Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Taste of Italy..

I used to think westerners have no idea about cooking "real" (as good as Indian) vegetarian food... it's not like I have been to a lot of places around the world - but hey - let's face it - we are all prejudiced..

I must say I was wrong - big time - :-) glad to admit it - I simply loved the food in Italy - especially the vegetarian food. Just thinking about Italy takes me to a food utopia!!

Without further ado let's go on a food trail in Italy...

First stop - Trattoria Quattro Leoni in Florence - Trattoria in Italian means a casual diner.

We started with Caprese Salad - Tomatoes, Fresh buffalo mozzarella, basil and olive oil. It is as simple as that - no fancy decorations needed - the food is fancy enough :-).

Here's a testimonial for the salad - Shank - my hubby, claims that he hates cheese.. and really stays away from cheesy stuff here in the US. That day he ate one whole ball of mozzerella cheese!!! Now he claims that he hates cheese from everywhere else except Italy :-)

It must be something about the Italian climate and the quality of soil or whatever - even a lame veggie like tomato tastes great.. every single ingredient has this beautiful natural flavor that makes even a simple combination like caprese salad taste heavenly!

Highlight of the meal was this pasta... I cannot stop raving about it - Hand made pasta into a shape similar to a modak - it was stuffed with dried pear - yes the fruit pear - and served with white sauce - Simply Divine!!!

Death By Chocolate

We planned most of our trip as per Rick Steves guide book. I can write a whole post about how great and extremely usable the guidebook is.... I think for now it is sufficient to say that we were carrying and using it at all times during our trip. Rick highly recommended this dessert - Death by Chocolate at Tre Scalini cafe in Piazza Navona in Rome. It was described as the best in the world etc etc.. Shank being a chocolate fanatic - we hadta taste it.. so we did..

It was totally worth the hype! Multi-layered ball of chocolate - starting from outside - a thin layer of frozen chocolate fudge, followed by a thick layer of chocolate mouse, followed by a sticky chocolate mixture and a rum-soaked cherry at the center. and they serve it with whipped cream on top - what's not to like!

Shank din't let me eat more than a few bites.. and said "I can do anything for love.. (but I won't do that)"

RistoCampo Panini

Campo de fiori is a happening, college hang out piazza (square) in Rome. This panini place - called Risto Campo was full of college students having snacks and beer. You could choose what goes in the panini.. I had a combination of spicy pickled peppers, chicken and cheese. Yumm!! It was quite late - around 10.30 at night - and we started walking to the closest bus stop while eating the panini.. Both of us loved the taste soo much that we went back for another one :-)

Anonymous Bakery near Piazza San Giovanni in Rome:
According to Rick Steves - and common sense - a restaurant filled with local people and lots of traffic usually guarantees great taste.... very true when it comes to this bakery. This bakery was 2 minutes from our hotel near Piazza San Giovanni in Rome.

Their spread had a variety of grilled veggies, Pizza, cookies, bread and all of it was fresh out of the oven. They were running out of the Pizza so fast that every time I walked up to the counter there was a new steaming hot variety available!

Here's a testimonial to this place and the in general to the taste of veggies in Italy - we had fresh zucchini pizza... the center picture below and it was as tasty as the tomato-spicy olive pizza!

Of course we also hogged on the grilled mushrooms, eggplants and tomatoes and ended the affair with fresh baked cookies.

Paav Bhaji Pasta!

When a menu in Italy says something is spicy - they mean it! We had a spicy (tikha/chamchameet) pasta in Di Gallo - right across from the Duomo in Florence. It was so spicy I called it Pav Bhaji pasta..

One of my colleagues who is Italian said to me that he does not "get" Indian food.... The reason is the use of spices - the flavors in Indian food are too complex - he said - Indian food will have saffron in rice, but then they will also add cloves and bay leaves and cardamom etc etc.. whereas a typical Italian sauce or pasta dish has one primary spice - at most two - and still it is delicious. I agree with him completely - the use of spices is very different in Indian food as compared to Italian.

For example this pasta had tomatoes, olive oil, paprika and parsley - that's it. The quality of the ingredients takes care of the rest!

Couple of common highlights -

1. Gelato - Italian icecream. We had several gelatos over our 9 day trip and all of them were great! Especially on a hot summer day when you are taking long walks to sight see..

2. Cappuccino - Italians know how to make cappuccino. We had at least two everyday. Thoroughly refreshing! Imagine sitting in a roadside cafe in Piazza Navona looking at upcoming artists selling beautiful paintings and sipping away your cappuccino..

Napoli - Birthplace of Pizza
We had to take a ferry from Naples to go to Capri islands - and we had enough time in Naples to taste the pizza - they say Napoli/Naples is the birth place of pizza. Here's a picture of Pizza Margarita - real simple with tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese and basil - the three colors of the Italian flag :)
Olives in Capri

I know - you are probably saying - what's the big deal with Olives... I tell you the olives we had in the bar of Cesar Augustus resort were out of this world!!!! The texture is imprinted in my mouth. I think the main difference is - these olives are not pickled for too long. So the olive was tart and you could bite into it. The cocktail - Champagne Pick me up - complimented the olives very well...

We ordered another cocktail just so we could get another bowl of olives.. oh - I wish I could go back to Cesar Augustus..
Have to mention Venice.... The Realto Bridge and surrounding Realto Market is full of small eateries. This was where we had first real Pizza - right out of the oven - full of flavors of fresh veggies just awesome!

Popular spots in the evening are small crowded pubs that serve yummy finger food. You can also dine in one of the canal side restaurants - we did that - and the food was pretty good - but not the best in our trip.

"If I weren't an Indian - I'd want to be an Italian"

I think I know why we were feeling at home in Italy - Similarity between Italian and Indian culture is striking.. Food and cooking is a significant part of their lifestyle... Small trattoria cooking family recipes is a very common scene... Officials at the train station or bus stations are least interested in helping you.. they will give you rude looks if you ask 'stupid' questions like a tourist.. but if you ask the same questions to a common man - you will get a completely different treatment. They will insist to accompany you to make sure you got the directions correctly. Law and enforcement is considered as a 'nice to have' - you are expected not to do stupid things like keeping valuable things like your iPhone in a vulnerable spot.. you should know it is an easy target for pick pockets....

I can go on and on.. Basically I agree with the way Shalaka said it -
"If I weren't an Indian - I'd want to be an Italian"


  1. delicious post - makes me wanna go there...

  2. Very well put together Anuja :)

  3. Great narration and mouth-watering pictures. Keep up the good work!!!

  4. Thank you for this post. I went to Ristocampo and could not tell what she asked me after I ordered. I assumed she asked what I wanted "in mezzo," but I didn't know what I could choose... so I just said "tutto" and she rolled her eyes and just didn't put anything in it.

    Was their a sign or something with the options? :P


  5. :) sorry to hear that - I believe I just pointed at things and she put those in the sub.

  6. Very deliciously written :). Cant wait to go and try all the food you mentioned..