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Monday, June 27, 2005

Primo Italiano, Stanley Street Festival

In an barely concealed jibe at Sydney's "other" Little Italy, Leichhardt, the recent Primo Italiano festival attempted to adamantly reinforce the reputation of East Sydney's Stanley Street as Sydney's "first" Little Italy. It was in Stanley Street where Italian immigrants first began to cluster socially, gradually building more and more delicatessens, restaurants, bars and cardhouses until the whole street was predominately Italian.

These days most Sydneysiders seem to forgo Stanley Street for Leichhardt or Haberfield though, and this festival was a deliberate attempt to bring back the masses. It was a glorious weekend for it. Early June and the sun was shining, the sky a dazzling azure blue, and even though my stomach had barely recovered from the Campsie Food Festival the day before, I was out and about and hungry for more...

Stanley Street was closed off to traffic enabling market-type stalls to set up down the middle of the road. I got to the festival early. This photo was taken at 10.45am, but an hour later the crowds were ten-deep.

Bertoni's Deli is a family-run business based in Balmain, with a commitment to sharing homestyle Italian cooking based on the proud traditions of their mamma Maria and papa Alfonso.

Dried pastas and sauces

Cannoli filled with chocolate, ricotta and vanilla creams.

Homemade amaretto biscuits.

Italian-style donuts sandwiched with Nutella (chocolate hazelnut spread).

Formaggi Ocello is a regular at both Pyrmont Growers Markets and Fox Studios. Even so, their cheeses never fail to impress.

Did someone order a giant bowl of spaghetti?

Gorgeous creamy gorgonzola.

Offering scented olive oil soaps.

Juicy blood oranges.

The centrepiece of the festival was this giant art installation fountain covered with layers of Mediterranean vegetables. Ok, so everything was plastic and in a way it was tacky, but it certainly livened up the place and the fact it was actually pumping water was impressive too.

Street entertainers.

Pizza pizza.
The pizza seller actually posed the pizza for me (unasked) as I snapped photos. Don't you adore intuitive photography assistants?

Taking photos is thirsty work. I really really needed this coffee gelato.

Street entertainers with a hapless (but willing) victim. These girls were gorgeous.

This is style, baby.

A woman's work is never done.

The crowds.

A resounding success, although I'm sure the organisers were probably overwhelmed by the number of people who did turn up. Beppi was there to add some hand-waving authenticity, street entertainers kept the kids happy, and the band and singers gave a lively atmosphere. The idea of setting up open-air tables for all the restaurants gave a relaxed piazza-style ambience to the day, and enabled passersby to stickybeak at the dishes being served up too.

A great day out. And a nice showcase of all that multicultural Sydney has to offer.

The first Primo Italiano Stanley Street Festival was held on Sunday 5 June 2005.
There are plans to make this an annual event with the possibility of having a piazza-style market on a more regular basis.

12 comments - Add some comment love

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posted by Helen (AugustusGloop) on 6/27/2005 11:30:00 pm


  • At 6/28/2005 12:41 am, Blogger Lynn said…

    AG, which city do you live in again? Sydney? The food will be another reason to retire in Australia!

  • At 6/28/2005 11:36 am, Blogger Kelly said…

    Yum! The cannoli looks absolutely delicious! And donuts with Nutella - why haven't I thought of that before? ;)

  • At 6/28/2005 1:50 pm, Blogger Chubby Hubby said…

    What a wonderful street fair. Sadly, Singapore is way too hot for displaying food all day and leisurely wandering around tasting it. Very jealous!

  • At 6/28/2005 4:44 pm, Blogger pinkcocoa said…

    Ohh AG, thanks for all those great pics! Damn, i should have made it down to stanley street that day instead of lazing at home >.<
    The nutella donut looks simply stunning and not to forget about your coffee gelato! And yes I love intuitive photography assistant :) I never have any problems when it comes to taking Italian food. The Italians seem very happy when someone wants to snap up a pic of their yummy food.

  • At 6/28/2005 7:06 pm, Blogger Daniel Hatadi said…

    To tell you the truth, I love taking photos of food, but I don't tend to eat alot. This looked like something worth going too, though, and I'd like to say thanks for the photos.

    They made me felt like I was there! :)

  • At 6/28/2005 7:08 pm, Blogger Reid said…

    Hi AG,

    YAY! Cannoli is my favorite. Would you believe that I have a recipe for it that I haven't used just yet. Want me to make some? =P

  • At 6/28/2005 8:10 pm, Blogger Helen (AugustusGloop) said…

    Hi Lynn - Yup Sydney is home sweet home. I definitely have a greater appreciation of the variety, quality and availability of fruit, veg and seafood in Oz.

    Hi BrisKJJ - Alas I was too busy snapping and before I knew it, the cannoli sold out. So did the donuts. They looked very rich but hey, I'd give them a go!

    Hi Chubby Hubby - It was a great way to spend a sunny autumn weekend. But hey Singapore has so many great tropical fruits. And fresh durian too!

    Hi Pinkcocoa - Glad you enjoyed it. And these aren't even half the photos!

    Stanley Street was great, but nevermind there are always plenty of food festivals on the Sydney events calendar. And yes Italians are great. Any culture that adores food as much as I do always wins bonus points.

    Hi Danny Hawaii - Ha. I wish I was similarly afflicted! I didn't actually eat much at the Festival. I find them great people-watching events.

    Glad you enjoyed the photos. I had fun taking them.

    Hi Reid - Fresh cannoli is good. You have a recipe? I don't know if I want you to make it. That'll involve droolworthy photos and much envious gastronomic discomfort on my behalf. Oh, I've probably just convinced you now haven't I? =)

    PS. Are you still on track to head Down Under sometime?

  • At 10/22/2005 9:49 am, Blogger Richard Layman said…

    Since you're into markets, check out the markets section at www.pps.org

    Richard Layman

  • At 10/03/2006 11:58 pm, Blogger Matt said…

    I was very much inspired by your blog and your observations when i was writing a similar article on primo italiano 2006 for a university assignment. Thought i might pass on the article eventhough this blog is very dated ...but to those who read it...please enjoy (Though there are still a fair bit more edits to go through)...

    The Little Italy with a big heart.

    Primo Italiano Stanley Street Festival is part of the Sydney Italian Festival and is organized by the Italian Trade Commission. It celebrates Sydney’s Italian heritage with fine dining, food stores, wine, cars, music and other entertainment. This one day event has something for everyone. Matt writes.

    When the annual Sydney Italian Festival was launched on the eighth of May, Italian fever spread like wildfire across Sydney. The highlight of these celebrations is the Primo Italiano Festival. No other event features a road decorated by red, white and green underwear and T-shirts on washing lines. There is an obvious tinge of Australian wry humor here, and the other attractions on Stanley Street are conservative in comparison. This year’s activities range from fine dining, food stores, wine, music, cars and further entertainment. In other words, the fete is a crash course on what it means to be an Italian, but this is not tedious work. To be fully immersed within a culture it is inevitable that the five senses are taken care of.

    Unpunctuality is the sum result of two problems, namely misjudging the time needed to wake up and the parking of a car. After twenty minutes of driving around East Sydney, it is by fortune that a parking space becomes vacant. Now walking down the hill along Francis Street towards my destination, I regret not arriving earlier at a quarter to one to witness the official opening of the festivities by Primo Italiano ambassador Beppi Polese and the Lord Mayor of Sydney, Clover Moore. It is now a quarter past one as I enter the eastern side of Stanley Street. The chatter of the surging crowds of people, and the band on main stage performing traditional Sicilian music, are a splendid first impression.

    As I assimilate myself into the masses, I notice that several barricades are blocking traffic access in order to clear way for piazza or plaza-type stalls. At the top of each exhibiting store there is a black board chalked with their respective titles in Italian. The aromas coming from different stores enable people to literally follow where their noses lead them. In my case, I am led to “Bill and Toni’s cafe” which sells wine, espresso and Italian bread snacks. Armed with a cup of cappuccino, I march on to the next stop. At ‘Bertoni’s Casalinga’ or the deli, the only recognizable ingredients on the menu are meatballs, ham and cheese. Other dishes on the list include Stuffed Zucchinis, Brochette, and Sicilian-style Plazette. One of the owners, a man in his thirties is telling me that the shop is based in Balmain, and that they have returned to the festival for the third consecutive time to share their family traditions in home-cooking.

    The owner of ‘Formaggi Ocello’ describes a similar story. They have shops at the Pyrmont Growers Markets and the Fox Studies in Sydney and are regulars here at the festival. This year their extensive list of Italy’s famous cheeses fails to include ‘Kraft single slices’ and for a good reason too. On the table there are scrumptious alternatives with names such as ‘Aurricchio’, ‘Acio Do Bosco,’ ‘Pecorino Al Tarrato,’ ‘Bianchetto,’ and ‘Pecorino Toscano.’ Those that are on display come in a variety of sizes and colors, including a black and white spotted slab the size of a pan. The rule here is that no Italian cheese is smaller then a man’s fist unless it is cut.

    There are other stores such as ‘Grima’s farm fresh produce’ and Beppi’s which demonstrate the value owners place on their family names. Beppi’s celebrates its fiftieth year in operation by selling ‘Vitello Tonnato’ or a Veal fillet served with a tuna mayonnaise at the low price of four dollars per plate. Providing for the customers are three young gentlemen with chef hats. No sign of Beppi Polese because of his commitments as the ambassador of the festival.

    Food is not the only product that the vendors are selling. There are other attractions that cater to the remaining four senses, and gender differences. A stand selling quality fragrant olive oil invites women in their forties and fifties to try a moisturizer of their choice. ‘I’ve already got Aloe Vera’ says one Australian woman. ‘I bet they do not smell as peachy as the one they are selling here,’ replies her son in his thirties. On the right the company ‘Italian wheels’ is showcasing a number of expensive cars. Young couples, males and boys congregate around a Fiat Punto, an Alfa 159 and a Brera coupe. Some are opening the doors and inspecting the leather interiors, and others are perturbed after learning about the price tags.

    Walking up the street in search of lunch, there is an urge to remind the owners of the empty Japanese and Thai restaurants that there is an Italian festival on today. “Take a break and eat some lasagna,’ their mammas would say. No time to waste however, as the smell of pasta, pizzas and coffee that lie ahead, re-awake my taste buds.

    The buildings on Stanley Lane are cafes, restaurants or gelato shops. Tables and chairs have been positioned on the road and are meant for an al-fresco dining atmosphere, but have instead created congested walkways. One advantage of this is that passer-bys are able to preview dishes that are being served.

    After having seen tantalizing examples of exotic Mediterranean dishes I settle down onto a seat at Bar Comida café and restaurant. In consultation with the menu however, I decide that typical Italian food is far too irresistible to overlook. I order a Marinara not expecting to wait any longer then fifteen minutes. I make a misjudgment yet again.

    Thirty minutes pass and I am still waiting for my meal. My stomach complains so I resume studying the age old colonial style buildings on the other side of the street. ‘Divino’ is a pallid painted restaurant and similar to many of the buildings here, a fenced balcony protrudes from its second story. A picturesque Italian man with a towel on his left shoulder spreads his hands across the railings and surveys his domain, and the slow decline of the mob. Below a pair of half naked roman soldiers, a woman with traditional Sicilian clothes, an accordion, and other street performers can be spotted wandering around the road, entertaining and taking photos with kids, teenagers, adults and grandparents. Lunch finally arrives and I discover that the food is well worth the wait. The amount of mussels, prawns, octopuses, scallops and shallots in the Marinara is overwhelming. The white wine and Napolitano sauce is delightfully spicy, frothy and authentic. The cost of lunch amounts to thirteen dollars and ninety cents but is well spent.

    It is half past two now and people are discovering that there is an opportunity to join hourly free guided walking tours around Stanley Street. On foot, the group learns about the history of the street’s reputation as the original ‘Little Italy,’ and its continuing rivalry with the ‘other Little Italy’ in Norton Street, Leichhardt. ‘East Sydney….evolved from bush land to a respectable residential area then to a precinct of boarding houses’ says Diane Powell, the co-coordinator for these walks. ‘Stanley Street… [converted into a] simple low-cost café strip following a wave of Italian post-War migrants who settled in the area and opened businesses.’ There is no longer a Diaspora of Italians in Stanley Street today. The population is dispersed, but the street remains defined by its ethnic restaurants and cafes. Similarly, in Norton Street though there is a Festa every April, the public is no longer predominantly Italian, and a multicultural face has surfaced in recent years. Why then are we rejoicing when there is no longer a true Italian community centre in Sydney? And are there really policemen with sirens on top of their heads and lavish grapes and Mediterranean vegetation on top of fountains in Italy?

    In front of centre stage a crowd is brewing again and an Italian man in his thirties wearing a black suit with a purple tie is introducing himself as Grant Gillea; Primo Italiano’s ‘residential crooner.’ His performances provide the answers to my questions. “When I was a little kid I never knew McDonalds and my parents use to bring me down here, and we’d have cheap spaghetti at the place with no name,’ He says using the microphone. Shortly after his introduction, Grant and his band consisting of a pianist, trumpeter, saxophonist, drummer and a guitarist; perform a classic Italian song entitled ‘Oh Marie.’ The security guard close by begins to jingle his walkie-talkie in rhythm. Ladies in their twenties are dancing on top of a residential balcony. A group of six friends have their arms in the air, and Grant’s greatest fan, his five year old daughter Sophia; is jumping up and down with genuine excitement. It is clear from these observations that the community’s affinities with their homelands are intertwined with sentiments of the good old days in Australia. People come together to celebrate their cultural heritage, but also to catch up with friends and family.

    Grant continues singing American and Italian favorites such as ‘Lonely is a man without love,’ ‘Amore,’ ‘Surrender,’ ‘I have but one heart’ from the movie ‘The Godfather’ and ‘Rags to riches’ from ‘The Goodfellas.’ In between songs he cracks jokes and makes comical impersonations of John Howard, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Robert De Niro as a ‘wise guy.’ He then does a Sean Connery rendition of ‘Amore’ with the following lyrics: ‘When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie that is amore…with a little bit of garnish on the side Miss Money Penny. Make mine with a martini shaken not stirred.’ Non-Italians amongst the crowd are laughing and smiling because they are beginning to understand that Grant embodies the character of an stereotypical Australian Italian - the trustworthy family man with a sense of humor. At exactly, Five o’clock he ends the festival with a final high note.

    Primo Italiano is an atmospheric one day event where a barrage of sights, smells, tastes and feelings excite your five senses. It is an education in Sydney’s multicultural facets, and does not fail to appeal to all age and racial groups. One can only hope that next year, there will be a wider variety of clothing items hanging on the washing lines.

  • At 10/04/2006 12:25 am, Blogger Helen (AugustusGloop) said…

    Hi Matt - Thanks for posting your article. You've made some great observations. Viva Italia!

  • At 4/25/2010 2:22 pm, Blogger Grant Galea said…

    Matt ,thanks for the review on my performance at Primo Italiano ,but next time spell my name right will ya ? Its GRANT GALEA not Grant Gillea !!!
    I will headlining at Primo Italiano 2010 with my young brother Adrian Galea as special guest.
    See you there ! May 23,2010.

  • At 5/01/2010 6:02 pm, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Grant - Thanks for the correction and great to hear you are headlining Primo Italiano 2010 as well :)


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