The Belmont section of the Bronx, called simply “Arthur Avenue,” is the most intact Little Italy in the United States. Within six square blocks you’ll find over two dozen family-owned Italian food shops and restaurants, many of which are over 100 years old. If you’re an Italian food lover, welcome to paradiso.
Every day five different delis make their own hand-pulled mozzarella. Each one is excellent. There are three bread bakeries to which loyalties are fierce. Butcher shops and fish markets display the best of what’s available that day, leaving little to the imagination because shoppers here demand the highest quality.
What keeps people coming back, both in front of and behind the counter? Love, tradition and loyalty are all good answers, but a recent discovery in the archives of the Bronx Historical Society revealed something more tradition and heritage based. While the official Bronx history books say Belmont was built on land donated by a Gilded Age heiress and named for President Chester Allen Arthur, maps, real estate and tax records reveal this is mere legend.
What is true is that in the early 1900s real estate developers marketed what was still a rural hinterland of New York City to newly arrived Italian immigrants who lived in East Harlem tenements. They called the area “the Italian colonies,” and emphasized that in the Bronx there was clean air and land to plant your own garden. A wealthy Italian immigrant named Pietro Cinelli developed new apartment houses, built his own palazzo right on Arthur Avenue, and even petitioned the Archdiocese of New York to build a Catholic Church for his fellow immigrants. From the very beginning, Belmont was an Italian villaggio in the Bronx. Well over one hundred years later, Arthur Avenue stills draw strength from its deep Italian roots.
Special thanks to Danielle Oteri for this post and the mouth-watering photographs; she is the founder of Arthur Avenue Food Tours. Danielle’s grandparents immigrated here in 1918 and opened a butcher shop on Arthur Avenue. Whether you live in the NYC area or plan to visit soon, one of her yummy food crawls is a must.
The markets of Sicily are brimming with the fish from the nearby seas, seasonal fruits and vegetables from orchards and fields just kilometers away, and spices from around the globe. Choruses from fish and meat vendors fill your ears; your eyes are inspired by colorful canopies shading a rainbow of purple eggplant, green zucchini, and canary-yellow melons; and your nose inhales the scents of cow and sheep cheeses seasoned with saffron, black pepper and olives. While you walk through the markets you can feast on a bounty of hand-held dishes that will challenge your palate: arancine (rice balls jammed with beef ragu and caciocavallo cheese), panelle (fried chickpea fritters), pane ca meusa (a bun stuffed with spleen and lung), stighiola (grilled, marinated sheep or goat entrails wrapped around green onions and fresh parsley), cazzilli (fried potato croquettes with mint), pastella (fried vegetables, sardines, and more), cannoli filled with sweet sheep’s milk ricotta, and brioche bursting with your favorite flavor of gelato.
From Palermo to Catania, from Trapani to Siracusa, Sicily not only offers travelers 3000 years of human history and sweeping landscapes but also a variety of tantalizing aromas, flavors and textures that will inspire your taste buds and lift your spirit.
Grazie Mille to Allison Scola, founder and curator of Experience Sicily for this appetizing post.
Ask yourself this: have you ever met anyone who really doesn’t like, if not love, Italian food? I bet you haven’t. So, just why is it that Italian cuisine has such universal appeal? Part of it is its endless diversity, with every region, town or even famiglia having its own distinctive style, resulting in a whole world of food within the “Boot.”
While Italian cuisine offers a dazzling kaleidoscope of variations, a couple of key qualities tie it all together: an emphasis on fresh, local, seasonal ingredients, and simply allowing quality ingredients to speak for themselves without fuss or frilly excess . . . something Americans have come to embrace more and more over the years. Italy is blessed with bountiful fruits and vegetables so it’s not surprising that Italians roll their eyes at the notion of “farm to table” being a new idea; it has always been at the heart of Italy’s culinary traditions. Plus, one shouldn’t underestimate that special “X” factor, best characterized as the alchemical addition of passione and amore.