EAT PRAY LOVE (Arrivaderci Italia)

13 Apr

Eat. Pray. Love.  Although the character in this famous movie and book had to travel to three countries to accomplish these three tasks, I completed them all during my short time in Italy.  I may not have a movie-worthy story, but what I experienced is pretty outstanding. In my first excursion out of Spain, I was able to double the amount of countries, cities, and cultures I had previously experienced.  The gondolas and waterways in Venice; the Tuscan Sun, Medici Family Palace, and Vineyards of Florence; the hiking the untouched Italian Riviera in Cinque Terre; the tower in Pisa; and the Colosseum, Vatican , and mopeds of Roma made this trip unforgettable. However, the story does not lie in what I saw and did, but rather what I experienced.

Being of Italian descent, I was on a mission to connect with the Italian culture and learn about the place my great-grandparents lived.  It is hard to explain, but I felt such a connection with the culture.  It was part of me.  Although the only clues that I am Italian are my dark skin and my last name, I still felt like I was going back to my roots.  This is where my family started years ago.  Italian and proud, I was ready to explore my homeland.

EAT…Let me start with the most cliché part of Italy: the food!   Let me tell you, it puts Olive Garden to shame.  I never have eaten so many great plates of food in such a concentrated amount of time.  Our first meal during our layover in Bologna was unreal.  Known as the food capital of Italy, we knew we were in for a treat.  That restaurant is when I fell head over heels in love with Italy.   My 5 Euro pizza shocked us all when it was served.  It was the size of a dominos XL pizza…granted the crust was thinner, but still!  As I dug in I knew there was no way I was going to go back to Spain weighing the same.  Every time I sat down, I gained a new appreciation for the miraculous cooking methods of these Italian chefs.  Every time we were served, our group would take a bite of our own meal and then play “pass the plate” in which we literally sent our food around the table so we could all get a taste. Some of my favorites were Fettuccine with Asparagus and Bacon,  Tortellini with Prosciutto and Cream,  Eggplant and Pecorino Cheese Panini, Risotto con cream y vino,  and Pesto on Pasta in the town in which this basil sauce was invented.  Of course my curious mind had to try some of the strange specialties of the area.  I tried Florentine Tripa( Cow Stomach stew), Ox Tail, Wild Boar, Cuttle Fish Pasta that was black from the squids ink, anchovies, zucchini flowers, and Roman Artichokes and Polenta(a corn meal mush with meat and tomato sauce).  The polenta had a special significance to me because it is my dad’s favorite food. He comes from an Italian family and when my great grandma made polenta he would act like a little kid on Christmas.  I never liked it when I was younger, but decided I should give it a try, in honor of my Italian heritage.  As it turns out it was one of my favorite meals!  I guess my dad’s family wasn’t so crazy after all.  To my surprise some of the most common Italian food was not really part of the Italian meal…just an American twist on the classic.  For example I did not see one breadstick the entire time, nor did any menu have fettuccine with grilled chicken, and the only time we saw spaghetti and meatballs was on the English menu at one restaurant…when we compared the English and Italian menus we discovered that this wasn’t even offered on the Italian version, they were just trying to please their American customers.

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 Despite being in Italy, we did have two not-so-great meals.  The first night, we got to our hostel late and were staying in a small town and we ended up eating at small bar run by a Chinese lady.  We ordered and our jaws about dropped when the food came out in microwavable trays…we payed five euro for a lean cuisine meal!  What? In Italy? No Way!  The other funny story was from the night I ordered duck.  I was excited to try a new meat but was once again shocked when the waiter brought out two hotdogs and a lemon.  Confused, I asked her about it and she assured me that I was eating duck.   Trust me lady, I’m an American, I know a hot dog when I see one.   However, every other meal was leaps and bounds beyond our expectations.  Italian food blows all other cuisines out of the world.  I bet you are salivating as I tell you this and I haven’t even started with the sweets.  Hello GELATO- the best invention ever.  America’s ice cream falls in the shadows of this great culinary masterpiece.  Hazelnut, cookies, nutella, mango, peach, mint, caramel cream, mascarpone, pistachio….I could go on forever.  With a gelateria on every street, it was hard to resist, which is why we didn’t. The marvelous colors of this creamy confection were piled high and calling our names though the crystal clear glass display cases.  Topping of a day of touring with a cone of gelato equals la dolce vita(the sweet life).  Italy certainly has some amazing culinary inventions.   Back in Spain, I am already going through pasta, pizza, and gelato withdrawal.

Now that I have completed the EAT part of my journey, let’s move on to the PRAY.  Stay tuned for my next blog in which I recreate my spiritual journey while spending Holy Week and Easter in this very Catholic country.


4 Responses to “EAT PRAY LOVE (Arrivaderci Italia)”

  1. boileradmin April 13, 2012 at 7:26 pm #

    Glad you tried the boar! My mouth is watering.

    • Ann Lira April 15, 2012 at 12:16 am #

      I love reading these. I will anxiously await to read about Easter mass with the Pope!

  2. dizneesmurf April 14, 2012 at 1:36 am #

    I saw your photo of your “duck” meal and wondered ~ could it have been a duck sausage? It really did look like a hot dog though!
    I have to agree with you on the pizza. Your Mom makes a great deep dish pizza, but there is no beating a fresh Italian pizza 🙂 I got a pizza “to-go” one time and they looked at me like I was nuts. It was stone cold by the time I walked back the 4 or 5 blocks to my room, but it was still delicious. ( And I never ordered pizza to go again while I was in Italy!)

  3. April April 16, 2012 at 5:58 pm #

    I started getting hungry midway through reading your blog! I absolutely agree — Italian food, even the humblest, served on a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant, is always amazing. The thin crust pizzas, gelato, fresh pasta — ahhhh!

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