Old Vs. New: An Early Report on Food at the San Gennaro Festival, 2011
For over 100 years, the street scarf at New York City's Italian religious festivals remained the same: hot or sweet pork sausages, grilled as you watched and served with sautéed onions and peppers; deep fried zeppole (pronounced "zapp-lee" in New York's Italian dialect, derived from the speech of immigrants from Apulia); bracciole ("brah-zhole"), wrapped and stuffed pork or beef mini-roasts; and cannoli ("guh-noeli"), which, along with most other Sicilian pastries, bore the stamp of the long-term French occupation of the island.
This was, basically, the festival food of southern Italy, the celebratory snacks enjoyed only a few times a year back home by peasants who basically ate pasta every day, with meat and cheese being the commodities of the privileged. And for a century, we non-Italians celebrated with them in the streets of Harlem, Williamsburg, Bensonhurst, and Little Italy, following plaster saints as they wended their way through iconic New York neighborhoods. But now everything is changing so rapidly, it makes your head spin.
The mother of all Italian religious street festivals has just begun on the Lower East Side. Commemorating Saint Januarius, a martyred bishop of early Naples, the 85th annual Feast of San Gennaro runs along Mott Street from Hester to Prince -- a welter of food stands, carnie games, vendors of cheap gimcracks, and stalls selling beer, cocktails, and complete pasta-based meals. It began yesterday evening and goes through Sunday, September 25. Today at lunch, the festival was already thronged.