Cosenza’s fish market is on a very short list of family-owned businesses that have lasted for a century. Come tomorrow, January 2018, this neighborhood cornerstone will be celebrating its 100th year in business. We recently visited and had a wonderful opportunity to hear about the origins of this family business rooted in a time that we can experience only by piecing small parts of our world today into a mosaic that portrays life in 1918 with tastes, smells, businesses and structures.
Being in Cosenza’s fish market was an experience. While at Cosenza’s, John graciously shared his family business’ rich history with us that transported our image of the fish market to a time where there were farms, horse and carriages, and peddler push carts.
In this video, along with Danielle of Arthur Avenue Food Tours and Anthony from the Italian American podcast, we piece together the origins of the Seven Fish tradition which is widely adopted among Italian American communities throughout the United States. Since the “Seven Fish” tradition was essentially originated in America, Italians in Italy are unaware of the custom’s origin. Since the United States has so many different Italian communities whose people are from different parts of Italy, and their locations within the United States have geographically unique traditions, the actual origin of the Seven Fish is still slightly ambiguous. An overall agreement about this tradition’s origins is that its significance stems from the seven sacraments. Also, there are seven seas throughout the world. No two families have the same menu of seven fish. As long as there are seven fish at the dinner table on Christmas eve is all that matters. They can be made oreganata, marinara, stuffed, plain, in a salad, in a cocktail or even raw.
Many of the patrons who shop at Cosenza’s are former residents of this old Little Italy neighborhood. Others just come from near and far to acquire some of the best specimens available to home cooks and restaurants. Cosenza’s, aside from having some of the best quality, has some of the most competitive retail prices anywhere. They also speak Italian. As you can hear in the background of the video, Italian is still spoken in this old world fish market.
The market’s humble beginnings can partly be attributed to the success of their oyster and clam cart that fed the hungry working class of Little Italy in the Bronx. The sheer deliciousness of fresh raw oysters and clams has helped this delicacy remain the same for over 100 years without change. The vintage photo below is just an example of the same type of cart that was commonplace a century ago. The other photo is of present-day Cosenza’s fish market’s raw clam and oyster cart which sits on the sidewalk in front of this centennial business.
John indicated that the Belmont neighborhood had a lot of Neopolitans, Barese and Sicliani over the years. Arthur avenue has tremendously changed and is no longer an Italian neighborhood according to the demographic of those who live within it. However, the businesses in Little Italy still create a cohesiveness that is poetry in motion to the outside observer. One would think that Italians still live en masse throughout the side and cross streets of Arthur Avenue based on the density of the businesses in this little enclave. Unfortunately, the Italians have long gone but the neighborhood can still maintain its charm and thrive as long as there’s awareness of its existence. Many people, especially many Italian people, throughout New York and the Tri-state area, have not traveled to Arthur Avenue because they are unaware that it exists or even if they know it exists, they’re unaware of the treasures that are there. One of the primary objectives of Italian Enclaves is to raise awareness of each and every Italian enclave throughout America in order to evoke our followers’ and readers’ interest into visiting neighborhoods and businesses such as Cosenza’s on Arthur Avenue so that they can maintain for another 100 years. The experience is so rich that it will touch you forever. How many 100 year old sidewalk clam bars are there where you live?