So – we spent a month travelling around Italy, concentrating on four main regions. Other than being impressed by the utterly fabulous coffee, served perfectly where ever we went, I was bowled over by the freshness of the food.
So many places either looked baffled or laughed when I asked them if the dish contained mushroom – because they are not in season, and so of course would not be used. (Remind me not to visit in autumn!) In that respect, Italy reminded me strongly of Japan. Strict use of local, in season, right now fruit and veg, the freshest of sea food and best use of particular cuts of meat, whereever we went.
The markets were a delight – except that touching the produce is frowned upon. I do like to get a feel for my food – literally – so this was frustrating, but hey, I can understand their point of view. Put me in mind of that scene in Tampopo where the old lady visits supermarkets specifically to handle the fruit, shoving her old paws into peaches lasciviously. Currently in season were these gorgeous wrinkly tomatoes:
To me, the supermarkets were no less interesting. For one thing – I hadn’t realised you had to have all your fresh produced weighed and bagged up before you get to the till – which led to one long suffering cashier, upon realising my limited Italian meant she wasn’t getting her point across, picking up every fresh item on my conveyor belt, putting it carefully back in my trolley and dragging me back to the fresh produce section to personally weigh it all for me. This involved a walk of shame through the whole supermarket, which of course now in my memory was lined with rows of disapproving nonnas, shaking their heads at this idiot foreigner. The shame. but it was worth it for this: the Tower of Hams:
Can you imagine seeing this in your local Coles? No, me neither. The unrefrigerated, unplastic-wrapped joy of it. In the same store I came across a giant wood fired bread that was at least my height. Admittedly, I’m not hugely tall. Sadly, by the time I returned the next day with my camera, there were only these – still impressive – but much smaller loaves about:
Seafood, of course, abounded. One night in the fishing marina of Sorrento, we watched as a small rowing boat containing two old geezers pulled up at the tiny concrete pier, and disgorged a tuna about the size of the oldest fisherman. They passed it to two fit chaps, money was exchanged, and they were off!
Not only that, but whilst in Rome not being fleeced for gelato, we spotted this:
Naturally, we had a scoop. No, ahem, unusual effects were observed.
Whilst on the subject of the unlikely – and one of my favourite pastimes is the collecting of unlikely translations – sugar sachets often carry ads for restaurants and bars:
And what about that coffee? Wow. We didn’t have a bad cup all the while we travelled. Even our first – at the bog standard work-a-day cafe in the train terminus, Rome airport, was great. Despite being able to easily find lactose free milk in supermarkets – uht anyway – I stuck to macchiato whilst out and without exception they were a delight. Smooth, not bitter, with just a teeny fluff of milk on top. One of the best was at Mexico, in Naples, something of an institution by all accounts. Zingy colourways, at any rate:
As a bonus I discovered almond milk there – bloody yum!
I’ve been privately raging about the european ‘horsemeat in lasagne’ so called scandal drivelling on in the earlier part of the year. I won’t vent again here, save to say – what the hell is wrong with horse anyway, as long as it’s treated well, as per any other meat etc etc. There are more important things to get our respective knickers in a twist about – such as large portions of the world not having access to safe drinking water for instance.
So when I saw a review of a cucina (home cooked) place in Lecce specialising in horse, I naturally made an absolute bee line for it. Cucina Casareccia is essentially part of the home of the owner, complete with knick knacks and doileys, and you have to ring the doorbell to gain entry. Even though we were too early, we were made welcome, and given wine and water to tide us over while we waited for lunch time. Delightful.
Carne di cavallo served two ways – we had one each – was unexpectedly fantastic. I admit, I’d expected ropey at best, given all the fuss recently. It was tender, delicious and to me at least, rather like lamb:
Part of our trip was given over to antiquities – as you do – including Pompeii and Herculaneum. Not much of an opportunity for food related exploits you may think? Well, certainly not if you rely on the cafeteria food available within the walls of Pompeii, anyway. But where food is important to us, it was of course, equally so to the Romans. The instagram of the day: mosaics. Some were utterly beautiful and so incredibly well preserved: