklin Square was a nice break for the kids.
Franklin Square, like Rittenhouse Square, is one of the five original parks planned by William Penn. Originally called North East Publick Square, it was renamed Franklin Square after Benjamin Franklin in 1825. It is just east of Chinatown and in the northern part of City Center.
The playground was a huge hit. It is split into a toddler section with slides and swings along with an older section with lots of places to climb. The shade was also welcome on a hot July day.
We bribed the kids off the playground with a ride on the Parx Liberty Carousel before walking over to Chinatown for dinner.
Franklin Square is also home to a large fountain built in 1838, a mini golf course with historical monuments and sites, and Square Burger for a bite to eat.
Cheung Fun (Steamed Rice Noodle Rolls)
I tried Cheung Fun for the first time at Yummy Yummy when we visited friends in Chinatown for breakfast on our last morning. Cheung Fun (肠粉) is a Cantonese dish comprised of thin layers of rice flour-based sheets that are steamed in a water bath, then rolled up (I rolled them tightly like I had them in the restaurant, but they can also be loosely folded over, particularly when they have a filling). The name directly translates to intestines based on their appearance. I served them plain with a drizzle of a seasoned soy sauce as they were served in the restaurant. The rolls can also be filled with dried shrimp and scallions (虾肠粉), beef (牛肉肠粉), or other combinations. They can even be rolled around a Chinese cruller (炸兩腸粉).
The recipe used here includes combination of rice flour (not glutinous rice flour), cornstarch, and wheat starch. I have also seen tapioca flour in place of the cornstarch.
I used a 9 inch round cake pan nestled inside a large wok with a cover to steam the rice noodle sheets. A square or rectangular pan will work even better to get cleaner edges. The simmering water should touch the pan completely across the bottom and a little up the sides. Oil the pan between steaming each sheet.
The Cheung Fun at Yummy Yummy were created using thinner sheets, while mine are on the thicker side. I tried making a few thinner, but they were more likely to rip or crack. try to aim for about 1/8th inch thick, just enough of a layer to cover the bottom of the pan.
I cut the rolls into bite size pieces for serving, drizzled the tops with the seasoned soy sauce, then sprinkled with sliced scallions and toasted sesame seeds. A sprinkling of fried shallots can also be added. Don’t add the sauce until right before serving. The rolls will continue to soak up the sauce the longer they sit.
Cheung Fun (Steamed Rice Noodle Rolls)
Adapted from China Sichuan Food
1 cup rice flour
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon wheat starch
1/3 cup cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 cups water
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 tablespoon light soy sauce
2 tablespoon water
1/2 tablespoon oyster sauce
1/2 tablespoon dark soy sauce
1 teaspoon rock sugar, raw sugar, or granulated sugar
1/2 tbsp. sesame oil
To make the Cheung Fun: In a large bowl, whisk together the rice flour, wheat starch, cornstarch, and salt. Whisk in the water and vegetable oil to create a smooth, thin batter. Allow to rest for 10 minutes.
Fill a large wok or deep skillet (with a lid) with 2-3 inches of water. Place over medium heat to bring the water to a simmer. Oil the bottom and sides of a 9 inch round or square cake pan and place in the water to heat thoroughly. Add a thin layer of batter to the oiled pan, around 1/3 cup, and tilt to evenly cover. Cover the wok with the lid and steam the rice noodle sheet until cooked through, about 3 minutes. Carefully remove the cake pan from the wok and separate the edges of the roll from the pan gently with the tip of a knife or chopstick. Roll up the rice noodle sheet using chopsticks or a spatula and set the rice noodle roll aside. Re-grease the cake pan and place in the simmering water to reheat. Repeat with remaining batter, whisking the batter briefly to mix before each addition.
To make the sauce: In a small saucepan, whisk together the light soy sauce, water, oyster sauce, dark sou sauce, and sugar. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook, whisking often, until slightly thickened, 3-5 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in the sesame oil.
Serve the rice noodle rolls warm either as whole rolls or sliced into bite-sized pieces. Drizzle with the seasoned soy sauce, then sprinkle with sliced green onions and toasted sesame seeds immediately before serving.