While a band plays nearby, 125 Italian men lift a five-story, six-ton tall statue and parade it around, yelling at each other, just as they do every year. Welcome to the 127th annual Giglio Feast.
Held at North 8th and Havermeyer Street in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, the festival began under “Nolani” immigrants from Italy, who first settled in Brooklyn in the 1880s. Since then, the event, a sort of combination of carnival and street food gathering, has grown to maintain Italian heritage and the Church; the Giglio Feast is the festival’s attempt to show the community’s devotion to its saints. (Giglio, by the way, is Italian for lily.) The dedication to culture and heritage is impressive, and so is the quality of the food.
This is an Italian street fair done right, and you have until Sunday to experience it — so hurry up!
You might head first to Lou’s Clam Bar and Fried Seafood, which has been serving the festival for over 20 years. The place specializes in local raw clams and oysters, and here, you’ll have the mollusks shucked in front of you and served on paper plates. “Every year you gotta throw down a bunch of the raw clams,” one feast regular said. “And if seafood isn’t your thing, you can load up heavy on the braciole with peppers.”
More than four stands specialize in sausage (hot or sweet) with peppers and onions. Those in the know always order the braciole pork stuffed with broccoli rabe and seasonings.
Once you get a sweet tooth, you’ll have myriad sweet treats to choose from. Like the zeppole, which is “like funnel cake’s more attractive cousin,” per my friend Eric. These fried doughy puffs are littered with powdered sugar, and they come both plain and stuffed with cannoli filling.
One of the key reasons for the festival is to raise money for the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, the primary longtime sponsor of the event. Located right in the middle of the busy fair, the church is a festival meeting place for old neighborhood regulars to get together and celebrate their friendships and culture. “The thing is that even long after our neighborhood is gone, this festival will still be here,” said one attendee. In fact, many of the statue lifters and vendors now live outside of Brooklyn, but the festival lives on.
For more information visit the festival’s website.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 17, 2014