“I am most passionate about bringing my knowledge [of tasting] to consumers, “said an enthusiastic Orietta Gianjorio, a native Italian from Rome,...
Tourists and locals alike often think of SeaWorld, the San Diego Zoo, and Mission Bay, when they think of San Diego, but Anthony Davi and his aide, Italian-born Marianna, add a whole new dimension to this southern California town with their Little Italy Authentic Food and History Tour. Both the food and early history of San Diego’s harbor, especially when told through the dramatic narration of Davi, are sure to please tour members.
“We recreate the world that was and showcase the hip & stylish neighborhood Little Italy has become each Saturday by reservation,” states the tour brochure. “Join us for an amazing behind the scenes sightseeing experience.” The tours are scheduled for Saturdays and begin promptly at 10:00am and run until approximately 12:00 noon. The guided tour, in addition to Davi and Marianna’s live narration, also features wireless headsets that enable guests to hear their narration and the featured music of Italy in excellent clarity.
Tour guide Davi begins the tour with a dramatic rendition of the famous incident whereby Enrico Caruso, singing a song from the opera Carmen in 1906 at approximately the same time of the San Francisco earthquake supposedly remarks, “I hope the people of San Francisco will forgive me for what I have set off with my voice.”
The tour moves on to State Street, between India and Fir streets where Davi points out that 30 % of Little Italy is still owned by older Italian families from days gone by, so of whom were originators of the fishing industry that was prevalent here before the turn of the century. Pointing to an original “A” frame home of 1888 vintage, Davi tells his audience that the home originally faced the harbor, but was turned around to face the street as it now stands.
Davi explains that this neighborhood has had an Italian presence since 1871. He recalled that approximately 6,000 families of both Genovese and Sicilian origin once fished and lived here calling this their new home.
“Southern California’s salty sea air, the ready-made port, the date palms, bougainvillea, geraniums, olive trees and cactus plants reminded many Italians of their sunny fishing villages back home,” mused Davi.
“They painted their small wooden bungalow homes the colors favored by their ancestors. They built their own boats, fished with hand-sewn nets, grew fruit and vegetable gardens, made fresh pasta by hand and baked loaves of sesame-topped Italian bread in igloo-shaped backyard ovens.”
The tour guides point out other vintage homes, and behind one, original fishermen netting can still be seen resting on a chain link fence where it has been since days gone by. “They used netting like this to catch rock cod, mackerel and sardines right out of the nearby harbor,” explained the guides. “Sardines were king, 100 years ago, but didn’t last long.”
Davi gave a brief historic explanation of how, in 1903 when due to over-fishing, the catch of sardines became poor. An enterprising Albert Halfhil, began filling empty sardine cans with Albacore tuna, thus creating the product known as Chicken of the Sea. The tour guide also described how, due to the need for more workers to support the now growing tuna industry, Sicilians were imported to help with the production of the tuna market.
“How did Sicilians and Genovese Italians get along,” smiled Davi. “They didn’t; the Sicilians lived on one side of the street and the Genovese on the other side,” he slyly blinked at his audience.
Next, the tour arrived at the Little Italy Landmark Sign. The sign was dedicated at the 7th Annual Little Italy Festa on the evening of October 8, 2000. It was constructed as a tribute to the immigrant neighborhood which, until the late 1960s, was the hub of the world’s tuna fishing and canning industry.
“The mosaic tile work on each side of the street tells how this immigrant community is historically tied to the bay, the church and the Italian homeland,” recalled Davi, adding that it is a testament to the preservation of Little Italy’s cultural heritage.
The historic tour concluded with the inclusion of several other landmarks and the promised food: a creamy Sicilian pastry, a beverage with unlimited refills, a hot, out of the oven pizza with over 20 varieties from which to choose, and a savory plate of pasta with a gourmet sauce.