April 25, 2010

Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24: Hester Street Fair - 1895 and Now

Hester Street Fair title
"B&W Hester Street photo from National Archives" By an unknown photographer, ca. 1903 on left; our photo on right, ca. 2010.
This past Saturday marked the return of the Hester Street Fair.  Located at the corner of Hester and Essex Street, the fair celebrates the culture and rich history of the Lower East Side neighborhood.  At the turn of the century, Hester Street was the site of the busiest outdoor market in New York City.  As noted by the NY Times (07/27/1895), "There is hardly a square foot of ground in Hester Street that is not covered with people during the day. The whole place seems to be in a state of perpetual motion, and the occasional visitor is apt to have a feeling of giddiness."

So we were excited to visit, along with a couple of friends from Canada, the re-launch of the Hester Street Fair.  We enjoyed eating our way through the Hester Street Fair and seeing how different this modern-day market compares to that of original.

We found this video online depicting the Hester Street market at the turn of the century.  Many Eastern European Jews immigrated to this area, making it the center of commerce for NYC's Jewish ghetto.  You can see some of the estimated 1,500 pushcart peddlers who were licensed to sell wares (primarily fish) in the vicinity of Hester Street.
hester street fair seafood
Today, the pushcarts are gone and the fish offerings looked more like the above - fresh lobster rolls from Luke's Lobster and tasty Montreal bagels and lox from Mile End.  (Both of these sandwiches were big hits amongst our group - and judging from the lines, were the most popular food items at the fair).
Bahn mi and pulled pork
The modern-day market now features local artisans and restaurants from various ethnic and cultural backgrounds.  Instead of groceries, most of the current food offerings were prepared foods - like the bahn mi, summer rolls (both from An Choi) and pulled pork BBQ sandwiches.
quiche salsa potatoes
We could imagine all of the different types of produce sold at the turn of the century...some of which was probably used in these bright, flavorful vegetarian dishes.  The quiche plate from Green Brown Orange was also a favorite of the day - especially for our vegetarian friends.
Pretzels and dip
Everyone enjoyed these organic, hand-rolled pretzels from Sigmund Pretzelshop.  We each chose either the salted plain pretzel or the Gruyere cheese and paprika pretzel (both very good!) along with a different dip:  whole grain mustard, beet and horseradish (sweet and spicy!), and honey (almost dessert-like).
cupcakes and drinks
Trying all of the desserts at the fair started with the mini cupcakes from Kumquat Cupcakery.  Bacon maple, red velvet, dark chocolate, peanut butter/banana, and lemon/lavender...at $1 each, these were hopelessly addictive.  A few of us washed them down with free Sundrop soda pops while others opted for the Stumptown iced coffee.
frozen desserts
As the sun got stronger, we all wanted a cold treat.  Some opted for the snow cone with homemade coffee syrup while others had to go with the fresh fruit popsicles (raspberry at left and the sweet and spicy mango chili at right.  No one in our party wanted to try the avocado popsicle, which we overheard someone call "guacamole on a stick").
freshly baked goods
You can imagine how full we were reaching Roni-Sue's Chocolates, but we could not pass up the inventive creations made by friendly owner Rhonda.  So, as a parting take-home gift, everyone got a few sweet treats:  Smores pie, Peanut butter cookies, BaCorn (caramel popcorn with bacon and chile pinon nuts), and Pig Candy (crispy fried bacon strips dipped in chocolate).  And to offset the sweet treats from Roni-Sue's Chocolates, we tried the fresh breads from Pain D'Avignon.  
Brooklyn Museum: Street Scene (Hester Street)
From the Brooklyn Museum, painted by George Luks, Luks pictured the street life of one of the Lower East Side's teeming immigrant neighborhoods.
Hester Street Fair crowds
The crowds then and now were still large...and though we were dressed differently...
Customers shopping on Hester St Then and Now
Top black and white photo courtesy of Spartacus 

...and ate different foods, comparing the old and new Hester Street fairs reinforced what we already knew:  shopping and haggling are timeless!
Hester Street 1901 and now
Photo on left courtesy of SCREA news, circa 1901.

The Hester Street Fair continues every weekend from now until the end of the year.


  1. Awesome post! Looks so much fun! I wanted to go this weekend, but I'm in the area right now. I'll definitely have to check it out next time I'm back in nyc.

  2. I am really impressed with the quality of the photos you have provided from this event. I would love to attend for next year. The bagels and lox looked very good. Keep up the great work with your articles and please stop by my health blog sometime. The web address is http://healthy-nutrition-facts.blogspot.com/.

  3. Fabulous 24,24,24 Andrea! That looked like so much fun! Might have to make sure a visit coincides with this next year!

  4. The fresh fruit popsicles were my favourite! The then and now theme of your post was brilliant and the photo positioning so appealing and thoughtful. The pretzel dips also sounded very unique. I really enjoyed this post today. You live in a great foodie place and obviously participate in almost every adventure offered - which your readers - like me - appreciate!
    Big hug,

  5. I simply love your post.... EVERY post....
    and I'm so jelous that i'm not there!! :D

  6. That 24,24,24 is such a great thing... excellent!

  7. What a creative 24, 24, 24! I love how to compared the photos of then & now.

  8. What a fabulous post! I love seeing the old and the new pictures side by side! Awesome!

  9. Congratulations for being one of the other 23. What a great idea. I just love visiting markets!!

  10. Looks like a fun event with a wide variety of good food. You did a great on the presentation of 'then' and 'now'.

  11. This fair looks so amazing.

    I love that something from history is back today and hopefully it will continue for years to come!

  12. How fun- and great pics, I felt like I was there! Um, YUM- I will take one of each and waddle my way back home, LOL! Congrats on the 24,24,24, too!

  13. Awesome post. Just to clarify some of the comments..the fair is every weekend, not just once a year so come on down!!!!

  14. that looks delicious! we always are in this area at night but rarely do we venture out in the daylight....I guess we will just have to party all night one weekend!

  15. very well done! i love the old photos. it looked like the perfect day to enjoy so many amazing eats outside!


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