There are several nice things about traveling with a friend instead of traveling alone. These things are multiplied if you share certain interests with your friends. They understand how you must take a photo of your meal before you eat it, are willing to have marathon meals and introduce you to nice wines you wouldn’t know about otherwise. If you are really lucky, they will understand your obsession with weekend breakfast pastries and your anxiety surrounding Italian cafes. These are the kinds of things friends and traveling partners are for, in my humble opinion.
On the train ride to Parma, my friend and I began discussing the patchy preparation we had done for our trip. We pieced together directions to the hotel from rough cell phone maps, looked at the museum recommendations from my guidebook and trip advisor searches, but most importantly we coordinated the names of the restaurants we found. After all, when you’re traveling one of the food capitals of Italy you need to make sure you’re getting the best of the best. You have your priorities straight.
One of the places that our respective lists had in common was Pasticceria Torino, a pastry shop that’s on the way from the train station to the center of town. Every review online talks about the dizzying array of brioche flavors they offer, which was more than enough to get me to head there on Sunday morning. When we saw how close it was to our hotel, well, we had our plans.
Walking in definitely provided a certain amount of anxiety as we figured out how this bar worked. Here’s the low down: go in, grab your pastry with a napkin, head to the bar and order your drink. Consume standing up as there is only one lonely table here. Pay and get on your way. The cafe is big, but there were so many people eating pastries and drinking coffee that it became quite crowded pretty quickly.
I had a cappuccino scuro to drink and a brioche vuota to eat. While I was excited about the prospect of tons of different flavors to choose from, I was disappointed. There were only three: plain, cream and amarena aspra, which I assume is sour cherry. My friend, who is a chocolate brioche devotee, was disappointed that they were missing this critical option. I don’t blame her.
Nevertheless, our pastries were top notch. They were dense enough that it felt like you were eating an Italian brioche instead of a sad croissant and they weren’t too sweet. True, I could have done without the awkward sugar sprinkles on top, but sometimes you have to make compromises.
What really impressed me, however, was the cappuccino. Normally, cappuccini in Italy taste like milk and disappointingly lukewarm milk at that. This, however, tasted like coffee. Yes, it was milky coffee but I would be happy if I found this coffee/milk ratio in America. If I had been able to sit down, or at least take my time, to drink and eat I would have loved Pasticceria Torino even more.
If you’re heading to Parma, make sure to put Pasticceria Torino on your to do list. It’s one of those places that is fiercely Italian. Despite the historic setting, you can tell this is a neighborhood place. Even though you may feel like an outsider, it’s worth it for the slice of Italian life you’ll get to experience.
Do you enjoy finding the authentic local experience when traveling? Do you feel like an outsider when you find it?