While I admit to having lost some love for Manhattan’s Little Italy over the years, try and stop me from heading downtown to the annual Feast of San Gennaro. Marking in my mind the official end of summer, “the Feast,” as most New Yorkers call it, is a weeklong feeding frenzy I look forward to each year. Just thinking about it makes me salivate!
Much of the neighborhood’s authentic, old world feel has been replaced by an Italian Disneyesque-type atmosphere. Yet when the Feast of San Gennaro rolls around, that charmingly vibrant spirit that once made Little Italy a joy to explore, returns with gusto and I happily eat my way up and down its colorful, narrow streets.
A tribute to the Patron Saint of Naples, the Feast of San Gennaro is an expression of faith although I’m not sure there’s much of a religious component left– at least none that I can openly see. I’m told there is a mass and a procession and other gatherings of the faithful, but to me the Feast is a celebration of Italian culture. And what a feast it is, with hundreds of vendors and stalls hawking the very best in authentic and not so authentic (but still delicious) Italian fare.
My favorite way to attack this festival of culinary delights is to head straight into the heart of the hood– Mulberry Street. It is here where my search for authentic Italian delicacies and savory bites from the neighborhoods’ last remaining venerable establishments, begins. Among my favorites: the mouthwatering prosciutto sandwich from Di Palo’s and Alleva Dairy’s fresh mozzarella grilled Panini. Relative newcomers, like Rubrirosa’s vodka pizza, have also surprised me (not the most authentic creation, but incredibly delicious nonetheless).
Sure, Di Palo’s, Alleva and Rubrirosa are permanent fixtures in Little Italy, but it is only during the Feast of San Gennaro that I can I grab a bite from Di Palo’s, then hop down the block to a seafood stand for my fill of fresh oysters, shucked by the 17-year-old nephew of the guy who’s been running the San Gennaro corner for years.
That’s the essence of what Italy is about: a cultural celebration of family, tradition, history, pride…FOOD. So I think it’s safe to say that the seafood stand on Mulberry Street—as well as the stands selling everything from cannoli to sausage to zeppoli–will be run by members of the same family for as long as there is a Feast of San Gennaro.
Year after year, the hypnotizing sizzle of grilled meats, that undeniable scent of fried dough and the sounds of joyous laughter draw fans like me to Little Italy without fail.
Even though the neighborhood has lost a bit of its old charm, the Feast of San Gennaro continues to hold a special place in the heart of the City and the descendants of the immigrants who came to New York long ago. And for one magical week each year, we are all Italian!!!
This year’s Feast will be held September 12th to the 22nd. I know where I’ll be, and I suggest you head down to Little Italy too, with your appetite in tow.
Featured image courtesy of New York Natives, Photographer: Sarita Dan