You can miss most of New York’s street fairs but you can’t miss this one.
This coming weekend is the 9th Ave. Food Fair. When I lived in New York it was my favorite festival. The reason is that it is truly an international event. There are no prerequisites. You don't have to be Irish, or Puerto Rican or Gay. It is just a grand mixture of New Yorkers having a good time. And so it is a mirror of what America can be, and is in some enlightened minds and enlightened counties.
I lived on the corner of 9th Aveune and 57th Street so when the horns started honking I knew the barricade was up and the fair had begun.
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Saturday May 15 – Sunday May 16 (9:30am – 6:30pm)
The Ninth Avenue International Food Festival in May has become a favorite weekend for New Yorkers since it began in 1973. From 37th Street to 57th Street, Ninth Avenue closes to cars and the festival takes over. More than a million people visit the festival each year. It’s unique and amazing, celebrating the joys of ethnicity through food, entertainment and every kind of street fair stall.
Most street fairs in New York all look the same but this one stands out. The food is the big draw, but the festival is a fabulous expression of the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood – teeming with ethnic food shops and fine restaurants and offering an eclectic global smorgasbord of national and regional foods. Outside venders participate as well, but the Ninth Avenue merchants and restaurants and the community organizations of Hell’s Kitchen are out in all their neighborhood glory.
Come for Argentinian, Brazilian, Cajun, Chinese, Cuban, Dominican, Ethiopian, French, German, Greek, Haitian, Indian, Indonesian, Irish, Italian, Japanese, Mexican, Moroccan, Pakistani, Polish, Puerto Rican, Peruvian, Senegalese, Sicilian, Southern, Spanish, Thai, Trinidadian, Turkish, Ukrainian and Vietnamese food – and more!
Working up from the south end of Ninth Avenue, you will be enticed by:
chorizo sandwiches – from Esposito Pork Shop, at 38th
the best sausage and pepper hero ever – from Giovanni Esposito & Sons at 38th
clams and oysters on the half shell at the seafood stands (Central Fish and Sea Breeze) around 38th Street
soupy, spicy gumbos, crab cakes and chicken curry – from Chantale’s Cajun Kitchen near 38th
suckling pig and quail stuffed with fresh Greek spices and feta cheese – from Ninth Avenue International Foods, near 40th
peppery crisp squid – from Siam Grill, near 42nd
iced coffee and iced cappuccino – from the Empire Coffee & Tea Company near 42nd
bourbon ham sandwiches, Texas chili with corn bread, mango barbecue wings and macaroni and cheese – from Good And Plenty To Go, at 43rd
carrot cake and apple pie – from the Little Pie Company at 43rd
chicken salad made with corn, black beans and jicama, and barbecued pork tostadas – from Zuni, at 43rd
meatball hero – at The Holy Cross church stand on 43rd
corn fritters gently flavored with shrimp, crisp spring rolls and nasi goreng – from Bali Nusa Indah, near 45th
spanakopita and tiropita surrounded by the most delicate phyllo pastry that you will ever find, and then baklava or strudel – from Poseidon Greek Bakery, near 45th
breads, brownies, cookies and cinnamon-raisin, garlic, rosemary or black olive fresh bread twists – from Amy’s Bread, near 47th
jambalaya – from Delta Grill at 48th
pork in mole sauce, wrapped in a corn tortilla – from Tacocina at 49th
huge, inexpensive portions of Brazilian foods like bolinho bacalhau, a fried salt-cod casserole – at Rice ‘N’ Beans, near 50th
Greek barbeque, octopus, lamb and chicken souvlaki – from Uncle Nick’s, near 50th Street
pad thai, dumplings – from Wondee Siam, at 54th
roast pork – at Ned Kelly’s bar on 55th
And somewhere along the way you will also come across:
alligator, shark, lobster, shrimp and catfish nuggets
burritos, jerk chicken and curried chicken
cheescakes – from Martha Francis
fried elephant ears
full pigs rotating on spickets over an open fire
grilled corn on the cob
kokoretsi (lamb livers and sweetbreads wrapped in intestines)
soft shell crab
Even at the Ninth Avenue Food Festival, there are the standards – mozzarepas, zeppolis, funnel cakes, and egg creams – but this is one street fair where they are outnumbered by fabulous foods that you actually don’t see at other fairs.
There will be a stage with live entertainment of international music and dance at 55th Street on Sunday. You will see Egyptian belly dancing, German folk dancing, and Arabian scarf dancing, Midori & Chad performing Lindy Hop, Charleston, Peabody, Blues and Salsa routines, the New York Celtic Dancers sharing the traditional dances and music of Scotland – plus other performers and many local bands.
There are also over 200 street fair vendors selling inexpensive clothes, sunglasses, accessories and socks. If you like jewelry, there are always rings, bracelets, earrings, and pendants available. You’ll also find the Hell’s Kitchen Flea Market vendors selling their various wares down 39th Street.
Bring a big appetite, wear comfortable shoes and loose-fitting clothes. If you need to offset your gluttony-guilt, remember: the Ninth Avenue Food Festival is held to raise money for the community groups in Hell’s Kitchen.
The festival takes place each year the weekend after Mother’s Day. There is no admission fee and the festival extends from 37th street to 57th street. It starts at 9:30 am and ends at 6:30 pm. You can miss most of New York’s street fairs but you can’t miss this one.