There are few places in the word as famous for its food than Italy. There’s just something special about traditional Italian cuisine that sets it apart from most of its neighbors. I’ve never seen a Swiss restaurant near where I live, but there are plenty of Italian bistros and there’s a reason for that. Italian food speaks to our souls in a way few other cuisines manage, so whenever I visit Italy food is of course an important part of the experience. I’ve enjoyed many great meals and food experiences in Italy, but here are some of my favorites, many of which go beyond simple pleasure and helped me better understand the regions and different cultures of this always fun to visit country.
All of Bologna
In Italy there is a saying about Bologna, it is often labeled as ‘The Fat, the Red, the Learned.’ The red actually refers to the generous use of brick in their architecture and the learned refers to the ancient and well-known university. The ‘fat’ though, that’s the interesting attribution and as I learned it is all too accurate. Bologna, and indeed the entire Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, is blessed with a clear overabundance of great foods, both in their natural form and man made. So many of what we consider to be Italian classics all come from Bologna: Mortadella, lasagna, ragu sauce, tortellini, Balsamic vinegar and so on. A brief walk through the city center, along with several great meals, proved not only how much the Bolognese love their food, but just how very good it is. It’s hard to find a bad meal in Italy, but in Bologna it is impossible.
Sorrento Pizza Making
Perched high on a hill overlooking the city of Sorrento and the bay on which it sits, I couldn’t help but fall in love. This is the promise, this is what the coastline of Italy should be and living there, even if only for a few days, was a travel experience I won’t soon forget. A slower pace of life, kind people and delicious food; add in amazing scenery and you have a recipe for success. While I loved learning more about the city, one of my favorite experiences there had nothing to do with the views or long history, it was instead an experience I booked to learn more about the culture through food. Chef Carmen has long been a fixture in Sorrento and has led cooking classes for years. She’s famous not only for her stellar cooking skills, but for a personality that lights up a room. Spending several hours with her, along with a small group of other students, I laughed more than I have in a long time as I learned the intricacies of making such classics as pizza, gnocchi and eggplant parmesan. While I’m not sure I can replicate the recipes at home exactly, there’s no doubt I had a fun afternoon and a delicious meal as a result of my time with Carmen.
Over the last few trips to Rome I’ve joined a couple of food tours, each fun and delicious but also very different from one another. Eating Europe is a food-focused food tour company that I have come to depend on whenever I’m in Europe and in Rome that meant spending a morning exploring the Trastevere neighborhood with a local resident. For hours we meandered around this hip neighborhood, one I had never before visited, learning about its history and enjoying those snacks and meals important to the people who live there. From gelato and pasta to more local favorites, the morning spent with them was full of laughter and fun moments, including my first bite of porchetta. So much more than just expertly cooked pork, this homey dish is a pork roast that is stuffed with any number of ingredients and slowly cooked over wood for hours. It’s also a dish that folks very seriously, each provider certain that their version is the best in the city. That’s the real value in any great food tour, getting closer to local communities and learning all about them through what they love to eat.
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