Food & Drink

EVENT: Is San Gennaro Just Another Typical NYC Street Fair?

by Lea Faminiano

Every year around this time in September, Little Italy explodes into a street fair known as the Feast of San Gennaro, held by Figli di San Gennaro, a non-profit community organization that is dedicated to keeping the spirit and faith of the early Italian immigrants alive.  This year, the 86th annual San Gennaro Festival was held between September 13-23rd, running on Mulberry between Houston and Canal, and spilling over to some side streets.  Tons of tourists and city-dwellers came to see the festival, most likely in hopes of enjoying Italian food, music, and culture.

What San Gennaro is reminiscent of is those typical NYC street fairs that pop-up on various blocks throughout the city between during late spring and early fall.  You know, the ones with the cheap jewelry stands and the same exact food vendors.  I wouldn’t mess with any part of the festival above Broome Street, but everything south of that is a little more legit.

There were Mozzarepas (so good but so not), empanadas, lemonade, shish kebabs, pickles in barrels, fried Oreos, funnel cake, and typical carnival food spanning a range of cultures far outside Italy’s borders.  Of course, sprinkled throughout there are your cannoli stands, pizza stands, Italian sausage, gelato, and whatnot, so you can sample typical delicious Italian treats.  I tasted my first chunk of torrone, and the friendly torrone guy even threw in an extra couple pieces for me.  Unfortunately, the majority of the eats seemed to be non-Italian, which kind of blows my mind – for a culture that is so widely known and revered for its food, why can’t it be the centerpiece?

In terms of Italian culture, the only Italian music I heard was one rendition of “Funiculi, Funicula” coming from one of the restaurants, other than that I also heard the new J.Lo single and for some reason, a lot of Ace of Base (not complaining).

I really like the extension of the outdoor seating areas of the Italian restaurants, especially since everyone’s into dining al fresco.  They still have their men standing outside the restaurants trying to lure you in by repeatedly calling you “bella,” but that’s part of Little Italy’s charm.  There was even a tiny beer garden, which is of course more of a German thing, but hey, day-drinking can be celebrated in many cultures, right?

I know I missed a lot of the big events, such as the cannoli eating contest and the big parade, so maybe those knocked some of the more traditional Italian culture moments out of the way for me.  I was just really hoping for the overall festival to be more overwhelmingly Italian, maybe strictly Italian, so that patrons could really immerse themselves in everything Italy, and so that we could come away from it with something other than empanadas.