Location: Naples, Italy
As soon as you set foot in Naples, you’re enveloped in a world of perfect chaos. Caught in a flurry of scattered pedestrians, speedy vespas, and crumbling alleyways, you’re a mere dot splattered on a canvas.
There’s the banter and shouting of animated locals and the impatient, aggressive honking of congested traffic squeezed into the tiny, twisted streets. There’s the aroma of fried local goodies, of freshly baked bread and pizza a portafoglio. There’s wonderfully brewed espresso. There’s babà with custard! There’s sfogliatella. Amidst the confusion, there are historical gems like Castel dell’Ovo and beautiful old churches around every corner.
Location: Lecce, Apulia, Italy
During our road trip around Puglia, we stopped in Lecce for a day. When evening rolled around, looking to have a casual dinner, we scoped out a place that served bombette – a popular Pugliese specialty that I had read about before our trip.
Fresh ingredients such as ham, eggplant, nuts, cheese, asparagus, and mushrooms are wrapped in fresh slabs of pork, which are then grilled to perfection. It was madness when we walked in. A sweaty horde of people gathered around the meat counter, the heavy scent of pork fat wafting through the air.
Location: Apulia (Salento), Italy
There’s a great expression used in Italian gastronomy that describes how well two different ingredients go together. It’s “la morte sua”, which is “to die for” in English. However, I find it more fun if you translate it literally, word for word, because it sounds like one ingredient causes the death of the other.
For example, you could say: OMG, you have to try this bread, it’s amazing! Spread some nutella on top – it’s la morte sua (it’s the bread’s death)!
The other night our friend surprised us with a chocolate salame.
It’s not as weird as it sounds. A “salame di cioccolato” is a common Italian dessert, and no meat involved.
(*Note: In English it’s referred to as a “chocolate salami.” For some reason, Italian words in English are always changed into their plural form. Like “panini.” It’s annoying when someone orders a “panini” in the USA, it’s PANINO).
Location: Palermo, Sicily
Arancini are originally from Sicily, so of course, the best arancini I’ve ever had were in Palermo.
These savory fried rice balls are made everywhere in Italy, but from personal experience, they aren’t very good unless they come from the homeland. Elsewhere, they are always too dry, lacking flavor, or the rice-to-other-ingredients ratio is terrible. My favorite are the arancini al ragù (rice, tomato sauce with minced meat, peas, onions, and mozzarella), but they can be filled with a variety of ingredients like ham, mushrooms, and spinach.
Location: Rapallo, Liguria, Italy
Focaccia di Recco came into my life one balmy summer evening in a small, unassuming restaurant in downtown Rapallo. Knowing it was a regional specialty, my husband and I ordered it expecting the usual thick, somewhat dense but soft bread that the word focaccia usually refers to. Then the waiter came over and set down this silver plate of what resembled jaggedly cut up, crunchy quesadillas. I tore off a piece and took my first bite. The hot, savory, melted cheese oozed out on all ends of the thin, crispy bread. Simple, yet absolutely scrumptious.
While visiting my sister-in-law, I curiously snuck a peek at the baby food they had at home. Differences in eating habits between Italy and the US are always interesting to me.
In addition to the jars of fruit and vegetable medleys and meats like beef and turkey, which are typical to both cultures, there were these 3 gems: tomato and ricotta, prosciutto, and rabbit. I love how baby food mirrors local culture and what everyone eats as an adult.
Location: Merano, Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy
We spent this New Year’s Eve in Merano, a lovely town completely surrounded by mountains in Trentino-Alto Adige. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the region, Trentino-Alto Adige is basically the least Italian place in Italy. Situated on the borders of Switzerland and Austria, it’s is an autonomous region (their healthcare and school systems are separate from the rest of Italy) divided into two parts: Trentino, the southern province, and Alto Adige (South Tyrol in English), the northern province. Merano is in the Alto Adige part. Generally speaking, those who are from the area identify more with the German culture and lifestyle, and are not too fond of being considered Italians.
I like to think it was fate that led me to marry a man from Campania, which happens to be the birthplace of Mozzarella di Bufala, one of my absolute favorite Italian foods of all time. As I write this post, I sit here staring longingly at pictures of this exquisite cheese, daydreaming about its incredibly smooth, gleaming white exterior, and its soft, milky, rich interior.