If you have international tastes and a domestic budget, a Queen City daycation has a lot to offer. Manchester’s federal status as New Hampshire’s refugee resettlement area has attracted ethnic groups from around the world. More than 80 languages are spoken at Manchester Central High School. You can sample Brazilian, Chinese, French-Canadian, Greek, Hungarian, Indian, Irish, Japanese, Jewish, Lebanese, Polish, Russian, Sudanese and Latino cultures and cuisine without leaving the city limits. Here’s a primer for those who would like to partake.
Franco-AmericanThe Industrial Revolution meant an influx of French Canadians to New Hampshire and by 1900, 60 percent of mill workers were Franco-Americans. They numbered 76,000 in the state, with the largest concentration in the Manchester area. And while the population of French speakers is diminishing in the Queen City, it’s still the largest ethnic group, and there’s still plenty of rich Franco-American history and culture to be found.Culture/Arts/ShoppingFranco American Centre, 52 Concord St. (www.francoamericancentrenh.com), is just what it says, a central repository for Franco-American culture, art and history in Manchester. There’s a research library, bookstore, walking tours, French language lessons and exhibits by Franco-American artists in the The Beliveau Art Gallery, including the work of Manchester artist Charles Martel, which will be hanging through December. Listen to Roger Lacerte’s French language radio show “Chez Nous” every Sunday from 9 a.m. to noon on WFEA, AM 1370. Lacerte also owns La Librairie Populaire at 18 Orange St. in Manchester, believed to be the only store in New Hampshire entirely devoted to French-language books, greeting cards and CDs.To research your French-Canadian roots, visit the American-Canadian Genealogical Society, 4 Elm St. (www.acgs.org). America’s Credit Union Museum (www.acumuseum.org), 418-420 Notre Dame Ave., Manchester, is home to America’s first credit union, established by Monsignor Pierre Hevey and his parishioners in 1908. Originally called St. Mary’s Cooperative Credit Association, its name was revised in 1925 to La Caisse Populaire Ste.-Marie, or “The People’s Bank.” Today there are more than 10,000 credit unions in the U.S., representing 80 million members.Food
Chez Vachon, 136 Kelley St., in Manchester’s richly Franco-American West Side, is where Bill Clinton once came to sample the vast selection of poutine (French fries with curd cheese and gravy) on the menu. Other Franco-American dishes — gorton and pork and salmon pies. Some of the staff still speak French as do many of the patrons. The Red Arrow Diner, 61 Lowell St., also offers some Franco-American favorites 24/7 in case you get the urge for tourtiere in the middle of the night. Belmont Hall, 718 Grove St., has been around for 74 years and includes some Franco-American dishes on their menu.Irish The Irish have been in the area for a long time. In 1719 1,000 Scots-Irish Protestants immigrated to Londonderry and planted the first potatoes in North America. But great numbers of Irish men and women didn’t arrive in the Queen City until the Irish potato famine, which coincided with the arrival of the railroad in town in the middle of the 19th century.Though we could find no evidence that “Irish need not apply” signs were hung in the local mills, the Irish were not welcomed by some. One July 3 and 4, 1854, Irish youths and Protestants rioted following the arraignment of a Protestant stable owner for an Irishman’s death after a fight over a rental of a horse and buggy. Houses were damaged as was St. Anne’s Catholic Church. Assimilation eventually came and the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Manchester is now one of the most popular in New England.Culture/Arts
Conradh na Gaeilge of New England, a nonprofit Irish language organization, offers Irish language classes in Manchester. Call (603) 627-6651 or visit www.gaeilge.org.Food and Entertainment
Named after a bog, or traditional Irish reel, depending on your mind set, the The Shaskeen Pub and Restaurant, 909 Elm St., is owned by Irish musicians Tommy and Louise McCarthy and Matt Molloy, flute player for the Chieftains. Hoist a pint to wash down banger and mash, fish and chips or Guinness beef stew and enjoy traditional Irish music as well as pop and funk by local groups. Wild Rover Pub, 21 Kosciuzco St., is a 20-year-old institution. It’s as much a social club as a pub, with group outings, sing-alongs as well as well-drawn pints, burgers and shepherd’s pie. With eight 50-inch televisions, Murphy’s Taproom, 494 Elm St., is as much a sports bar as a pub, but who cares? In addition to having food and live music there are 24 beers on tap, including Bass, Boddingtons and Harp.Mediterranean/Middle Eastern The majority of Greek immigrants arrived in Manchester between 1900 and 1920 to escape an oppressive political system at home. By 1920, 3,000 Greeks were employed by the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company, about 10 percent of the workforce. Immigrants from other Mediterranean and Middle Eastern countries soon followed, some to escape political unrest, others just seeking opportunity.
Various Greek fairs and festivals — Assumption Greek Church, Saint George Orthodox Cathedral and Saint Nicholas Orthodox Church. Modern Greek classes for adults meet Mondays, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., at St. George Greek Orthodox Cathedral, 650 Hanover St. Free. Call (603) 497-4581.Food/Shopping/Entertainment
Beirut Shawarma, 245 Maple St., is situated inside the Spice Center, a halal grocery store at the Maple Plaza. This lunch counter offers Lebanese and other Middle Eastern food including falafel and shawarma. The Spice Center, 333 Maple St., carries Mediterranean groceries. Temple Adath Yeshurun has a gift shop that features Judaica and a wide variety of gifts including menorahs for this Chanukah season. You can also shop for Judaica and other gift items online through the Chabad Lubavitch Web site, www.lubavitchnh.com. The Athens, 31 Central St., is one of the area’s oldest Greek restaurants and The Puritan Backroom, 245 Hooksett Rd., offers many Greek dishes like baked lamb and stuffed grape leaves. Piccola Italia Ristorante, 815 Elm St., is owned by Giovanni Paolini and serves up authentic Italian cuisine. The online menu can be read in English or Italian.Caesario’s Pizza, 1057 Elm St., is primarily known for its pizza, but it’s owned by Israeli-born Moshe Shpindler and has some knockout Middle Eastern food on the menu, most of which can be sampled with a Mediterranean plate — falafel, hummus, Syrian bread and chicken shawarma. Famous past visitors include President Barack Obama and former President George W. Bush.Eastern EuropeanManchester has had several waves of immigration from Eastern Europe, first coming from places like Poland and Hungary and the newest residents coming from the countries that were once part of the former Soviet Union, as well as Bosnia, Romania and Bulgaria.
The Polish band, The Smoked Kielbasa Emergency Polka Unit (www.smokedkielbasaband.com), is Manchester-based and performs at various venues throughout the city, including Moe Joe’s Family Restaurant, 2175 Candia Rd., once a month and during Mardi Gras in February and St. Patrick’s Day in March. Their newest album is called “American Goulash.”Lala’s Hungarian Pastry, 836 Elm St., has just what it says, Hungarian pastries, not to mention goulash, schnitzel and other European delicacies. Siberia Food Market, 100 Willow St., offers a wide selection of food and gifts from the countries in the former Soviet Union, including caviar, salt cabbage, cold cuts and tea sets. The Bartlett Street Superette, 316 Bartlett St., carries Polish delicacies such as kielbasa, pierogi and five kinds of Polish bread. Orange Street Market, 132 Orange St., carries Bosnian and Bulgarian food. Koscuisko and Pulaski Parks, both located downtown, are named after Polish-born Revolutionary War heroes Kazimierz Pułaski and Tadeusz Koscuisko and have impressive statues.LatinoAmong the most recent immigrants to the Granite State are Latinos. Attracted not by work at the mills but by attractive housing costs and the low crime rate, they have immigrated to the Queen City from United States urban centers like Boston and New York and directly from Mexico, Brazil, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. The U.S. Census Department has calculated that Latinos are now the largest minority group in New Hampshire, comprising 2.6 percent of the population or about 34,000 people.
Food and Entertainment
Don Quijote, 362 Union St., offers authentic Dominican food and the other Don Quijote location, 333 Valley St., features live entertainment — Mexican bands, salsa from Puerto Rico, hip hop Latin style — in addition to multiple types of Latin cuisine from Cuba, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and other Latin countries. A few doors down is The Brazilian Café and Store, which serves up Portugese dishes such as risoles, peixe frito and flan, not to mention big heaps of Brazilian culture in the form of newspapers, baked goods and even a soccer shirt or two. El Mexicano, 197 Wilson St., is a small taqueria-style establishment with homemade Mexican food. It’s across the street from I & P Food, 204 Wilson St., one of Manchester’s small Latin American grocery stores geared toward Latin cooking. Gauchos Churrascaria, 62 Lowell St. (www.gauchosbraziliansteakhouse.com), a Brazilian steakhouse, also has live Brazilian music Friday and Saturdays nights after 6 p.m. Consuelo’s Taqueria, 36 Amherst St., serves authentic Mexican street food, including tacos, burritos and quesadillas that can be washed down with some frosty Mexican beer, or for the kids, agua de Jamaica ($1.65), hibiscus-flavored water, in a whimsically decorated restaurant. Owner Martin Delgadillo loves to tell stories about growing up one of 14 children in Mexico City where he learned to cook from his mother, for whom the restaurant is named. Liz’s Bakery, at 915 Elm St., offers tornillo, mayorsa and tres leche in addition to a variety of breads.Culture/Arts/Shopping
There are several clothing stores in town that specialize in urban, hip hop and Latino clothes. They include the Urban Center, 483 Maple St., with a stylized mural painted outside by Chup, a local airbrush painter and hip-hop artist who works at the store Off the Hook, 342 Union St., and the Urban Zone, 304 Main St. and 679 Mast Rd.There are several groups in town that are dedicated to preserving Latino culture in the city as well as offering support to Latino businesses. Latinos Unidos de New Hampshire (www.latinosunidosnh.org) is the sponsor of Manchester’s annual Latino Festival in the summer, and Latinos on the Move (latinosonthemovene.com) that, among other things, has a business directory listed on its Web site. More Than Spanish (morethanspanish.net), based in Derry, offers Spanish language and culture classes to children and adults in southern New Hampshire. A free Spanish language and culture group meets monthly in Manchester. Call ESL teacher Barbara Barbour (497-4581) for details.Asian/Southeast AsiaAccording to a survey conducted last year by the U.S. Census Bureau, there are 2,487 Asians living in Manchester. That’s about 2.4 percent of the city’s population, but their cultures are well represented on the city’s culinary map.
The Lakorn Restaurant, 471 S. Main St., is a Thai vegetarian eatery where you can sample pad thai and drunken noodles in a strip mall on the south side of town. If you feel like doing the cooking yourself, the Seoul Oriental Market, 245 Maple St., offers fresh, frozen and canned food useful in Japanese and South Asian cuisines as well as Korean food. If you have loftier ambitions, Pho Golden Bowl, 124 Queen City Ave., specializes in Vietnamese cuisine, especially the fragrant, cold-weather favorite, pho noodle soup. Saigon Asian Market, 93 South Maple St., is the place to go if you’d like to find the fresh ingredients for pho or any other Asian and Latin food. And on the weekends, fresh bazoi and other delicacies are delivered for your own dim sum. Café Momo, 1065 Hanover St., serves choila (pulled chicken), bamboo soup, mushroom curry and other Nepalese cuisine more familiar to a Sherpa than most Granite Staters. Nepalese cooking courses are also offered. Gill’s Indian Bar and Grill, 215 Maple St., offers chicken tandoori and a variety of dals (lentils), pakora (fritters) and other Indian specialties. The four-year-old restaurant is owned and operated by Gursharan S. Gill, who was affiliated with the Back Bay Restaurant Group in Boston for the previous 25 years.African/CaribbeanThe 1790 census found 787 Africans in the Granite State. Of course, they did not come willingly, but in recent years Manchester’s federal status as New Hampshire’s refugee resettlement area has fostered a significant local role in assimilating immigrants from Africa and the islands, reviving this city’s reputation as a center for immigration. Several hundred Somalis have fled unrest in their native land to settle in the mill town as well as dozens of Sudanese who have escaped their homeland’s civil war to start a new life in the Queen City. Many of the families previously lived in refugee camps and waited years to come to the United States.
The Ujima Collective, a pan-African group, provides social, cultural, health and educational opportunities to Manchester-area communities of African descent. The group hosts an annual Community Kwanzaa Celebration, a Black History Month Film Fest in February and the African/Caribbean Celebration at Veteran’s Memorial Park each summer. The Akwaaba Traditional African Drum and Dance Ensemble (www.akwaabaensemble.com) is based in Manchester and entertains at a variety of local venues including upcoming performances at Bedford High School and Plymouth State University. They’re available for school visits and events and offer drumming and African dance lessons and workshops.Food
The Spice Center, located in the Maple Plaza, sells halal goat and lamb to Manchester residents of Middle Eastern, Pakistani and African descent. African Halal Market, 917 Valley St., is a smaller store which also specializes in African goods including meats, clothes and spices. NHPreserving the PastThe Manchester Historic Association’s Millyard Museum (www.manchesterhistoric.org) doesn‘t just celebrate the factories that put the city on the map, but the successive waves of immigrants that made it happen. There is no better place to start a tour of the city’s ethnic enclaves than the museum in Mill No. 3 on Commercial Street, where visitors can tread wooden floors rubbed smooth by the boots of thousands of mill workers and wonder at the width of the tunnel that once allowed water from the river to power the looms. Floor-to-ceiling photographs of mill workers provide a backdrop for an eclectic collection of working-class artifacts that illustrate how a 54-foot drop in the Merrimack River at Amoskeag Falls morphed from a fishing ground for Native Americans to the power source for textile mills that lured waves of French-Canadians, Irish and Greek immigrant workers. A holiday open house will be held at both the Millyard Museum and the MHA Research Center on Saturday, Dec. 5, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Admission is free and there will be tours of the facilities, book signings, talks and special sales at the Museum Shop.
This article appears in the December 2009 issue of New Hampshire Magazine