Last October, we ticked off a biggie from our bucket list – Italy. Our trip began in Rome and ended in Venice and we managed to squeeze in Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast and Florence in between.
Italy blew us away. We fell madly in love with the people, the art, the shopping, the history and most importantly the food. The freshness of the produce, the simplicity of the recipes and the sheer love that shone through from every dish raised the bar for any other trip to follow.
It was also during our Italian trip that we discovered the best way to acclimatise yourself to a city. Book a food tour – preferably on the first or second day of your trip – and you learn so much more about a city, its cuisine and customs than from any guide book or Internet article.
During our holiday, I kept a meticulous diary of what we ate and where 🙂 Here’s one of my first entries…
Our Eating Italy Walking Tour
Our first morning spent in Rome was spent in the best way possible – eating! Food is and always will be my passion and I was lucky that Sunil shared the same love of Italian food as I did. So, two pasta and pizza lovers set out bright and early one fine Saturday morning to meet our tour guide Emma at a nearby cafe. We were a group of twelve from all over the world – America, Australia, Europe and us from India. Emma herself was from Scotland and though she had been living in Italy for the last five years, she still had a lilting trace of a Scottish brogue. It all made for a delightfully cosmopolitan group.
We started the tour at the Barberini Pastecceria. A visual treat for the eyes and for a baker like me – heaven. The tiny store was crammed from floor to ceiling with cakes and pastries, bon bons, macarons, biscotti and even some Halloween treats (marzipan ghosts anyone?). We were given a cornetto to begin with. A smaller, less buttery version of the French croissant, a typical Italian breakfast consists of a caffe and a cornetto. Breakfast is always sweet in Italy (another reason to move here). As a special treat, we also indulged in a mini chocolate cup filled with the lightest fluffiest tiramisu. Such joy!
We then moved on a few shops down to Volpetti. This famous Italian version of a delicatessen is a cornucopia of all things indulgent. Truffles dark and velvety, balsamic vinegar aged until it’s a nuanced syrup, hams and meats from all over the country hung precariously over our heads as we dodged vats of fresh buffalo mozzarella and gigantic wheels of Pecorino cheese from the region.
Apart from the wondrous sights, Volpetti was also a feast of smells and we left slightly drunk on wafer thin slices of proscuitto ham and melt in the mouth roundels of salami. Our tummies were slowly filling up in the most joyous of ways.
Around the corner was Volpetti Pu. A small hole in the wall extension of the deli that served us the best pizza we have ever tasted. Bar none. A simple slice of freshly baked dough topped with the most glorious mix of Pecorino and Parmigiano Reggiano and a fresh tomato and basil sauce. Yes. Just that simple and unbelievably delicious. Both of us swore that we would return for more.
After a short diversion via the Protestant Cemetery where we saw the graves of Keats and Shelley, we walked on to the mercato or the local market. Being a Saturday it was full of locals stocking up for the weekend.
After photographing the fresh produce on display – some we could identify and some totally foreign to us – we were taken a bakery where on slices of freshly baked bread we made our own bruschetta. This one knocked me for a six. Bah humbug I thought bruschetta – tomatoes and bread with basil. So what? Mistake. Big mistake. If we had tomatoes like this back in Pune, I would be the healthier girl for sure. Succulent red chunks of tomato expertly tossed with a mere smattering of salt and a few basil leaves and eaten with the bread was a snack to die for. With our without the fresh mozzarella that was accompanying it, it was spectacular. Buonissomo!
Before we moved on to lunch (eep), a special treat awaited us in the form of a true blue Sicilian cannoli. The trick to knowing whether you are getting the real deal? The cannoli shells are filled fresh in front of you, only ricotta cheese is used and each bite will cause fainting spells. Ok the last point was mine but its true.
And then on to lunch! Served at a local taverna, lunch consisted of a spread of three local pastas – Tonnarelli cacio e pepe (the Roman classic of fresh pasta tossed with cheese and pepper), Pasta Amatriciana (the local version of a rich tomato sauce with bacon) and Spaghetti Carbonara (cubes of guincale or cheek of the pig tossed with eggs and a sprinkling of Pecorino cheese). Such simple dishes and so full of robust flavours.
By now, our tummies were beyond stuffed. As we groaned and waddled out of the taverna, Emma told us there were only two more stops. The first was to taste Suppli – a largish ball of risotto stuffed with beef and veggies. Honestly, while it tasted amazing, I could barely do it justice, as I was so stuffed already. Suppli – I will return to you, this I promise.
The last (but not the least) stop on the tour was at Giolitti. The hundred plus-year old gelataria in Rome run by seven generations of family with each flavour hand churned every day. Fresh fruit is brought in by the bushelful every morning and in a few hours, you see the same fruit in a new creamy avataar. The son of the family served us, and as he waited for each one to choose their two flavours, he was also monitoring us! If we dared to combine two choices that had no reason to be in the same cup or cone together, we would be sent to the back of the line to rethink our flavours once again.
Under such pressure, you will be glad to know that I passed the test in flying colours. My choices of zabaglione (homemade custard with Marsala wine) and dark chocolate met Master Giolliti’s approval and I even got my complimentary topping of fresh whipped cream. We also learned that it is a LEGAL right for gelatarias in Rome to serve you two flavours and a topping of cream without charging you extra. (Have I said it before? Can we move to Italy?)
This marked the end of our fabulous Eating Italy food tour. I would totally recommend it to anyone visiting Rome (or London or Prague – they have tours there as well) as the best way to acclimatise yourself to a place as well as learn about local food and customs.
Here’s the link to their website for those interested – http://www.eatingitalyfoodtours.com/