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Eat and Drink

San Gennaro Festival: Iconic eats to celebrate the feast

The San Gennaro Festival, which takes place Sept. 13 to 23, celebrates the culture of Italian immigrants with parades, religious processions and (of course) plenty of food.

The celebration, now in its 92nd year, is hosted by the Society of San Gennaro, a nonprofit organization that supports early Italian immigrant culture and faith. The feast will feature live music, plus annual cannoli-eating and meatball-eating competitions.

Vendors representing local Italian restaurants and bakeries are always in attendance, lining the streets of Little Italy in Manhattan with plenty of delicious bites to choose from.

“Basically any kind of Italian food there is, you’ll find it at the feast," said John Fratta, a longtime board member of the Society of San Gennaro, whose great-grandfather was the group's first president.

You can’t go wrong with anything offered at the festival, but we've rounded up the dishes that should top your list when you head to Mulberry Street.

Cannoli

Perhaps the most iconic treat to enjoy at
Photo Credit: Getty Images / Mario Tama

Perhaps the most iconic treat to enjoy at San Gennaro is this Italian dessert. Cream-filled to perfection, cannoli will be everywhere at the festival -- including the competitive eating contest held on Sept. 14.

For an original recipe to this classic treat, head to Ferrara Bakery and Café at 195 Grand St., serving cannoli in Little Italy since 1892, or the cannoli contest's sponsor, Caffe Palermo (148 Mulberry St.), which opened in 1973. Palermo's owner, John Delutro, will be handing out free mini cannoli treats to visitors during the contest.

Torrone

Torrone candy is one of the traditional specialties
Photo Credit: iStock

Torrone candy is one of the traditional specialties you can still find at the feast, if you know where to look. The Fratta family (Danny and John Fratta) have been setting up shop at the corner of Mulberry and Grand streets during the feast for at least the last 88 years. While the treats they serve at each of their stands has changed over the years, Danny Fratta, 38, says he still sells torrone candy, just as his great-grandmother Antoinette Sabatino did many years ago.

"We are one of the only stands left to sell torrone, an Italian nougat candy that's hard to find these days. You chop it with a hammer and a knife," he explains. The specialty, made of sugar, egg whites and honey, is often stuffed with almonds, pistachios or other mixed nuts. "That's something really rare that you really don't see anymore at the feast that we keep."

Pasta (any pasta)

Get your carb fix by the plate at
Photo Credit: Grotta Azzurra

Get your carb fix by the plate at the festival, where multiple vendors will be dishing out their pasta specialties street-side. Whether it's frutta di mare (like this dish from Grotta Azzurra) or a classic Bolognese, you'll be able to find the perfect pasta preparation for you. Lombardi's (32 Spring St.), Umbertos Clam House (132 Mulberry St.) and Capri (145 Mulberry St.) are among the notable spots that'll be serving up dishes during the feast.

Cheese (specifically mozzarella)

Nothing's quite as perfect as fresh, homemade mozzarella,
Photo Credit: DiPalo's

Nothing's quite as perfect as fresh, homemade mozzarella, and vendors at San Gennaro will be providing guests with this delicious cheese. Head to the DiPalo's stand at the fest, where their fresh mozzarella and other cheese varieties have been wowing New Yorkers since 1925.

Tony Danza's Alleva Dairy, est. 1892, also sets up a booth on Mulberry Street where you can try multiple cheese varieties, plus sausage and peppers.

Calzone

Give pizza's ugly stepbrother a chance at this
Photo Credit: iStock

Give pizza's ugly stepbrother a chance at this year's festival. The calzone's doughy interior is stuffed with ricotta and other fillings; sometimes it's baked, other times fried.

Meatballs

Meatballs don't always have to be served on
Photo Credit: Getty Images / Bryan Bedder / Stringer

Meatballs don't always have to be served on a plate of spaghetti. Vendors will be whipping up thousands of this Italian staple for festival-goers to enjoy.

Sausage and peppers

The smell of this quintessential Italian-American dish hits
Photo Credit: Les Schecter

The smell of this quintessential Italian-American dish hits you as soon as you turn on to Mulberry Street, where vendors are frying their sausages, peppers and onions on expansive griddles. Succumb to your taste for a greasy sandwich stuffed with all that grilled goodness.

Anything fried

Fried dishes are a must at any street
Photo Credit: iStock

Fried dishes are a must at any street festival. The specialties at San Gennaro include mozzarella sticks, arancini, or rice balls, and zeppoles (deep fried dough topped with powdered sugar).

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