La Dolce Vita : Eating in Europe's food heaven
We work for the sake of the stomach.
Ah! Surely, we do and what better way to celebrate the love for food and wine than to visit Europe’s food heaven: Eat-at-ly!!
The country whose signature dish has made its stamp in all corners of the world. Yes, Pizza features as a default weekend staple in our diet. Of course, they have been modified to suit variety of palettes. (Gathiya Pizza and coconut pizza sure sound scary)
The aim was to be in land of Pizzas. For a purist it would be to flight to Naples but we decided to venture to Rome first on this holiday. Italian cuisine takes pride in regional cooking much like Indian. Would a Marathi mulgi accept a gujarati style puran-poli? No. Would macher-jhol pass-off as a machi-kalwan for a Bengali? That would be a heinous crime. In the same manner, a person from Northern Italy would vouch for a risotto infused with saffron whereas a southerner will be delighted by fish.
The Italians take immense pride in their food and prefer food served from scratch and use the best seasonal produce. Now, my Indian friends reading this would rather find it strange….obvious isn’t it? A key to good food? Well, spend some time in London my dearies and you would understand the moolah you pay for the food and quality you are served are not always proportional.
Now coming back to expeditions.
After a tiring morning at the Vatican, our stomachs were growling at 3pm and the restaurants were closing their kitchens for lunch. We tried our luck at Tony and Dino’s Hosteria. They were closed for the day but the friendly owners took pity on us.
‘’Pasta?? Pasta?? Ok??’’, said the pot bellied chef. ‘’Anything could do my friend’, we gave a casual nod. ” An Osteria is focused on simple food of the region, often having no written menu much like aapli khanaval. Perhaps, that is what you need on a vacation. Not caring enough about the decision to order food but being guaranteed a delightful plate in front of you! I will get you my specials, red or white, what will you prefer.’’ We just gave a sheepish thumbs up.
Dino and Tony did deliver their promise, two sorts of simple pasta cooked al-dente was the most joyous experiences of the day. (Next to the Sistine Chapel, perhaps) As our hunger pangs cooled down, we were presented with a plateful of desert. Tiramisu, tiny biscuits, panna cotta and Expresso con panna….burrrrppp. All for £20.
Each day in Italy was an experience or rather we made sure that we visited a good place. Life is too short for a bad spaghetti. Also, Italians have their meals in courses. So after antipasti, comes first course of pasta, followed by main course of meat or fish and to be ended with a desert and a coffee.Needless to say, most of them are accompanied by a glass of wine. Walking the sunny by-lanes of Rome licking a creamy gelato was an everyday feature and a cheese and ham panini bursting with flavours was just right for lunch.
Imagine waiting by the river Arno watching the sun-kissed waters at dusk only for Ristorante Pane e Vino to open its door at 7.30 p.m. (Oh, yes we are shameless gluttons) We broke the unsalted Tuscan bread (they seemed to serve bread in little brown paper bags here) as we were enchanted by the wooden beamed ceiling high courtyard. By the time we finished our anti-pasti (Fried balls of cod ‘with tomato soup, sweet garlic sauce = me) and first course we were too full for the mains.Of course, we did have the space for the desserts.
Whereas on the other night, we walked across the town for Il Teatro del Sale, another recommended restaurant only to be disappointed that it was closed for an event. We looked around and decided to queue up where the crowds seem to be waiting : Cibereo Trattoria. The manager encouraged us to share our table with another older couple who had flown down from New York.
Needless to say, as the wine flowed, we had an engaging conversation with the couple about three things we love: food, travel and India. (yes, the lady was of Indian origins)
We exchanged top tips and notes as we relished the rustic chicken liver pate and sumptuous rabbit stuffed with chicken and pork.
I could possibly go on and on about every single meal I had during my stay in Italy. Be it the humble bread at an old bakery at the Jewish quarter in Rome, the larger than life Florentine steak or the joys of finest wines in the world….. well Italy, never failed us.
I don’t know if we eat to live or we live to eat.
But as Italians say : La Dolce Vita ( The Life is sweet). Especially in Italy.
8 November 2015