cannoli Veal Saltimbocca. Mushroom and cheese ravioli. These are some of the delicious cuisines found in Boston’s North End, the city’s Little Italy. Strolling through the one-square-mile area of the Massachusetts capital, it’s clear that there’s more to this coastal New England destination than just clam chowder.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Boston was the first stop for tens of thousands of immigrants, first from Ireland, then from Eastern Europe and finally from Italy, and the traditions of the Italians who eventually claimed the neighborhood continue today.
The first wave of Italian immigrants arrived from Genoa in the 1860s and settled in a small neighborhood off Fulton Street. They numbered fewer than 200, but by 1900 the Italian population in the North End reached 14,000, and in 1930 about 44,000 Italians lived in the crowded square mile area.
It was in the North End in 1912 that three friends who had traveled from Sicily opened a small pasta shop on Prince Street. The company grew, eventually moving from Boston to a suburb, but the Prince Pasta brand became a national company and is still sold in stores and supermarkets. Today, the North End is a foodie’s paradise, and several food tour companies offer visitors a behind-the-scenes look at restaurants, shops and chefs specializing in Italian delights.
Food Tours of Boston’s North End Showcase Pasta, Pastries
There are several tour operators that take tourists around the North End. Some are run by people who have long been associated with the area, and others are national and international tour operators that focus on specific neighborhoods like the North End. All tours listed include food in the price and all last around three hours.
The North End Boston Food Tour describes their tour as a feast of food and culture and an exploration of the neighborhood’s back streets. With tours priced at $75 per person, this company promises customers will tour the oldest Italian bakery that made Boston’s first pizza, visit a spice shop that’s been in business since 1932, import cheeses, and make homemade pastas from an Italian deli taste and discover North End’s best patisseries.
Stops on this tour include Parziale’s Bakery, which opened in 1907 and sells a wide variety of breads, including braided buns, knotted buns, ciabatta, and round Tuscan bread. It offers half a dozen types of biscotti, as well as cannoli and gym bags. It even sells pizza, whole or by the piece.
Another stop, Cantina Italiana, is a restaurant that has served the North End since 1931. Specialties include scarpariello, a pan-fried chicken with spicy sausage, garlic, white wine, hot cherry peppers, and Sicilian oregano, served with gremolata crostini. At Antico Forno, visitors explore a place where almost everything is cooked in a stone oven – not just pizza, but also lamb and chicken dishes and even potatoes.
Another tour company offers Boston’s Politically Incorrect North End Food Tours, which offers lunch and dinner tours for $79 per person. The tour guide describes himself as a native North Ender who speaks Italian and knows all the details and secrets of the neighborhood and isn’t afraid to reveal them. In addition to various restaurants, this tour includes a visit to the Salumeria delicatessen, where customers will learn how to make Italian panini, and a 112-year-old wine shop, where visitors can learn all about Italian wines.
Off the Eaten Path Tours offers a lunchtime tour, with each course focusing on a specific region of Italy. The $90 per person tour ends with a signature Italian dessert of espresso, cannoli, and gelato. This company also specializes in group events such as corporate meetings, birthdays and reunions with bespoke travel plans.
Historic sites are featured on culinary tours
Almost all food tours in Boston’s North End also point out historical sites that can be seen throughout the neighborhood. Boston’s Freedom Trail runs through the North End and highlights include the Paul Revere House and the Old North Church.
The Paul Revere House, built in 1680, was the American Patriot’s home during the time of the American Revolution. The Old North Church, founded as Christ Church in 1723, is a National Historic Landmark and still has an active Episcopal congregation. It is the oldest church in Boston.
Along the way, visitors will also find historic Faneuil Hall, Copps Hill Burying Ground and the Old South Meetinghouse, site of public protests against the British in the early 1770s. Faneuil Hall, a building dating from 1742, houses Quincy Market, North Market and South Market and sells groceries and many other products. But those doing a foodie tour in the North End will likely be too full to take advantage of the hall’s treats.