Category Archives: Festival

South Jersey–Italian Since the Civil War and Host to America’s Longest Running Italian Festival

South Jersey looks a lot like rural North Carolina farm country. I know it’s not, though, because instead of shack-like stores on the side of the two-lane roads selling barbecue, they sell ravioli. Instead of large crosses and “Thank you, Jesus” signs, there are monuments to Padre Pio. It is otherworldly to me, a parallel universe where the Italians took over the Heartland of America. I mean, what says it more than the Sacred Heart of Jesus and a John Deere?

Hammonton, New Jersey, was settled by Italian immigrants during the American Civil War. The community was started by one Sicilian immigrant who encouraged others to come. They did, establishing farms, and their descendants now grow Jersey’s famed tomatoes, blueberries and peaches. Each July, Hammonton also hosts the longest running Italian festival in the U.S., the Our Lady of Mount Carmel festival that celebrates the feast day of Our Lady of Mount Carmel on July 16. In its 143rd year, the festival runs from July 9-16. There’s plenty of Italian food, and this is probably the one place in America where you can get broccoli rabe added to your sandwich.

The highlight for me is the procession of the statues in front of Saint Joseph’s Church.

If you donate a dollar, you get a prayer card of the saint that is passing by.

If you travel to the area, don’t forget to visit Penza’s Pies for blueberry pie or Bagliani’s Italian Market for Italian products.

–Dina Di Maio, author of Authentic Italian: The Real Story of Italy’s Food and Its People

Little Italy Isn’t Dead: Most Precious Blood Church

Periodically, there’s an article about how Little Italy is dead or dying. Yes, it’s more of a tourist destination and less of a neighborhood where Italian people live. There are still some Italians there, and there are Italian-American-owned businesses there. A recent article in the New York Times made me want to write a series on Little Italy Isn’t Dead and feature some of the businesses there.

Most Precious Blood Church

In 1891, the first part of the Most Precious Blood Church was built by the Scalabrini Fathers and later the Franciscans, who took over funding. It served the local Italian-immigrant community. Mulberry Street became home to immigrants from Naples who celebrated that city’s patron saint, San Gennaro. Most Precious Blood Church is the National Shrine of San Gennaro, and this is the site of the San Gennaro festival that occurs each September.

The church has a mass and the procession of the saint’s statue begins from the church’s front entrance on Baxter Street. There is also a shrine to San Gennaro inside as well as a beautiful grotto.

Another entrance is on Mulberry Street as well as a courtyard where you can pin a dollar on the statue of San Gennaro during the festival. Now, the church has masses in English and Vietnamese.

–Dina Di Maio, author of Authentic Italian: The Real Story of Italy’s Food and Its People, available at

***All writings and photographs are the intellectual property of me, unless I’ve noted otherwise, and can only be used with permission. If you are inspired by this blog, please use professional courtesy to note it.***

Top 10 Foods to Get at NYC’s San Gennaro Festival

This list of top 10 foods to get at NYC’s San Gennaro Festival in Little Italy is the definitive guide to the traditional foods eaten by Italian Americans.

1. If you try nothing else at the San Gennaro festival, you have to try cannoli.

La Bella Ferrara cannoli

Where to get cannoli:  the legendary Ferrara on Grand Street and Mulberry, La Bella Ferrara on Mulberry, Caffe Palermo on Mulberry, Caffe Roma corner of Mulberry and Broome.

2. Sausage and peppers sandwiches–When Italians go to festivals, this is what they get.

Where to get sausage and peppers–at a stand.

3.  Zeppole are fried dough balls in powdered sugar–a staple of Italian festivals.

Where to get zeppole–at a stand.

4.  Clams

Where to get clams–at a stand, Umberto’s Clam House on Mulberry.

5.  Pizza/calzones

Where to get pizza/calzones–Sal’s on Broome Street (the fried calzone is to die for!), the first pizzeria in America–Lombardi’s on Spring Street.

6.  Torrone–Italian nutty nougat confection

Where to get torrone–at a stand or at Ferrara on Grand.

7.  Italian cookies

Where to get Italian cookies–the legendary Ferrara on Grand, La Bella Ferrara on Mulberry, at a stand.

8.  Gelato

Where to get gelato–Ferrara on Grand, Caffe Roma on Broome, Mo on Mulberry.

9.  Pasta

Where to get pasta–Puglia on Hester, Vincent’s on Hester/Mott, Benito One on Mulberry.

10. Italian pastries

Where to get Italian pastries–the legendary Ferrara on Grand Street and Mulberry, La Bella Ferrara on Mulberry, Caffe Palermo on Mulberry, Caffe Roma corner of Mulberry and Broome.

–Dina Di Maio, author of Authentic Italian: The Real Story of Italy’s Food and Its People, available at

***All writings and photographs are the intellectual property of me, unless I’ve noted otherwise, and can only be used with permission. If you are inspired by this blog, please use professional courtesy to note it.***

Two for Tuesday: San Gennaro Cannoli

Last year, I did a Two for Tuesday on San Gennaro cannoli and compared the cannoli from Ferrara and La Ferrara.  This year, I’m featuring cannoli from Caffe Palermo on Mulberry Street and Caffe Roma on Broome Street.  Caffe Palermo has a sign advertising the best cannoli, and it is also the sponsor of the cannoli man.


I thought the cannoli cream and shell were good and had a hint of cinnamon.


Caffe Roma’s cannoli cream was a little less ricotta-y than Caffe Palermo’s and the shell was a bit more cinnamon-y.


My favorite cannoli in Little Italy would probably be a combination of Ferrara’s and La Ferrara’s.

OK, I know it’s two for Tuesday, but I’m going to throw in the frozen cannoli.  I had wanted to try this last year.  It’s a cannoli shell filled with soft serve vanilla, chocolate or swirl ice cream.  I got vanilla.  The soft serve isn’t the best quality, so I would opt for a real cannoli over this.

9th Avenue International Food Festival

Today and tomorrow, Saturday and Sunday, May 18 & 19, 2013, is the Ninth Avenue International Food Festival.  The festival runs from 42nd Street to 57th Street.  As you can see from this pic, the darkening sky didn’t keep festival goers away.  In fact, when it started to pour, they got umbrellas.

9th Ave.
There are all kinds of ethnic foods as well as typical fair foods like zeppole, funnel cakes, arepas, candy apples and grilled corn.

grilled corn

There are booths with Hell’s Kitchen and New York t-shirts and your standard street fair hats, sheets, spices, etc.  If you’re a single lady, there are some cute cops on the festival route, especially at 48th Street.

Some booths of note to check out are Empanada Mama, one of the festival sponsors, which has a few spread throughout the festival:

Empanada Mama

And Thai buns across the street:

Thai buns

I got the 3 for $5, Thai sweet sausages, pulled beef and curry chicken.  All were good.

Thai buns1

Schmackary gave out free samples of its chocolate diablo cookie, a chocolate cookie that brings the heat.


It was really good.

chocolate diablo cookie

Friendship has a booth giving away free samples of cottage cheese.


Poseidon Bakery, one of the festival sponsors, has a table of Greek pastries.

Greek pastries

San Gennaro Festival 2012

The San Gennaro Festival in Little Italy kicked off this past week.

Mulberry Street

This is the 86th year of the feast that celebrates the patron saint of Naples.  September 19 is the feast day of San Gennaro, and there will be a Mass at Most Precious Blood church followed by a procession down Mulberry Street.

Most Precious Blood church

Foods that are traditional at Italian festivals include fried dough called zeppole, served with powdered sugar.  My grandma would make zeppole on St. Joseph’s Day.

Other Italian festival favorites include sausage and pepper sandwiches, clams, and fried calamari:

sausage and peppers

shucking clams

There are a lot of other Italian foods available at the festival, including Italian cookies and pastries, gelato, and pizza as well as fair foods like fried Oreos and funnel cakes.

Italian cookies

St. Joseph’s Day sfinge and sfogliatelle

fresh-cut torrone

struffoli (a Christmas treat)

International Food Truck and Beer Festival

I want to apologize for advertising the International Food Truck and Beer Festival on my blog.  I have the utmost integrity and want my guests to trust and value my opinion on food and food events.  I bought a ticket to this event through for $36 ahead of time.  When I arrived at the event, I saw that the food truck festival was an OPEN event, OPEN to the public, no need for a ticket at all to enter.  I thought my ticket included six vouchers to the food truck festival.  I was told it included two ticket vouchers that could be used for beer, water or food at one booth (choice of sloppy joe, hot dog or taco bowl)–not food from the food trucks.  You were able to buy vouchers there for beer and water.  You could buy food separately at each food truck.  I see absolutely NO value in the $36 I paid, as without a ticket, you could enter the festival.  I thought I was getting $36 worth of vouchers for the food trucks.  When I got there, they told me that there were different tickets with different names like International and Five Oceans.  International was $36 and Five Oceans was $40 and with the Five Oceans, you get six food vouchers to the sorry food booth with sloppy joes, hot dogs and taco bowls, none of which looked appetizing.  (Also, if you chose the taco bowl, you could either get lettuce or rice, not both. )  I used my tickets on bottles of water.  I cannot, in good conscience, recommend buying a ticket to this event.  If you want to visit the food trucks at South Street Seaport, you can do so for free without a ticket and purchase what you want individually from each truck.

Bastille Day NYC

Bastille Day cookies from Bel Ami Cafe

I took a walk on E. 60th Street for NYC’s Bastille Day festival.  This is one of the most congested street festivals I’ve been to in the city, but worth going to for the Francophile.  Rizzoli books had a stand with French books.  There were French cards and postcards, French-speaking health professionals, tourism booths on France and Quebec, French grocery items, French music, and of course, French food like macarons, croissants, tarts and caneles, like these by Celine.


Battle of the Borough’s FDNY Cook-off at the Intrepid Today

Battle of the Borough’s FDNY Cook-off is today from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Intrepid Museum.  Members from each of the city’s boroughs will create dishes for the cook-off as part of the Museum’s Firefighter Appreciation Weekend.

Taste of Times Square 2012

Tonight is Taste of Times Square.  From 5-9 pm, 46th street between Broadway and 9th Avenue will host an outdoor food and music fest celebrating the area.  Participating restaurants include Barbetta, John’s Pizzeria, Junior’s Restaurant, Le Rivage, Toloache, Firebird Russian Restaurant, Joe Allen Restaurant, Becco and more.  Tickets are $1 each, and most dishes cost between $2-$6.  For more info, click here.