Love at First Bite: Food in Italy
The age-old adage is true for me, too: the way to my heart is through my stomach. For this reason I naturally fell in love with Italy at first bite. Unless you’ve been living under a rock your entire life, you know that the Mediterranean country is world famous for its deliciously simple cuisine. Italians from every region will tell you proudly that “qui si mangia bene” or “you’re gonna eat well here.” And they’re all a little biased as to which region has the best culinary traditions.
Living in Milan, which is in the northern region of Lombardy, I find it interesting that so many of the friends I have made come from the South. A good friend from Naples often invites me to dinner or lunch, bless his heart. He always cooks in Neapolitan style: sausages and greens dripping in the most amazing olive oil you will ever taste, not to mention the pizza, which is native to his hometown.
The debate is constant but the best part is that I am able to judge without any sort of bias and always with a more than willing stomach.
A teacher I work with is from Bari, in the heel of Italy, and from time to time she likes to stir the pot in class by saying that people in Bari eat way better than do the Milanese. If you think that the Milanese don’t retaliate, then you’re wrong. The debate is constant but the best part is that I am able to judge without any sort of bias and always with a more than willing stomach.
Recently, I’ve drawn a few conclusions in my research of which Italian region can please my taste buds most, and though every one that I have visited thus far has impressed me and left me licking my fingers in satisfaction, none so much as my neighboring region of Piedmont. I had the pleasure of visiting one of my good friends from college, and fellow foodie, who is getting his master’s degree at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in a small city called Bra. Cue immature snickering. Now that that’s over, we can focus on what’s really important: the food traditions.
Ever heard of Slow Food? It has its origins in Bra and the basic idea of this globally recognized movement is the recognition of the relationship between the foods we eat, the people who produce it, the places where it comes from, and the methods which are used in the whole process. Slow Food founder, Carlo Petrini, is a local celebrity in Bra, and I was really hoping to catch a glimpse of him but to no avail.
If you think that olive oil tastings and trips to local farms sound like way too much fun to be in any way academic then you’re probably just jealous.
However I did meet the cheese monger of Eataly! When you go to Bra (because you’re all going to want to go after reading this, right?) be sure to visit Giolito and sample the Braciuk, a semisoft cheese aged in the already pressed grapes of the region’s most famous wine. Amazing. My friend’s university is associated with the movement, as well, and if you think that olive oil tastings and trips to local farms sound like way too much fun to be in any way academic then you’re probably just jealous. I know I am.
The point is that people in Piedmont really, truly, and deeply care about every aspect of their food. And it shows. Several of the best meals of my life happened within the short span of one weekend. One of these was tajarin con il sugo alla salsiccia di bra, tajarin being a special kind of flour-based pasta made with numerous eggs, which give it a distinctive bright yellow color, bordering on orange.
The sausage from Bra is another regional specialty that you would normally eat raw, but in this dish, it is cooked into a meat sauce with tomatoes and spices. I am not joking when I say I could eat this meal every day for the rest of my life and never tire of it. Their dedication to promoting the Slow Food lifestyle and their passion for putting really incredible food out there totally won me over.
As previously stated, the way to my heart is through my stomach and in no time, I fell in love with Milan all over again.
The infatuation with Piedmont only intensified thanks to the beautiful countryside. The Alps are just a few miles away, and in the morning they glow pink as the sun rises. The ever elusive sun in rainy Milan was shining in a clear blue sky the entire time. Away from the smoggy city I love so much, it was a nice treat to breathe in fresh air and be woken up by chirping birds instead of the beeping of garbage trucks. I liked the region so much I quickly made plans to meet up with the same friend in the capital city of Turin a few weeks later.
Turin did not disappoint. Not only is Turin known for its highly popular soccer team, Juventus, and the amazing chocolate brand, Gianduja, it is also known for being one of the most industrial cities in Italy. Because of this, I was expecting the city itself to be less attractive than it was. I found it remarkably beautiful with its huge, numerous piazzas, buildings with stately facades and romantic balconies, and cobblestoned streets lit with candelabra-like streetlamps. Not to mention, once again, the natural beauty surrounding the city, which include the Alps and the Po River as well as the glorious springtime smell in the air. Even in the middle of February, I was able to take off my jacket quite comfortably–my apologies to all of you who are experiencing the Polar Vortex.
Wandering around was pleasant as was giggling uncontrollably at some of the window displays on Via Po. Eating, which is always a major event during my vacations, was again a satisfying experience. For 13 euro, we were able to find a great brunch place called Lanificio San Salvatore, complete with breakfast buffet and your choice of one of their sweet or savory options plus one hot drink and one cold. The freshly squeezed blood orange juice was delightfully tangy and washed down the sausage omelet perfectly.
By the end of the visit, I was ready to trade in one Italian powerhouse for another. Luckily, immediately upon returning to Milan–with the sun miraculously still shining–I went to aperitivo, pre-dinner drinks and snacks, with two of my roommates and a few other friends. As previously stated, the way to my heart is through my stomach and in no time, I fell in love with Milan all over again.
Love at First Bite: Food in Italy