The Mile Square has a few major festivals and feasts that come every year. There are two Italian festivals, one celebrating Saint Ann, who is the namesake of one of the large churches in Hoboken. There is another festival that is mainly an Italian Cultural Festival with music, food and cannoli galore. The other main festival that invades Hoboken, is the Arts and Music Festival, which occurs twice a year. This multidimensional festival just celebrates culture and community.
Not only do these festivals bring Hoboken and its neighboring residents together, they are great platforms for food. Each festival is flooded with street food vendors and booths, representing a large array of cultures and cuisines. Many restaurants and companies rent the booths for more exposure and involvement in the community. Just like the Hudson County Restaurant Week celebrations, these feasts and festivals are a great way to become known throughout the city and the county, as well as establishing their brand as a staple in food and festivals.
The food ranges from Latin foods, like rice and beans, pork and empanadas, to Italian, like sausage and peppers, pizzas and zeppoles. The lists go on and on; kebab, gyro, sandwiches, corn, drinks and other snacks. There are even fun carnival and festive food treats that are so hard to find unless visiting one. There are butterfly fries— crisp, golden and winged; kettle corn—sweet and salty, crunch candy; funnel cakes—fried dough, light but crunchy and dusted with sugar; and fried oreos—fried chocolate cookies until the icing in the middle oozes.
All the festivals in Hoboken generally have many of the same vendors that come year to year, almost religiously. And the residents come every year like a pilgrimage for these street vendors. Lines and lines, and baited breath with anticipation come around before each celebration, hoping that the favorites would come again this time.
Some of the cult classics are what we Hobokenites do not typically see all the time nor at such volume, making the fests a treat worth the cash and full bellies. Unfortunately, these treats on the street during these festivals have highly inflated prices, but the novelty tends to make up for it, especially for these most sought after favorites. These generally include, the mozzarepa and even the famous zeppoles.
These festival treats are some of my personal favorites; these are the things I dive out of my bed for at the end of the summer and the beginning of spring; these are worth every cent I spend on them. Mozzarepa. Mozzarepas come hot and crunchy, gooey, sweet and savory. They are a take off of the Latin/ Central American arepa, which is a corn cake made from a corn flour. These mozzarepas are much sweeter than other arepas I have tasted of the Colombian vein. They are sweet and sticky, almost like cornbread pancakes stuffed with a heavy dose of mozzarella cheese, which melts on the flat top. The sweetness of the corn cakes sears creating a browned and crispy outer layer, which meets and melds nicely with the somewhat salty cheese. A bite of a mozzaprepa is like a grilled cheese sandwich, only one people line up for every time these festivals come to town.
The Saint Ann’s festival down 7th street in the back end of Hoboken, celebrates Saint Ann the patron saint of the church, but also boasts the best zeppoles and longest line for them out of all the festivals. Zeppoles are the equivalent of Itlian doughnuts; fried dough smothered in powdered sugar and grease. They are almost like beignets; floating to the top of the hot oil once the aerated dough is cooked. The outside of the zeppole is crisp, a shell protecting the soft, fluffy, doughy, delicious inside. On its own the pillowy fried dough is not terribly sweet, but what makes the treat delicious and cavity inducing, is the lavish amount of powdered sugar that gets thrown in the paper bag along with the hot dough balls. Zeppoles make appearences at every feast and festival, but those at Saint Ann’s are the most sought after and gratifying because some of the proceeds go to the old church that sponsors the annual feast. It feels like this vendor, these ladies and the teens that help out, maintain the tradition.
On top of these favorites, there are so many other culinary options, and each year the roster grows. There is more exposure, larger attendance, and more to see, why wouldn’t you want to be a part of an expanding event.
The festivities are not only about the fried food and the delicious treats, but they also serve as a community builder. They are spaces where many different kinds of people convene to enjoy what the area has to offer in terms of food, art, music and other entertainments.
During the Arts and Music festival the scents of the foods cooking at the vendor booths mingle with the sounds of music in the air. And standstills are caused not only by pork on a stick or buttery ears of corn, but also by the art of locals in the various stalls that line Washington Street. The Arts and Music Festival is an effort by City Hall and the Hoboken Cultural Affairs to kind of expose all the diversity of the arts that are alive in Hoboken, whether it is painting, or poetry, music or clothing, this festival has a little bit of everything. It is a great way for those not necessarily involved in the arts, to see what that community is doing in Hoboken and the wider area. On top of it all, it is a great way to get out of the house on a Sunday, get some culture and food in.
Both Italian centered feasts have games and activities that kids and adults can participate in—games, arts and crafts, and rides. These too are not only about the food, but about the culture. The marriage of Italian and American, and how that has its own culture, music and cuisine, reminiscent of home, but at the same time something new and comforting. There is always live music, crooners singing the tunes of another time and divas articulating in Italian, keeping the roots. Droves come for the activities, but the food is also what seems to be the most distracting, from the sizzling of various sausage and pepper stands, to the hot fried dough and original soda flavors to the over priced fresh squeezed lemonade. These are moments where culture and lifestyles are shared through music and most importantly, food.
Food may be a unifier for the main celebrations that take over Hoboken’s streets through out the warmer parts of the year, but there is something deeper and more profound than just the meat on a stick. There is a sense of community and recognition of all the great things and people that flock to Hoboken; the disparate tastes, sounds and sights.