Anyone Up For Arepas At the Italian Festival?

I’ve never been ashamed to admit that I relish in dingy activities. One of my favorite parts about living in New England in the autumn is going to the Big E. This is a festival that celebrates all the area has to offer by carving a giant butter sculpture every year and offering fried Kool-Aid as a refreshment. Anywhere that has carnies, Ferris wheels that may or may not be falling apart, and an array of fanny-pack-wearing customers sounds like a good time to me. Which is why I was so excited to hear about the Feast of San Genarro in Little Italy, running until this Sunday, September 25th.

What you’ll find there: an onslaught of things that are generally not Italian. There are more than twenty fried Oreo vendors over the course of the eight-block stretch. Last time I checked, no one was frying Oreos during the Feast of the Seven Fishes held on Christmas Eve. I don’t think Italy is a hot spot for hot dogs, peace pipes, or shirts that says KILL ME, MY HUSBAND’S A GUIDO, either.

Sideshows have moved from Coney Island to Mulberry Street with giant advertisements for the Headless Woman and the Man-Eating Snake. It added to the experience, I think, to see a line of about 50 people waiting to see a two-headed cow right next to a line of about 50 people waiting to get a Best In The World Philly Cheesesteak.

This festival is advertised as an authentic experience when really, it is filled with what seems like a hundred vendors yelling at you to buy their sausage and peppers. Everywhere you turn there’s someone trying to scam you into winning a giant Rastafarian banana—which, by the way, is how my boyfriend and his roommate were suckered into losing $157 dollars last year—and it can start to make you feel like a bit of a tourist.

There are moments of redemption to be found, though, amongst the pot-bellied hecklers of balloon-and-dart games. I had some really funky pickles from the Pickle Me Pete cart: one tasted like feety garbage (the horseradish), one made me re-think my existence in the aftermath (the ridiculously spicy), and one was supremely brined and garlicky (the half-sour).

There is also the teaming up of The Breslin, The Spotted Pig, and The John Dory restaurants into one super-vendor. I had the pork tonata, which was worth the whole trip.  The Village Voice articulates the deliciousness in their account of the new ways of the festival.

All in all, as a born-and-raised Italian American, I did not feel any more connected to my heritage than when I see someone cooking spaghetti. In fact, I may have more of a relationship with the pasta. I did, however, get hours of free entertainment. If you’re in the area, it’s definitely worth a walk-through. You’re likely to see people that you wouldn’t ordinarily on the streets of Lower Manhattan. It can be nice to take a break from the crazy and revel in the grossness of what could possibly be in the falafel that makes it Sicilian. For next year’s Festival agenda, I would like to offer my recommendation of a Snookie butter sculpture, just to take distasteful to a whole new level.


Gabrielle Campagnano (Opinion Editor)’s favorite word is communication. She is described by close friends (and enemies) as “diligent,” “an appreciator of words,” “jolly,” “hottest monogomist” and “moogle”. Although she concentrates in Poetry at Sarah Lawrence, you can talk to her about intelli-rap and Szechuan peppercorns. Post-grad, Gabrielle plans on readying the next generation of artists (ages 5-10) to take on the world with mindfulness and sensitivity.

1 Comment

  • Reply September 28, 2011

    Italian Mother

    You haven’t seen tacky reach new heights until you see a family bring a cooler on board a bus and then unload the salami and sausage and pepper sandwiches while riding. The smell and noise is overwhelming. Enjoyed the article!

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