Italian food experience

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Okay, so that was a bit longer a hiatus than I was planning.  My wife and I returned from an 8-day trip to Italy on Saturday, but it’s taken me a few days to get caught up on things here before I finally had a chance to sit down this morning and write about it.

As a budding history buff, Italy has always been pretty high on my list of places to visit.  Ancient Rome.  The Vatican.  Renaissance Florence.  The canals of Venice.  Before our trip my wife and I were chatting and we counted 5 other countries where we’d already seen Roman ruins.  Plus we’d seen a couple of former Venetian port cities on Crete.  Not to mention how frequently these settings are used in movies, tv, video games, etc.  It was cool to think we’d finally get to see where these empires actually began.  For this trip we’d use Rome, Florence and Venice as our main bases for exploration.

But of course there was another reason that Italy was our destination of choice this time around – the food.  Italian food may be the most ubiquitous cuisine on the planet.  You can literally find an Italian restaurant pretty much anywhere.  We have two within a 5 minute walk from our place here in Cairo.  It’s easy to understand why.  Who doesn’t enjoy pizza and pasta (well, except my father-in-law who wouldn’t touch spaghetti to save his life)?

Anyways, I thought I’d take some time to discuss our food experience while in Italy.

As I’ve mentioned before in a recent post on Greece, when my wife and I travel, we try to do so as economically as possible.  It’s a challenge to do this in Italy.  Italy is expensive, there’s no two ways about it.  And that includes the food.  As such we tried to limit our visits to restaurants to dinners only.

In Rome we stayed at a fantastic little B&B that provided breakfast and snacks, so it was a little easier to do this here.  Our accommodations in Florence and Venice unfortunately did not, so we had to pop into cafes for a quick Italian breakfast (usually a croissant/danish + coffee).  Not exactly what we’re accustomed to and I definitely found that I was missing fruit with my breakfast by the end of the trip.  Italian cafes themselves were a new experience to us and it took us a few trips to figure them out.  Most cafes double as bars and while they all seem to have seating, almost no one uses it – just order your coffee at the bar and drink it there.  I’m assuming that this is because the prices of food/drinks you order more than double if you choose to sit down?

our typical Italian breakfast

our typical Italian breakfast

We did much better for lunches.   As we do most places we travel, whenever possible we stopped in a supermarket and/or produce vendors to pick up a few things for our lunches.  Not only is this a little more economical, but we really enjoy being able to simply find a bench in a busy piazza (aka square), eat our lunch and do some people watching.  A couple of days we had trouble finding a supermarket, so we had to “settle” for take-away pizza slices or freshly made sandwiches.

lunch on the pier overlooking the Grand Canal in Venice

lunch on the pier overlooking the Grand Canal in Venice

enjoying a sandwich in the Piazza della Signoria in Florence

enjoying a sandwich in the Piazza della Signoria in Florence

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produce market in Bologna

Dinners were definitely a highlight.  A lot of restaurants offer a “tourist menu”.  This would usually consist of a first course (pasta), second course (meat/seafood) + small salad and dessert.  Its a fairly good option if you’re looking to sample a few dishes and keep costs down.  Most nights though we’d go a la carte, where we’d share an appetizer and each order either a pasta or pizza dish.  A few of the highlights for me were a sausage and mushroom pizza in a small Pompeii restaurant and a fantastic prawn and zucchini pasta dish in Venice.

pizza in Pompeii

pizza in Pompeii

Tagliatelle pasta with prawns and zucchini

Tagliatelle pasta with prawns and zucchini

A few other of my Italian food highlights:

  • The Quadrilatero Market in Bologna.  The Bologna region is a culinary hotspot – parmesean cheese, aged balsamic vinegar and mortadella deli meat (aka bologna) all come from here.  The Quadrilatero Market is an area of town just off the central piazza loaded with produce vendors, fish mongers and deli/sandwich shops.  Awesome to simply just wander through.
  • Of course in keeping with our tradition we did a cooking class in Florence.  The menu – pizza & gelato!  I’ll write more about this in a future post.
  • Italian cappuccino.  I’m not even a coffee drinker, but I absolutely enjoyed my cappuccino most mornings with breakfast.

As we only had 8 days, I’m sure we only scratched the surface of the true Italian food experience.  If we do ever return, I’m looking forward to checking out more of the southern part of the country and try to stop in a few smaller villages to see how things differ there.

Caio for now!

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