NYC’s Egg Rolls, Egg Creams, and Empanadas Festival

New York City is a city of immigrants, generation after generation. It epitomizes what is best about the tradition of immigrants coming to the United States in search of the American dream. The city’s neighborhoods tell that history as well, with new waves of immigrants coming from different locations each generation. The Museum at Eldridge Street, located in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, has chosen to commemorate that rich, diverse history in its annual Egg Rolls, Egg Creams, and Empanadas Festival.


The Museum at Eldridge Street got its start as a Jewish synagogue in 1887, serving the surrounding community of Jewish immigrants making their way from Eastern Europe. In fact, the Eldridge Street Synagogue was one of the first synagogues built in the United States. As the United States restricted immigration after World War I and the city’s Jewish population eventually scattered to other parts of the city, the synagogue’s congregation shrank, and the main sanctuary fell into disrepair. In recent decades, however, the building has been restored and turned into a museum, although religious services continue to be held every Sabbath and Jewish holiday. The Eldridge Street Synagogue has also been designated a National Historic Landmark.

The festival, held in June each year, celebrates the diversity of the Eldridge Street neighborhood. In incorporates the food and culture of Jewish, Chinese, and Latin American (particularly Puerto Rican) immigrants, as evidenced by the festival’s name: Egg Rolls, Egg Creams, and Empanadas. (For those who have never heard of an egg cream before, it is an old-fashioned drink made of milk, seltzer water, and chocolate sauce – despite its name, it contains neither eggs nor cream!)

Part of the festival is held in the street outside the museum. Some tents sell food from the three featured cultures, including egg rolls, egg creams, and empanadas. Other tents offer activities for children, including a yarmulke (or yamaka) decorating station and another one where girls and boys create masks for a Chinese dragon parade. There are also a number of musical and dance performances. I was fortunate to arrive just in time to see a demonstration of Chinese opera, which is beautiful and dramatic. These are a few of the photos of the performance, which took place with the crowd surrounding the two characters.






As I entered the museum, there were two men demonstrating their writing skills. This man wrote visitors’ names in beautiful Hebrew script.


His neighbor demonstrated traditional Chinese calligraphy for museum guests.


From there, I went further into the sanctuary and up into the balcony to appreciate the synagogue’s impressive architecture and beautiful stained glass windows.






At this point, I thought my tour of the museum was finished, but a volunteer directed me downstairs to the basement, where the museum has a permanent exhibit tracing the synagogue’s history. There were these documents from the founding of the synagogue, along with one of the seven original Stars of David that were placed on the roof of the building during its construction.


I was also intrigued by this two-sided Tzedakah Box. The box was originally mounted on a wall that separated men’s and women’s entrances to the weekday chapel. There were six separate slots, each marked with a particular charity that corresponded to a day of the week, and synagogue members would drop money into the appropriate slot. I found it interesting that it was more intricate on the one side than the other.



Further handiwork demonstrations were offered as well, including several women exhibiting Chinese paper folding projects and two other women showing off intricate bobbin lace.



Although the festival is only held once a year, you can still visit the Museum at Eldridge Street throughout the year. (Keep in mind that the museum is not open on Saturdays, the Jewish Sabbath.) The Museum is located at 1200 Eldridge Street, just south of Canal Street. If traveling by subway, you can take the F train to the East Broadway station; the B or D trains to Grand Street; or the N, Q, R, J, Z, or 6 trains to Canal Street. For further directions, see the museum’s website here.