Food, faith, family, and more food. The Feast of San Gennaro is in full swing, bringing the best of Italian cuisine and culture to a few blocks of Little Italy for 11 straight days. In its 93rd year, the Feast has evolved from its early 20th-century roots, as has the former immigrant enclave. Despite these changes, the Feast of San Gennaro remains one of the largest and most popular street fairs in New York City, as well as a way to preserve Italian American culture. Ahead, photographers and New Yorkers James and Karla Murray take us on a whirlwind food tour of the Feast of San Gennaro, from powdered sugar zeppoles and fried Oreos to Italian sausage and calzones.
Zeppoles are one of the most popular Italian street desserts served at the Feast. We visit many zeppole, or Italian doughnut holes, stands, including Danny on the Corner zeppole stand on Mulberry at Grand Street. We see the owner, Danny Fratta who has deep family roots in the Feast spanning back four generations, preparing and frying vats of fresh, fried dough served dusted with powdered sugar in our video. Danny on the Corner is the sponsor of the first annual zeppole eating competition at the Feast, which will be held on Wednesday, Sep. 18 at 1 p.m. at the Main Stage at Grand and Mott Streets. To sign up call 212-764-6330.
We also visit a few torrone stands, including Vinny’s Nut House Stand, where we watch the torrone being chopped using a hammer and knife. Torrone is a non-perishable Italian nougat candy made using large amounts of whole almonds and filberts in a time-honored style that is practiced in the region of Benevento, Italy. Whole nuts are always used for torrone rather than chopped nuts, because the entirety of the nut is what retains the flavor. Since there is no dairy in the candy, it packages and ships easily.
Ferrara’s Ferrara Bakery & Cafe started shipping the non-perishable torrone during World War II to many Italian-American soldiers overseas, thus starting a successful mail-order business. Ferrara’s soon became known around the world for its torrone.
We also visit many Italian sausage booths which do a brisk business during the Feast including, Gigi’s Grilled Italian Specialty Stand, NYC Famous Italian Sausages Stand, and Lucy’s Sausage Stand. We watch as Italian sausages are grilled and prepared with peppers and onions. Italian Sausage is a style of pork sausage that is either sweet or hot. Recipes vary slightly but generally include seasoning of salt, pepper, garlic and fennel seeds. The addition of hot red pepper flakes and paprika in the seasoning mix make the sausage hot rather than sweet.
The same owner who operates Gigi’s Grilled Italian Specialty Stand also sells fried calzones, zeppoles and other fried treats directly across the street at Sophia’s. Sophia’s is the originator of the Fried Rainbow Cookie, a popular Feast item which when broken open reveals its colorful rainbow interior.
Calzones are basically half-moon shaped folded pizzas made from pizza dough and stuffed with the same ingredients as pizza, including tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, and ricotta, and they often include pepperoni and possibly other cheeses and Italian sausage. We also watch as fried Oreos, another street fair favorite are being prepared at Sophia’s. We even try this decadent “Candy of the Feast.”
We also stop by Ferrara’s Original Cafe where live music and dancing was happening and the food stands run by Ferrara’s along the Feast route, where we try their world-famous cannolis. Ferrara’s is a sponsor of the annual cannoli-eating contest, which was held on Friday, Sept. 13. This year’s winner, Wayne, downed 38 Ferrara cannolis in six minutes. Italian immigrants Antonio Ferrara and Enrico Scoppa established Ferrara Bakery & Cafe in 1892. Ferrara’s is considered America’s first espresso bar. The café later added Italian specialties including cannoli, sfogliatella, and gelati to its menu.
The 4th annual meatball eating competition sponsored by Alleva Dairy will also be taking place on Saturday, Sept. 21 at 1 p.m. at the Main Stage at Grand and Mott Streets. To sign up call 212-764-6330.
Along the Feast route, we stop at Mulberry Street Cigar Co, which was founded in 1999 and is known for its own hand-rolled line of cigars. We watch as one of their in-house artisans hand rolls a cigar.
We also visit Umberto’s Clam House on Mulberry Street, which has been in business since 1972 and became famous for its celebrity clients and its signature clam dish with its hot red clam sauce.
There are many vendors who set up stands at the Feast annually, but there are also sidewalk stands set up by the various small Italian businesses that have storefronts along the Feast route. You can choose to sit down and relax and have an Italian meal at many of the restaurants along Mulberry, and the intersecting Hester and Grand Streets. They have all set up a dedicated table with waiter service outside of their physical restaurant location.
The central focus of the Feast takes place every September 19, the official Saint Day when a celebratory mass is held in Shrine Church of the Most Precious Blood. Mass is followed immediately by a religious procession in which the Statue of San Gennaro is carried from its permanent home in the church through the streets that comprise Little Italy. You can also make an offering at the Statue of San Gennaro.
Although this is an annual celebration of faith, the Feast of San Gennaro is known for its festive atmosphere, featuring Italian cuisine, carnival food favorites, religious processions, colorful parades, live music and entertainment, rides for kids and adults, games of chance, and other vendors
To get more of a taste of the Feast of San Gennaro, check out our food tour video below:
- A guide to Little Italy’s 93rd annual Feast of San Gennaro
- The Urban Lens: A walk through the 90th annual Feast of San Gennaro in Little Italy
- The Giglio Feast: History, fun facts, and what to expect at this year’s celebration in Brooklyn
All photos © James and Karla Murray
James and Karla Murray are husband-and-wife New York-based photographers and authors. Their critically acclaimed books include Store Front: The Disappearing Face of New York, New York Nights, Store Front II- A History Preserved and Broken Windows-Graffiti NYC. The authors’ landmark 2008 book, Store Front, was cited in Bookforum’s Dec/Jan 2015 issue as one of the “Exemplary art books from the past two decades” and heralded as “One of the periods most successful New York books.” New York Nights was the winner of the prestigious New York Society Library’s 2012 New York City Book Award. James and Karla Murray’s work has been exhibited widely in major institutions and galleries, including solo exhibitions at the Brooklyn Historical Society, Clic Gallery in New York City, and Fotogalerie Im Blauen Haus in Munich, Germany, and group shows at the New-York Historical Society and the Museum of Neon Art in Glendale, CA. Their photographs are included in the permanent collections of major institutions, including the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, the New York Public Library, and NYU Langone Medical Center. James and Karla were awarded the 2015 Regina Kellerman Award by the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP) in recognition of their significant contribution to the quality of life in Greenwich Village, the East Village, and NoHo. James and Karla live in the East Village of Manhattan with their dog Hudson.
Tags : Feast of San Gennaro
Neighborhoods : little italy