I-talia, it's the besta food in the worlda
23.08.2012 - 01.09.2012 33 °C
“Mangi mangi”, the Old Italian Nonna living in my head says as I attack a family-sized pizza at 1:30am. Yes, a whole one and yes I had already had dinner, but the imaginary Nonna also tells me,
“Mangi bambino, you are just skin and bone”.
“Si Nonna, si”
It’s true I am just skin in bone only with a hefty carbohydrate layer protecting me from the elements. The Italian love of the 3 P’s is certainly not lost on me, and a philosophy I can get behind. A daily dose of pasta, pizza and pane (bread) will get you through life happy, maybe a little lumpy around the edges, but certainly happy.
As you may have noticed previously I do like a good old fashioned eating holiday. I take them under a guise of a normal, cultural and historical expedition, but I intend for them to be a non-stop snaxcursion.
Italy is responsible for some of my favourite food groups, fresh produce, tasty flavour, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, bread and delicious desserts, including my personal raison d'être, gelato. So it was fitting that for my second 2012 jaunt/food holiday it would be back to everyone’s favourite boot and in particular, it’s football, Sicily.
Yeah, sure I was excited for relaxing on the beaches in some well-missed sunshine. I was going for the Sicilian culture and the beauty of Italy, but I was staying for the cannoli, and anyone who tells you otherwise is a big, fat, pistachio-encrusted liar.
A lot of great Italian food comes from Sicily, they gave us the tasty street snacks like arancini – stuffed, deep fried risotto balls, desserts like cannoli and cassata as well as seafood dishes of countless concoctions. While planning my holiday I compiled a list of foods I needed to eat and the restaurants and cafes who were the best purveyors of said foods, I managed to pen this song which sums up my mindset.
Pizza and pasta and Sicilian caponata,
Arancini, gelato – limone or fragola
Blanco or rosso what vino you bring
These are a few of the edible things.
Coffee and cannoli overlooking Stromboli…etc.
I was excited about my breakfasts, lunches and dinners, and on a 10-day adventure I couldn’t afford to waste a single meal on something not amazing and not part of my culinary adventure. About here my mother would say, “stop thinking about your stomach” but in my defence the cuisine is as much tied to the nation’s culture and traditions as the sights. So not only is it legitimate to have a food holiday, if you don’t partake then you are missing out on a perfect, prosciutto and mozzarella stuffed slice of authentic Italian life.
I don’t want to give you the impression I attacked Italy like Pac-Man, consuming all that was in my way. It’s not entirely inaccurate but I do have some class, and some rules, tips and tricks to share with you about embarking on an Italian food holiday, or if you prefer, a cultural and historical visit with a subtle, high-level food focus.
First and foremost, the first stop by one and all upon arrival, the gelataria. Well, first city stop, it’s not unusual for me to have a coffee purchased and consumed in airport arrivals. Find an artisanal gelataria, where someone is following old family recipes and churning gelato with a mixture of sugar, cream and liquid happiness. Gelato is not only allowed, but required to be eaten at least once a day, if it is particularly hot you can have it more than once.
A breakfast gelato is perfectly acceptable but one must stick to breakfast flavours like your fruit varieties, coffee is also acceptable.
For other flavours you must wait until noon...okay, 10:30am.
In Sicily you are allowed to have a scoop of gelato inside a brioche bun. It’s a Sicilian speciality so technically it’s a cultural exercise to indulge in such a grossly obese breakfast item.
Gelato Tip: Think about your flavours, those who mix cream-based flavours with fruit flavours are the goon drinkers of the gelato connoisseur world. For example, ordering a zesty, refreshing lemon with a creamy Nutella gelato is the action of a monster/serial killer.
Also when practicing your excellent Italian while ordering, note that incorrect pronunciation of Pesca (peach) and Pesce (fish) produce very different results.
Sick of gelato? Sacrilege. Try a granita, a Sicilian drink made with crushed ice but in the fancier parts more a creamy, runny ice cream.
Also feel free to buy a brioche and dip that bad boy in there as well. Totally acceptable.
Coffee. Your daily cappuccino and croissant is a breakfast that merely lines your stomach for further gastronomic delights. You are only supposed to order a cappuccino at breakfast from then on just throw back an espresso to really feel your heart beat.
Coffee tip: A latte as we say in Australia, well, “la-day”, is a glass of hot milk in Italy.
My friend was tired and feeling ill when she went in to the bar to order her coffee. As the girl brought out my café latte and her latte, I laughed hysterically for 10 minutes, I was making such a scene even the guy at the other table started laughing. Lesson reinforced.
Other Sicilian specialities include fish, mussels, swordfish and other under the sea critters, molluscs and crustaceans. So much fresh seafood is for sale at the Catania Fish Market. I had to foolishly worn sandals and had to deal with the trauma of wet, fish gutsy feet. The giant swordfish is a sight of pure misery, when I think about how they were probably just swimming about, no doubt playing pirates with their noses as one would if one had a sword for a nose, then boom, dead on an old plastic bag of ice in a filthy bucket.
The highlight was old men peeling prawns amongst piles of rubbish in the gutter under a bridge, an old guy with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth as he serves an old lady, picks up a fish and throws it on the scales, the ash dropping on the display of marine life, some of which was still wiggling no doubt wondering why they were on ice and couldn’t quite swim away. Oh the panic.
I did try some swordfish, the taste was meaty, salty but otherwise unfishy. I was also going to be adventurous and try another local speciality, a stuffed sardine and I very nearly did, my fork touched 4 crumbs of the stuffing and I wretched.
I also tried a seafood risotto which tastes like the beach, being dunked by a wave specifically.
So seafood is lost on me, but while Sicily has all the usual delicious suspects like pizza and pasta, what I needed to get my fat, little pork sausage fingers on was the desserts. I wasn’t to be leaving the island without eating a cannoli, a pastry tube filled with sweetened ricotta. It was decadent and creamy with a slight crunch from the shell and the pistachio encrusted ends.
You’d have someone whacked for one. And I imagine the Mafia do all the time.
My food excursion/cultural visit to Italy was complete with a cooking course in Rome, where we whipped up a gnocchi with a fresh tomato sauce, tiramisu, stuffed peppers and stuffed pumpkin flowers.
Arrrrrghhhlll *drools on keyboard*
I am no professional but with a class of mostly Americans I would consider myself a Michelin Star-level chef (or Michelin man-sized chef) in comparison, primarily because I didn’t ask things like “gnocchi, what’s a gnocchi I’ve never heard of it” or when shown how to crack a walnut say “oh my gawwd that’s awwwwesome”. Yes it is… it really is. It must be wondrous to be so easily impressed.
I learnt some facts about eggs, garlic and tomato but more that I wish I were Italian and that I want to have a Nonna to take me to the markets with her to buy fresh fruit and vegetables, perhaps a whole swordfish, then help her whip up delicious meals while she told me to eat more tiramisu because I’m nothing but skin and bones. I want that.
So in conclusion not only do I love Italy and Italian food but I am officially in the market for an adoptive Italian family. My Italian is limited but with some lessons, a bit of sun and some darker hair dye I could pass as a local. In exchange I’ll do what I do for my own family, eat their food, live in their house, dance in the TV ad breaks and sing in the car over the radio. Forward any interest to my email address.
Ah Italy, you are a country so great, so amazing, so delicious you fill both my soul and my stomach with glee. Alas though, you make the post travel misery even more prevalent as I look at the Tesco sandwich selection, wondering who would buy a plain cheese sandwich, and long for an arancini stuffed with mozzarella and prosciutto.
Like my FACEBOOK page: www.facebook.com/thetipsygipsy