The greatest cities in the United States boast melting pots of cultures, which evolved from wave after wave of immigrants calling US soil their new home. What do I think is the best part about these melting pots? The food (and people, too)! In Boston, there is a concentrated area of Italian Americans that would be called “Little Italy” in other cities, but is known in Boston as the “North End.” There are tiny little shops, many of which have been passed on from generation to generation, all along the narrow, winding streets of the North End.
I was fortunate to spend the coldest winter day in Boston walking and eating my way through Boston’s Italian American mecca with my husband, his family and close family friends on Michele Topor’s Boston Food Tour.
We started our tour at a Panetteria, or small bread bakery. There was a tiny little alleyway, which led to a single door, which led down a narrow staircase, to the panetteria counter! We all purchased a loaf of bread – our bread of choice had prosciutto inside!
We then made our way to Bricco Salumeria and Pasta Shop, where we sampled olives, balsamic vinegar, saba, olive oils, prosciutto, and cheeses.
We made our way through the winding streets to an authentic Italian pastry shop, Maria’s Pastry Shop. It was old school Italian, with the best cannoli I have ever had (and, Father, Son & Holy Spirit, I am not even a big cannoli fan)! Please note, if you ever want to experience good cannoli, with a crunchy fried dough shell and a sweet cream or ricotta filling, you better go somewhere where they fill the shells to order! I didn’t photograph them, but Maria makes incredible marzipan, sfogliatelle and lobster tails (the pastries, not the crustaceans).
We enjoyed the sights, smells and tastes inside of Monica’s Mercato and Salumeria. The shop is family owned, as Monica’s son told us during our visit while he pointed to photos of his mother that adorned the walls. “My mother taught me everything I know about cooking and food. I started my first food shop/restaurant when I was 16 and just kept working from there to where I am now.” My husband commented that if he lived in Boston’s North End, he would eat an Italian sub a day, every day, from Monica’s. There is also a really compact Mercato featuring pizza downstairs, which is also where they make all the bread for the upstairs Mercato (Notice the wall made out of wine corks in the background. Wouldn’t that be a fun endeavor to take on with friends? “Ok, team, now this is going to be hard work, but we need to drink a few hundred bottles of wine this year so I can start the wine cork wall. Ready, set, go!”)
At the fresh produce market, I learned the difference between a male and female eggplant. (Look for the one with a dot on the bottom, not a wide flat line. The eggplant with the dot is a male and will have less seeds, thus being better for Italian American dishes such as Eggplant Parmesan). We also visited a wonderful wine and liquor store, an incredible coffee, spice and herb store and learned so much more. This little post does not even scratch the surface on the shops and restaurants that fill the North End. I hope that some day you will go to the North End yourself and experience the same lovely food tour my family enjoyed!