Some of the best Italian eats in the city can be found during the 11-day Feast of San Gennaro on the streets of Little Italy.
The feast lives up to its name with a menu of incredible Italian delicacies that are almost impossible for visitors to pass up. But it’s more than just about the food; the festival is a time-honored tradition with a rich history.
Now in its 97th year, the feast celebrates San Gennaro (AKA Januarius I of Benevento), a martyred priest in Naples who was beheaded during the persecution of Christians by the Roman emperor Diocletian. The feast first came about in 1926 from Italian immigrants living on the Lower East Side, most of whom had roots in Naples.
Marco Lombardi, host of What NY Eats, is a Lower East Side native who grew up just blocks away from where the festival took place. For him, going to the feast is essentially going back to the old neighborhood.
“I feel [the Feast of San Gennaro] gets set apart from everything else. It is the pizza I’ve been going to throughout my entire life since I was a kid,” said Lombardi. “It’s just cool, you see people you haven’t seen in years, the food is delicious and it’s overall a really good vibe. Everybody’s full of positivity.”
Those who stroll through the 11-day festival are bound to find a lineup of Italian classics, including several pasta dishes, meatballs, rice balls and desserts such as cannoli. As time has gone on, the feast has added non-Italian cuisine into the mix, giving the festival more added layers of can’t-miss offerings.
You truly can’t go wrong with any cuisine at the feast, but you’ll always catch Lombardi picking up some zeppoles and fried Oreos. One thing that he says you have to get is the sausage and peppers.
“The sausage and peppers originated on Mulberry Street, they say it was made at the Feast,” said Lombardi. “I don’t know how true that is, but that’s what everybody tells me!”
Though the size of the Feast of San Gennaro has shrunk over the years (the massive festival used to span 30 blocks, now down to 9-10 blocks), it still remains a mainstay in New York City’s food scene. Lombardi hopes that the festival continues to thrive and attract more visitors both near and far.
“It’s going in a really cool direction. The feast holds a lot of weight in New York City during that week,” said Lombardi. “It’s just amazing to see the foot traffic that’s there for the two weeks, which is like 1.5 million people walking to the feast. I think it’s going in a really good direction.”