This time of year, the antique alleyways of Boston’s North End are continuously abuzz with the steady influx of tourists seeking the historic sites affiliated with Paul Revere and his revolutionary ride, and an endless line up of weekend feasts, held by the neighborhood’s proud Italian American community. While the history tucked away in the North End’s nooks and crannies is indeed fascinating, it’s the Italian heritage that is the heart and soul of this part of town, and will make you want grab an espresso, brave the long lunch lines at Galleria Umberto, and join a frenzied festival procession. When searching for a taste of that dolce vita, here are some ways that you can savor some of that unique flavor!
1.Attending a North End Feast-- Whether it’s the colorful processions of the Feast of St. Anthony, or the Fisherman’s Feast and its grand Flight of the Angel ceremony, the North End Feasts are the some of the most colorful celebrations of our city and it’s Italian American community--a feast for all of the senses, with the sounds of marching bands belting out traditional classics from the old country, the sights of an “angel” drifting down from the sky as ticker-tape is blasted from cannons, and the smells of everything from arancini doused in marinara sauce, crispy calamari, and sausage and peppers sizzling at one of the many festival food stalls.
2.The Sweet Do-Nothing-- Italians have this expression, "dolce-fa-niente": “the sweet do-nothing”. It’s a philosophy that survives up in the North End, and hearkens back to a slower pace of life--a philosophy that prioritizes taking time to sip your espresso inside a breezy cafe or outside on a bench, with a newspaper (or a cannolo from Mike's or Modern) in your other hand; or making an evening passeggiata around the neighborhood as you watch the rest of the world go by. At times, walking through the North End feels like stumbling out of Boston and into a small coastal community in Sicily, where the signore shuffle down the road to the markets while signori puff cigars outside of the pasticcerie (pastry shops), giving out a gravelly “buon giorno!” to passers by--it’s these signs that show that, amidst the fast-paced development, massive influx of tourists, and recent spike in student-residents, this enclave has kept its identity largely intact.
3.Tasting Tradition--While you’re soaking up some of that festive atmosphere, don’t forget to grab something to take home with you! If you’re visiting for a short time, head to Monica’s Mercato or the Salumeria Italiana for some delicious panini with mozzarella, tomato and basil, prosciutto, Italian tonno (tuna packed in olive oil), some truffle-laced pecorino cheese, some spicy Nduja Calabrese (chili-sausage spread from Calabria), and all of the olives in the world. There probably won’t be any insalata di polpi (octopus salad) left, because I finished it off. Sorry! Bring home some of the many regional specialties--all shapes of imported pastas, pistachios, almonds, and capers from Sicily, chestnut flour from the north, and some of the finest olive oils and syrupy aged aceto balsamico (vinegar) you can find. Wine lovers looking to pair something with their provisions can head over to Hanover Street, to visit the awesome oenophiles over at The Wine Bottega. Serious about their grape juice--but not pretentious--these folks have sought out some of the most interesting (and mostly biodynamic, all-natural) producers of wine from all over Italy (and beyond), and will really change the way you see the stunning world of Italian wines, far beyond Chianti and Pinot Grigio (but don’t worry--they carry great versions of these classics too).