In the summertime, New York City is filled with street fairs — big ones, small ones, fancy ones, cheap ones, official ones, and even ones that may seem a little random! My personal favourites are the Italian street fairs — and no, I don’t mean San Gennaro (it’s a great festival in Little Italy, but it’s extremely crowded and coincidentally up the block from my house). I’m talking about the fair put on by the local “Italian Social Club.” This “social club” is basically a space for old Italian men to sit, chat, and play cards — it’s pretty amazing! Every summer they put on a week-long street fair to celebrate San Antonio (St. Anthony of Padua), whose feast day is June 13.
Because the fair is literally down the street from my house, naturally, the fair food becomes my dinner for the entire week. In an effort to jazz it up, I always make a point to try to eat a variety of the foods that are on offer. If you can’t make it down to Astoria, Queens, in June, don’t fret! Pick any Saint Day and you’ll find an Italian street fair somewhere in this city that will have similar food options!
Here are some of my top picks for what you definitely need to eat at a New York City Italian Street Fair; however, I do have a quick disclaimer: expect everything to be deep-fried, fatty, and delicious — you’re not going to find any health food over here!
Are they traditional Venezuelan arepas? Definitely not. If you’re looking for something more traditional, check out Caracas. These MozzArepas consist of two grilled corn patties, filled with mozzarella cheese, and deep-fried. Need I say more?
This booth will either be Puerto Rican, Dominican, Ecuadorian, or all of the above! (Check the flags decorating the entire booth to find out) What I can tell you is that no matter where it’s from, all of these booths will have the same rack of steak cooking over an open fire. The meat is always served on the rare side, with rice, beans, platanos (plantain), more meat (!), or on bread. After you have a taste of Bistec Asado, I promise you’ll be dreaming about it for days!
To enjoy a zeppole at its full potential, you must order one correctly:
Step 1: Ask them for a hot — not warm, but hot — zeppole. Ask for one that’s right out of the deep-fryer. Chances are they’ll tell you to wait.
Step 2: Be amazed as they put your steaming hot, fried dough balls into a paper bag — your whole world will make sense when they dump powdered sugar inside and shake it vigorously.
Step 3: Take your paper bag for a stroll around the fair as you continue to shake it — they’ll still be way too hot to eat, but as you shake the bag the powdered sugar will melt!
Step 4: Once you can actually touch the little beauties, rip open the bag and enjoy!
Step 5: After devouring the entire bag in one sitting, dust yourself off, and maybe go back for seconds?
If you’re looking for a different deep-fried treat, there’s always the deep-fried Oreos…
If piña coladas are your thing, you’ll be happy to know that there’s a stand that does refills. If you’re like me and you find that a Piña Colada is just way too much sugar, make your way to the lemonade stand. There’s always a stand that squeezes fresh lemons, and it’s a refreshing way to cleanse your palate in between sampling all the food!
While my Italian grandfather is a health nut, he does allow himself to indulge once a year — on sausage and peppers! Think of the vibrant colours of the peppers and perfectly seasoned meat on a bun. That’s it. That’s all you need to know. It’s that good.
This is definitely my personal favourite. Grilled corn is easy to grab as you pass through the fair, and it’s easy to eat on the go as well (as us New Yorkers like to do!). Personally, I like mine plain, as I like the texture and can taste the flavour of the grill better, but you can get it salted or with butter if you prefer it that way.
Whether you decide to come for the food, or stay for the live (though somewhat cheesy) music put on by retired servicemen bands playing traditional Italian tunes, the entertainment, the jewellery and handmade goods, or the people watching, you’ll be sure to leave happy, content, and with a belly full of good eats!