My parents, upon their arrival, told me that they wouldn’t — they couldn’t — get sick of eating pasta during their two-week trip to Italy. I listened,
nodded politely laughed and told them that we’d see. About the time we arrived in Bologna, my dad admitted the once-unthinkable, that he was getting sick of pasta. I wasn’t surprised. Soon after, my mother concurred.
Italian food isn’t necessarily dull, there just isn’t the variety that you find in America and the UK. Upon reflection, it’s understandable, though surprisingly difficult to adapt to, even for just two weeks. You begin combing menus for something new, something you haven’t tried yet. Your taste preferences, however, don’t mutate. I can’t tell you how many times someone ordered a variation of spaghetti ai frutti di mare or tagliatelle con funghi porcini. Really, you don’t want to know. It’s kind of criminal.
Yet, my parents and I agree that we ate well. There were only a few clunkers out of our dinners and lunches during the two weeks (breakfast, however, is a different story). Even with the lackluster meals, the food wasn’t exactly bad, just a bit blah or not suited to our personal tastes. Turns out, I don’t like fresh tuna either.
One of our first meals, pictured in part above, was sandwiches from I Due Fratellini in Florence. It’s a famous sandwich shop that sells small, cheap panini to hungry hoards, eager to eat in the street. While I’d heard people rave about the sandwiches and talk about them as if they were mythical creatures, I found them solidly lackluster. They were fine. Had I not had truffle-infused cheese on mine, I would have been solidly disappointed.
A favorite meal came the next day for lunch in Siena. Newly-arrived in the city we left our hotel room in a daze and stumbled to Osteria Il Grattacielo and sat outside on a table sloping down a hill. Ordering is quite the adventure, but worth every moment of confusion. Walk in and go to the counter, look at the food they have for that day. You can either choose one or two things for yourself or choose a plate to share. That’s what we did. They pile on and arrange all the eats and bring your plates. It’s quite the nice meal, though I would recommend eating inside where you don’t have to worry about the awkward slope.
Of course, we did eat some meals in restaurants. One of the few notable ones, because all that pasta begins to blend together after a while, was also in Siena at La Taverna di Cecco. Located near the Campo di Palio, but tucked away enough on a side street to avoid being touristy, this cozy restaurant is worth a visit if you happen to find yourself in the Sienese hillside. I ordered gnocchi al tartufo, my dad ate some pici con sugo di cinghiale (thick tuscan spaghetti with wild boar sauce) and my mom … well, we’re not sure what that’s a picture of. Any guesses?
I’m a huge fan of eating in hotels and I made sure we did that a couple times during our trip. One of the most notable non-dining out meals was at our hotel in Naples. Dare I say it, it might have been one of my favorite meals of the trip. We had taralli, arugula salad, mozzarella di bufala, another cheese we cannot identify and some sundried tomatoes. Simple and utterly delightful after stomping through Naples all day. Some may call Naples the land of pizza, but I’m calling it the land of il tarallo.
Eating endless meal out after endless meal out may sound fun, but soon grows wearisome. Though it’s sometimes nice to sit down and have it all taken care of for you, sometimes just relaxing and eating sitting cross-legged is more fun. As cool as it is to try the meals out, I have a feeling that most Italians don’t eat the mammoth plates of pasta served in restaurants. I know there are other kinds of breads than you find in the breadbasket and, let’s be honest, you can find better desserts in bakeries than you’ll find in most restaurant kitchens.
But if the question is what’s Italian food, after this year I can truly attest to the fact that the answer is pasta and pizza. And cookies for breakfast.
(the pizza pictured is from Di Matteo in Naples. the one Bill Clinton visited.)
Do you enjoy eating out? What’s your favorite cuisine?