At the end of every summer on Arthur Avenue in the Belmont area of the Bronx, a festival is held in celebration of the Italian holiday Ferragosto. During the festival, thousands of people descend upon the streets of the neighborhood to partake in Italian culture and heritage through the music and the food.
Belmont, NYC’s Real Little Italy, and Arthur Avenue
When people think about Little Italy in New York City, they generally think about the neighborhood near SoHo in downtown Manhattan. While it is true that many years ago the area was flourishing with thousands of Italians and real Italian food (such as places like Alleva, the oldest cheese shop in America) it is not the case today; the majority of the businesses in the area now cater to tourists and is the neighborhood is inhabited largely by Chinese immigrants and people of other nationalities.
The Belmont neighborhood of the Bronx
When a large influx of Italians started arriving to New York in the mid- to late-1800’s, the residents who were already in the city started to disperse and move to other neighborhoods in areas such as Brooklyn, East Harlem, New Jersey, and the Bronx.
The Italians who migrated to the Belmont area of the Bronx first moved there to assist in building the nearby Bronx Zoo in the late 19th century. Many decided to remain in the area after easy access to Manhattan was made available with the opening of the Third Avenue train line. Thousands of the families of the original migrators still reside in Belmont today and still have deep roots and connections to Italy.
Arthur Avenue is one of the major streets in the neighborhood that is well known for being home to numerous restaurants, bakeries, cheese shops, and both the famous Arthur Avenue Market and the more famous Teitel Brothers grocery store, where you can get a large selection of authentic Italian foods.
Ferragosto is an Italian holiday that is held throughout the month of August (with the most important date being August 15). It is a time when Italians escape from their cities, shut down their businesses for a few weeks, and head to the beaches for some much needed rest and relaxation.
When I visited Italy in late August (which I would suggest NOT doing), a lot of the restaurants that I wanted to visit were closed due to Ferragosto. While I was in Rome, many of the places that I had in mind to visit had signs up saying that they would be returning in September; I also experienced this in Pisa and a little bit in Milan. When I visited Cinque Terre on the coast of Italy, there was no shortage of food, since that is where the Italians headed. That trip taught me an important lesson: if you do decide to make a trip to Italy in August during the holiday season, head straight to the coast where you will not only find food, but you will also find the Italians.
Ferragosto on Arthur Avenue
To celebrate the holiday of Ferragosto which a very important part of Italian culture, a festival is put on in the Belmont neighborhood. Thousands of people flock to the streets to listen to Italian music, talk to their friends and neighbors, meet new people, and one of the best things of all: eat Italian food.