This weekend marked the end of the 87th annual Festival of San Gennaro, and the closing day was no less of a showing than any other in the 11 day stretch in lower Manhattan. A particular point of pride for Italian-Americans, San Gennaro is the patron saint of Naples, and this festival attracts more than 1 million people from across the globe, though the primary guests are hungry New Yorkers. From its inception, the goal of the festival is to bring Italian music, food and ambiance to the people of New York, and to pay homage to a neighborhood that has left a strong imprint on the hearts and minds of Italian-Americans. It is a chance for Italian-American to re-connect to their roots.
In addition to the foods we New Yorkers have come to expect at the feast, such as sausage and peppers (which we purchased from an unnamed tent off of Kenmare Street) and zeppolis, one of the things we were most struck by was the fact that a good majority of the food purveyors were not selling Italian food.
There were several stands selling gyros and schwarma, and quite a few calling out for us to buy some tasty empanadas and arepas, as well as seafood stands peddling crabs, lobsters, clams, and oysters. The shift away from 100% Italian fare and towards other ethnic food seems to be indicative of a trend of increasing multiculturalism in a city already rich with cultural (and culinary) diversity.
We did get incredibly lucky in passing “Beast of the Feast” Tent, sponsored by the owners of the regal Italian establishments Torrisi, Parm and Carbone.
The menu at this tent also strayed away from the classic sausage and peppers. We stood deliberating for some time about whether or not to order the “FuhgeddaBAOdit”, their version of a bao-inspired pork bun, which looked phenomenal. Instead we opted for the Eggplant Sticks, which were eggplant parm versions of mozzarella sticks. We weren't mad about our choice in the slightest.
To top off a wonderful late afternoon of celebrating Italian heritage, we decided to branch out and try some Artisinal Cannolis, opting for the peanut butter and Nutella flavors to sample a new twist on an old classic. We were sadly disappointed. The Nutella flavored filling tasted more like chocolate whipped cream, and the cannoli shell was dry and flavorless. The peanut butter flavor was slightly better, in that were pretty sure actual peanut butter was involved in the making of the filling, but the shell was covered in hardened chocolate, increasing its appeal.
Despite the cannolis and the crowds, the feast of San Gennaro was, as always, a tasty delight for those in need of some home cooked Italian food reminiscent of your nonna’s.