Thursday, August 28, 2014

cichetti, batella and an Irishman in Venice

Finally, five months later, I am getting a little bit of down time and can finally recount my adventure with the McDermotts.

Sabato in Campo
Arriving in to Stazione Santa Lucia with my back pack, I curved my way towards Palazzo Guardi where I hoped Zizi Linda, Uncle John and Juliana would already be waiting for me.  Given the hour and the fortunate path google maps had laid out for me, I was able to stop and get my saturday venetian fish fry in Campo Cesare Battisti (Sabato in Campo) before the McDermos arrived. Lucky for me, McDermos were already being refreshed and relaxed in their gorgeous annexed room of Palazzo Guardi, which they so kindly let me stay in with them.  The time was right, and I was impressed with their punctuality, which turns out could have been more punctual if there was no airport bus mishap, but anyways, this meant that I would be able to show them the Sabato in Campo that I had just enjoyed with strangers a little more than an hour ago. It took some convincing to get them mobilized and prepped for a 20 minute walk to find food, but I did it and we were off in Venice to get some fritto misto and vino bianco! Yay!

I was happy that the convincing paid off. We made it to Sabato in Campo just as it was closing, and everyone was more than happy to indulge on the fried calamari and white polenta. With fuel in our tummies we started Zizi Linda's wish list, walking toward Piazza San Marco, taking a quick peak in the Basilica and continuing to walk around until Uncle John called nap time. We returned back to Palazzo Guardi to have a nice nap before setting out to find what Zizi Linda had been researching for months. The famous venetian Cicchetti bars! And apparently our hotel was conveniently located near two of the best according to Zizi Linda's search.  So, freshly napped we headed out to find our cicchetti bars which is ethe venetian version for aperitivo, but has the same general concept of having a pre dinner drink accompanied by snacks, and in Venice are served at bars called Bacari. The main difference is that you pay for each cicchetti you want to eat, there is no free aperitivo buffet, and you can usually find cicchetti being served at any time of the day. So off to get treats and drinks and please Uncle John's grumbling stomach, his 5:30pm on the dot meal time had been missed, and he was not quite into the Italian eating habit groove yet, aside from the actually art of eating delicious things. After the baccari and delicious cicchetti, we headed to dinner, but naturally I reserved a time too late, tummies were growling and jet lag was setting in, so we tried to get a table around 8:00, ahead of our 8:30 reservation, but we ended up having to wait anyways. The food at Taverna San Trovaso was pleasant, I wasn't mind boggled by deliciousness, but we had a nice meal, the place was lively and after we paid the check we essentially could have fallen out of the door and into our beds, which ended up being PERFECT because we were all rather tired.

Sunday morning we woke and had a nice breakfast just outside our room in Palazzo Guardi. We woke up early because Zizi Linda had planned a surprise for Juliana and I, which she happened to ruin and reveal the night before at dinner because she just couldn't keep it in any longer. Fail. We were excited nevertheless, but it would've been more thrilling to not know where we were headed in the morning because we kind of walked to the middle of nowhere so the continued suspense and mystique could have built up nicely along the walk. The surprise that Zizi Linda had researched and been so excited for was just as cool as she had been building it up, she got us a private batella lesson with the lovely Anna from Row Venice. You may be asking, "but what is a Batella?" and that is exactly what we asked and what we learned on our four hour private tour in the canals and lagoon of Venice.

Anna came rowing up solo to meet us in the canal near Fondamente Nova. She started with the history of the Batella, explaining how it used to be more popular than the Gondola in Venice, as it was used to carry goods and supplies throughout the city, but with the invention of the motor they were pushed out of the way. She explained the shape of the boat, wider than that of the Gondola to provide stability for carrying goods throughout the city, and then she proceeded to show us how to row the boat, stabilize our bodies, place our hands correctly and create the right rowing motion to propel forward. She sang us an upbeat song that helps the rower keep the beat, and took down the stereotype of the gondoliers singing O Sole Mio, who's beat is too slow to row to even for a gondolier. She explained the sadness that Venice is left in, between taxis not paying attention to speed limits and ruining the foundations of the city to explaining the backwards, familiar, and paternal rules overpowering the gondolier market, keeping many potential gondoliers (women and non inherited family members) out of potential jobs. We had four fabulous hours listening to Anna's stories about Venice and sharing her love of rowing with us. And let me tell you, it was not easy to row that thing, and she was able to cruise along the canals with ease! Zizi Linda leaves Venice with a win in her pocket, and definitely one-upped my mother with this Venetian find!

We spent the rest of Sunday roaming the calle, found lunch and a packed fun cafeteria near the Rialto that Zizi Linda had researched, then took the boat to a quick stop at Murano and then Burano. My first time in Burano, and I loved it! I could've stayed all day, but everyone was rather tired so we returned to the hotel and napped, then researched dinner places for Sunday night dinner, and ended up having a delicious dinner at another place on Zizi Linda's list, Il Profeta, then we went to bed, for I had to wake up at 5 am to weave through the dark, foggy streets of Venice to catch the train back to Bologna in time for a 9 am class! I made it! In class I wore my sweet new Boston St. Patrick's Day shirt that Uncle John had brought for me from Logan Airport and I hoped that Zizi Linda would appeal to his Irish roots, for it was St. Patrick's Day, Uncle John was in Venice, and I am sure he needed a Guiness!
Sunday night dinner in Venice: Il Profeta

The McDermos arrived in Bologna Wednesday with their eating faces on. I got them settled in to their AirBnB apartment, then brought Juliana to get settled in my place and show them around. Our first item on the list was to see "The Girl." Palazzo Fava was holding a special Rembrandt and Vermeer exhibit including famous pieces "The Girl With the Pearl Earring" and "The Goldfinch," so Zizi Linda was lucky to visit Bologna while The Girl was still in town. We were content seeing the exhibit and the art truly was beautiful, but Uncle John would have be happy to wait outside! After the exhibit we went to grab aperitivo at Le Stanze where it was Martini night and we learned our new favorite drink, The Martini Royale. Juliana also went home with a bunch of Martini products, #winning. From there we headed to the famous Osteria Broccaindosso, that Nancy D'Ammassa had told me to go to my very first day in Bologna, but I was just making it there a year and a half later (make your reservations in Bologna! or you don't eat!). This osteria was famous for its desserts, but our tummies were hungry and we were thinking about pasta and not saving room for dessert so we stuffed our faces with lasagna, tortelloni, boar's meat and polenta, and then we the dessert cart came out, 13 euro per person, all you can eat from 15 different choices, we had to decline, but we found ourselves entertained by watching the other tables get only an antipasto and then load up desserts to finish off the night! We apparently should've read this article before ordering, it quotes, "renown for its antipasto and dessert..."... makes sense now, but now we know!

Cinghiale con Polenta

Thursday, I forced Zizi Linda up the longest porticos in the world, the end result San Luca and a lot of complaining. Juliana and I enjoyed being physically fit and not being the complainers for once! Since San Luca is right near the stadium, we stopped by the stadium so Juliana and Uncle John could see it, they even got on the field (and got yelled at after they had finished taking pictures). After the long morning walk we returned to the town center to eat lunch at Osteria dell'orsa, another delicious place. We made sicilian friends who also were happy to talk Soccer with Uncle John, then we walked home to take our naps. Afterwards we woke up to go eat some more, I took them to Osteria al'15 which was conveniently located to our apartments, and had them taste crescentine and scuaquerone for their antipasto and Juliana finally got her most delicious tortellini al ragu. The night before she has ordered tortelloni alla bolognese thinking it would come with meat sauce, but that was a mistake, it came with a white sauce, cause RAGU is the real red sauce that the world refers to Bolognese, but don't get confused when you're in bologna!
a happy bologna fan

Friday we spent the day shopping and relaxing. Uncle John walked back out to the stadium by himself to go to the Bologna pro shop to get some sweet apparel. The ladies on the other hand were on a shoe and cheese mission. Uncle John had a good day because he got soccer and pizza and beer, and somehow or another their vacation was already over! We stopped at the bar in Piazza Santo Stefano to grab aperitivo and Martini Royales, Juliana walked away with a fabulous Martini wine glass and we headed to Spaccanapoli to fill Uncle John's pizza craving, and boy was he full.  I had enough leftover pizza to last me the week! Overall, jokes and fun were had. Zizi Linda loved Bologna and her time in Venice, and Juliana was happy to leave with her box of chocolate tortelloni and blue suede shoes, Uncle John on the other hand now has a full Bologna soccer club wardrobe and we all spent good time and calories together for a lovely week! As usual it was sad to see my visitors go, but I was happy they had actually made it to lovely BO after all the talking!

Last night in BO: Martini Royale @ Santo Stefano

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Post Office

So the other day I had to mail a letter and did not have any stamps, nor did I know how much a stamp was going to cost, so I had to make the unfortunate trip to the ITALIAN POST OFFICE. This may not seem like the worst thing that could happen to a foreigner living in Italy, but it is among Italy's top 10 most annoying day to day errands, and that is without a doubt a fact.

When I arrived at the post office to mail a single letter I was confronted with the machine that gives you a number. Now this I expected because it wasn't my first time in a post office, and this time I was nearly positive I would pick the right number. To give you some background, Italian post offices work like a meat counter in the supermarket. You enter, you pick a number, you wait till your number is shown at a counter, you get your transaction done, then your out.  Sounds overly simple right? WRONG. 

number ticket machine
The number generated has six different choices for different types of transactions you are making. The post office in Italy is a versatile institution, surprisingly used not only to mail letters and packages and sell stamps, but it is also a place where you can get a phone plan, play your electricity, gas, water, internet and telephone bills, you can even use the post office as your bank account and do a number of various financial transactions all within the confines of the post office.  Seems efficient... But is it really? The buttons on the ticket generator are codified with a letter representing a specific kind of transaction. They seem rather self explanatory with the list of possible transactions listed below each letter, but somehow I always choose the wrong letter and end up having to try again after waiting in the wrong line forever. Could be due to lack of post office vocabulary as well, but to be honest, I notice Italians struggling over the button decision as well!

At this point this wasn't my first time mailing a letter so I was rather certain P was the button I needed to press. I was correct, and was actually really excited because for once it seemed like I would be helped rather quickly.  They were on P158 and I had P167, so that didn't seem like to bad of a wait, or did it? I had arrived at the post office just before 1, and was hoping to be in and out quick enough so I would have time to eat lunch at home and get back to uni in time for a 3:00pm class. Seemed totally doable because only 9 people before me had to send packages, that could happen a minute per packed, and Lia is out of the post office in 10 minutes.  HAHAHAHAHA. YA RIGHT.

description of letter options
I am thinking I this transaction is going to go smoothly until 5 minutes later they are still helping the same 4 customers they were when I showed up. 6 minutes later, a transaction ends and a number change occurs, we're on to customer P159. That happens quickly and we are onto P160, oh wait fake out, someone brings the woman working the counter a pastry box and she stops business to eat a pastry. Another man working the counter finishes his customer and moves swiftly to P160, and his neighbor simultaneously finishes with their customer and instead of advancing to the next decides that it's his time for lunch break. Workers are coming in and out, pausing when they want, and deciding to go on lunch break while there is still a full room of customers. P160 finishes and magically we proceded through three numbers swiftly and came to pause at P163.  I was sure the numbers would go to P190 before lunch could be taken by all, it was packed. That's when I realized that the first counter hadn't moved on to the next customer and I had been in line for nearly 15 minutes, that's when I looked up to see what his P number was and it was P124. They were helping P124 and P163 simultaneously. Holy s***.  What on earth could they have been doing at that counter for so long? How many hours had P124 (an old man) been arguing/getting things done at the counter? I just couldn't imagine what was going on there. 

Luckily the woman finishes being golosa and puts her pastry to the side and continues to help the next customer. By 1:25 I was two away from being helped and lunch was in my future.  Finally P167 flipped up on the number scrreen and I went to get my transaction done at counter number 3, P124 still arguing next to me at counter number 2. I asked to send my letter to the United States, he said 2 euro, I handed him 2 euro, transaction was complete, I was out of there by 1:27, and I was pissed because I could've just bought the standard two euro stamp in any tabacchi, but I had assumed a letter would cost more than a postcard so convinced myself the post office trip was necessary, but now I know!

Lessons learned:
1. Avoid the post office at all costs.
2. Efficiency is rare.
3. Take a ticket for all options on the number machine to avoid being sent back to the end of the line.
4. Stamps are expensive.
5. If you absolutely HAVE to go to the post office, do not go near lunch time.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Window watching

My favorite spot is sitting at my kitchen table on a Saturday or Sunday morning. Or even now since I have my lovely little blue tavolino from Maison du Monde my balcony provides another great relaxation/study location and a great observation point.  From my kitchen window there is the infamous view that is splashed across my Instagram of San Michele in Bosco perfectly framed by the soft orange, salmon, and sand yellow colored alley of apartment buildings behind Via Solferino. Everyday is a new framed photo, whether its raining, snowing, morning, night, day, cloudy, or cristal clear, spotted with barren trees covered in snow or alive with green leaves, all the results are perfect.

Aside from the picturesque view, there are other little wonders that catch my attention whether I am sitting at my kitchen window sipping my cappuccino,  catching some rays on my balcony or hanging up the laundry.  From my apartment there are probably twenty or so balconies visible, each with their own actors and peculiarities.  Looking out the window on a finally sunny day I can learn something about my neighbors from their laundry. This morning I quickly spotted a white apron hung to dry with an image I recognized immediately, the infamous red cable car, the logo of one of the best gelateria's in town.  Yes, you guessed it! Must be a Cremeria Funivia employee! Further down the string of balconies I notice some sheets garnered with alternating British and American flags. On other balconies I can determine a working woman lives there (panty hose are flying in the wind), or a businessman (countless shades of blue button down shirts) or someone has little kids (tiny people's clothes out on the line!).

The usual couple on the left pops out and leans over their balcony railing as they share a conversation and a smoke. A Nonna and Nonno pop out in their bathrooms, the woman hands the man a cloth as she returns inside, he begins to wipe down the clothes lines on the balcony, she re emerges from the apartment to critique his cleaning skills, leaves him to it for a little while longer then takes over. They share a friendly wave with someone across from them who I can't see as a building juts out blocking my view.

As for what I hear, the noises are a pleasurably orchestra of Italian cliches. The clicking of someone's gas stove... It just won't light! Someone reeling open their rolling metal blinds that blocks their apartment from light and danger, a lovely metal noise is created. The clinking of pots and pans as the people above me start cooking, then the clash of forks against plates, they eat, then the running water and more clashing of pots and pans, they clean up. Yelling begins in an apartment very near by, from the woman's deep and irrational voice, I can only assume it comes from the apartment whose balcony is covered in plastic covers, christmas lights and other chachki delights.  She starts yelling and it seems like she is in my apartment, her voice echos between the buildings and the courtyard in the back. Sometimes the sound of a vacuum cleaner sneaks into my ears, or the loud flapping of cloth as someone shakes out a dusty rug or a table cloth covered in crumbs, I watch the debris float to the garden below.

Then you have the sounds that are just normal of Bologna, without the actors of my backyard. The church bells of San Michele in Bosco sound off in the distance.  You can hear bus #30 slow to a stop at the bus stop around the corner. Someone exited there home and threw their trash in the dumpster, I hear it slam shut. Motorinis buzz by and the noise from the cars on the Viale never ceases, no matter the hour of the day.

All of this is glorious to me. I could just sit in my apartment and be content forever. It's perfection to me.  There is intrigue, there is predictability, there is unpredictability, there is happiness, there is la vita bella.

Friday, March 14, 2014

When in Wien

 A picture journey through my quick 36 hours in Vienna. 

Some highlights:
  • A 9 hour bus ride, stuck up right, with constant neck issues.
  • Massive group travel, ~ 150 Johns Hopkins SAIS students
    • Aka, met a billion new people, I was the strange "Non SAIS-er"of the group, and I remember maybe names of five of the 70 people I met.
  • Stephensplatz
  • Kick-a$$ skating rink/track outside the city hall
    • a small typical 'german' or 'austrian' market stand village with delicious treats
  • gorgeous architecture, filled with museums, too much to see!
  • Karlskirch - Rickety scaffolding brought us directly into the cupola, including a noisy stand up/temporary elevator in the middle of the church
  • The Belvedere - The Kiss, Gustav Klimt
  • Chocolate Cake/Sacher Torte
  • Wieners
  • Apple Strudel
  • Pretzels
  • Kunst Haus - Wien
And oh yea!! THE VIENNESE IAEA STAFF ASSOCIATION BALL! This was the basis of the trip, and was quite a blast.  The event started 5pm Saturday, after an overnight busride of 9 hours arriving at 7am saturday and then a full day of sightseeing, 30 minute nap included. Aka. being a champion.  5pm cocktail hour at the city hall and an address by the staff of the mayor of Vienna.  I spilled an entire glass of red wine down my beautfilly dressed self. #win. Everyone wore beautiful gowns and suits.  The ball itself was held in the Hofburg Palace... kind of epic.  There as an opening ceremony at 8:30 that included a few speeches then various ethnic groups came and preformed traditional dances. Then we danced! And explored... the 15 + rooms of the palace all catered to a different kind of music and dance.  Just after midnight the real waltz occurred in the main ballroom and, yes, I did attempt to waltz... it was a large struggle.  We stayed at the ball till 3am, stopped for food on the way home (we barely ate all day!), then slept for a few lovely hours before waking up at a normal hour to make the most of our few hours as tourists in the gorgeous city of Vienna!  Fabulous weekend. Went by super quick.  Despite the time crunch, I felt like I saw a good amount of the city, saw a number of its most famous pieces of art and ate some of the traditional food.  No complaints! And boy, I was BEAT.  Arrived back home at 5am monday morning with minimal sleep and 9 hours of class ahead of me... Was not an easy day! Vienna is definitely on the "to return to" list!


Agretti della Bacchanalia
Last Spring, my Aunt Toni, my friend Julia and I sat down in a small restaurant in Isola del Liri, Frosinone, Lazio to enjoy a nice meal.  Little did we know the Bacchanalia would give us a mediocre meal, alongside with the discovery of a vegetable we would learn to crave forever.

Interested as always in ordering a contorno of some type of veggie to go along with our meat and pasta filled day, we asked our waiter what kind of seasonal vegetables he had to offer.  Naturally, his response included the usual grilled veggies and mixed salad, but then he threw a curve ball at us.  When we expected either spinach or cicoria (Dandelion greens), he said the restaurant did not have any, but then he mentioned a springtime green, Agretti, that confused us and intrigued us.  We clearly had never heard of it before, so we asked for an explanation of what the green was, and all we really understood was that it was kind of like spinach, but not really, it was delicious, and would come dressed in oil, garlic and lemon. Okay, si, prendiamo gli agretti!

Fabulous choice might I say...

Agretti; otherwise known as Salsola Soda, Barba di Frati or Lischi are only cultivated in the Mediterranean basin in springtime. They grow into small shrubs with fleshy green 'leaves' and reddish roots. It's taste is hard to describe, but it seems closest to the taste of spinach in terms of it's sharp mineral taste, but agretti are sweeter and have a much stronger taste. Agretti are rich in water and help our bodies to remain hydrated while purifying the body and stimulating digestion at the same time.  Agretti are rich in vitamins A and B, potassium, calcium, magnesium and iron, making their properties very close to that of spinach.

Why I love Agretti,

Agretti della Nonna
 So, my obsession as you know originated last spring in Isola del Liri, but my obsession grew when I realized my Nonna had never even heard of this magically delicious vegetable.  So, that very same weekend she looked for them in the supermarket, and she too was amazed.  She cooked us up a lovely batch, (cooked like beans) with lemon, oil and garlic, we ate the entire bowl under the sun on the patio at Via Muto, and my Nonna was purely shocked at their deliciousness and ease of preparation. She was so impressed that we had discovered it, and that we showed her the green as well.

I had never cooked them for myself because I discovered them too late in the spring last year and I left for Boston pretty soon after the discovery.  But, just two weeks ago the little bushy, cartoon hair-like green vegetables had infiltrated all of the markets of Bologna and boy was I excited!  The possibilities with Agretti are endless. You can eat them raw in a salad, you can boil them, sautee them or steam them. My recent use of them has been boiled, at the same time as my pasta, in the same pot and I end up with a nice salty dish of pasta and agretti (the agretti are naturally rather salty).  Another option is to actually substitute pasta with the agretti, they could pose as a healthy pasta for they have a similar shape and adding sauce and other goodies to them would just increase their potential.  Or -- just eat them as my Nonna served them, simple and delicious, dressed with lemon, oil and garlic.

Agretti della Liuccia! Gramigna con Agretti
My favorite thing about the agretti though is that they are actually ridiculously cheap. I paid just 1 euro 20 for two large bushels that lasted me through 4 or 5 different meals.  I couldn't believe they could be so cheap when they seem like such an exotic, rare and precious vegetable, but I wasn't complaining! 

As you can see, possibilities are endless.  Now, we only need to get the exported to the states so America can see the beauty behind this delicious green.

Main point is: find agretti and try them please!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Eating through Mantova

Back in Bologna for nearly three days, in the midst of preparing for my final exam, and the offer arrives to take a day trip somewhere. Naturally, I put the studying on hold, gave a big F you to the continuous rain, and headed off with an american friend Samantha to explore the city of Mantova.  With six months left in Bologna, there's already no time to second guess 'living'. I am doing it.  I'm no longer counting calories or nickels and dimes (well for the most part), and I have proclaimed that this semester is for graduating on time but also for living it up, enjoying life and doing as many new things as possible and seeing all the sights I have not yet seen.  Samantha, also unsure of how long Italy will remain her home is experiencing similar urges, so I was thankful when I received her message asking if I would be interested in a day trip, because I had already been planning to escape saturday or sunday to explore some town in Emilia Romagna, so I jumped at the chance to go to Mantova on friday with a companion. Score!

Ready to take on whatever weather the day brought us, we were off to Bologna Centrale by 7:45am and attrezzate.  We were already excited because it had been non stop raining since I arrived Tuesday, and it seemed like the sky just wanted to be very grey and stay that way without spitting at us.  It was a good start to the day!  On the train to Mantova, we used our 3G to wikipedia the town to determine what would be the main sites to see, the cultural highlights and of course, the culinary musts.  As you would expect, we spent most of our gigs browsing the various regional delicacies that Mantova would offer us, from the wikipedia page, we had a lot of ground to cover in terms of consuming calories in just six hours.

We arrived at the train station fortunate to see it had not begun to rain.  We got on our bearings and headed toward the center to find the Tourist office to get a map and advice on the city.  Walking into the center of town we were obviously quickly sidetracked as we walked past the "Casa del Pane", situated on a perfect corner and immediately calling our name. In fact, we soon realized that "Casa del Pane" was reviewed as the best bakery in Mantova by a reviewer on TripAdvisor, it was like it was meant to be that we took that road toward the center, and there was no way we could say no to the various pastries staring at us from their shelves, labelled with the various typical names that we had just learned about on Wikipedia.  The only question for us was, which treats to get?  We entered the bakery, and were quickly greeted by the nice men running the shop, they chatted with us, while we told them we wanted to try the typical mantovana dolce, they suggested some sort of rum cake which we quietly nixed, and we asked about the Sbrisolona Torta which we had read about on wikipedia.  The men agreed it was a very typical pastry of the area, so we grabbed a slice of that, and our eyes had also been caught on a frittella di mele con marscarpone e gocce di cioccolato, even if it wasn't a regional pastry, we couldn't resist... a fried apple flavored sugar coated dough ball filled with delicious marscarpone and chocolate chips. Yes, please.  We left the "Casa del Pane" enthused, pronta to eat our frittelle which they had heated up for us, and we decided to save the sbrisolona cake - which literally means "to crumble".

Quick Sbrisolona History: The Torta Sbrisolona di Mantova is the most well renown dessert of Mantova and the most diffused outside of the province. It used to be called the "tart of three cups" because it was made from a cup of cornmeal, a cup of flour and a cup of sugar. Often the tart also has almonds in it. The dessert derives it's current name from the verb sbriciolarsi, which means to crumbled and it is also advised to be eaten by breaking off pieces with your hands, never to be cut with a knife.

la frittella
Frittelle in mano, only for a split second anyways, we headed toward the center feeling in heaven as we bit into our little fried dough balls of deliciousness. And we immediately regret not buying more. We stopped into the Basilica of Saint Andrea before reaching the tourist office. We admired the intricate detail of the enormous church, spent our time walking around every corner of the church, then continued on.  In the tourist office we were given a map, Samantha asked nicely for some suggestions for the city and the other obvious question, where to eat! On our agenda we had a couple of more churches to see, the Palazzo Ducale, Palazzo Te, the lake, Virgil and more to eat, so off wandering we went.

Before we stopped for lunch, we wandered through the Palazzo Ducale and the attached castle that unfortunately was closed. We spent a good amount of time in the Cathedral or Duomo of the city where we admired a painting of Saint Agatha, and learned about her sainthood and why she is the patron saint of breast cancer (Thank you 3G yet again). We saw the house of Rigoletto, strolled through the park dedicated to Virgil (It was sadly very vandalized), and then strolled along the lake around the peninsula that is the city of Mantova and headed back toward the center with hungry stomachs.

Risotto alla Pilotta
We had two restaurant recommendations from the woman in the tourist office, so the plan was to check them out and find the better of the two.  On our way to restaurant number one we walked past another bakery whose window was taunting me with another Mantovan specialty, la torta di tagliatelle, naturally I couldn't just ignore the window, so I bought myself another little snack for the train ride home :) Afterwards, the first restaurant (Taverna Cinquecento) we walked to seemed actually quite nice and decently priced, 10-12 euro primi, but we noticed they did not have much of the local cuisine as options on the menu, so we went off hunting for the second restaurant which ended up being a hit! Trattoria Al Portichetto was exactly what we were looking for and we were so thankful that the tourist office had recommended it. Not only did it normally have really cheap primi and secondi 6-10 euro, but during lunch time they had a lunch menu including a primi, acqua and caffe for 7 euro. Score! Samantha went for the Capunsei, which are "gnocchi di pane" or gnocchi made from usually stale bread and dressed with butter and sage or in brodo (chicken broth), and were typically made during and after World War II by the poor, but then became popular in restaurants.  I, on the other hand, had Risotto alla Pilotta, which is the most famous risotto of Mantova, named after the people who worked in the "pila" of rice, the dish contains plain risotto with grana and pesto di maiale (pork).  All in all, no complaints for our 7 euro fabulous lunch and with our bellies satisfied we were off to explore the parts of the city we hadn't walked to before and also make it to the Palazzo Te.

Palazzo Te
Needless to say, we had a pretty successful day trip to Mantova.  It never ended up raining, and we nearly checked off every food on the wikipedia culinary list specific to Mantova.  We saw gorgeous churches, and the intricate details of each room in the Palazzo Te, and we had the Sbrisolona to cheer us up on the utterly cold, long and late train ride home to Bologna :) As for my Torta di Tagliatelle, I resisted eating it that same night and enjoyed it the following morning with a nice cappuccino in the comfort of my home.  The Torta di Tagliatelle was appunto interesting, it had a very eggy base to the dough, and the tagliatelle on top with almonds mixed with some sweet/herb taste attributed to Sassolino liquore (Anice flavor) made it a kind of dessert I had never tasted before.  It was certainly something to try! By the end of the day we were frozen and mad at trenitalia for constantly running late, but at least our tummies were lined with the delicious treats of Mantova!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

"God Save The Wine"

So this post is long, long, LONG overdue.  But I think it is worth retelling, so let's travel back to October, the month of MortadellaBO and to Melissa's visit with me in Bologna! Yippee!

Days before Melissa arrived in Bologna, I "liked" the Umberto Cesari S.r.l. Facebook page.  This turned out to be the best decision, because that very same week they happened to post about a fabulous wine event that was going to held on the weekend in Bologna at the Gia Baglioni hotel.  I clicked through the link to get more information, noticed the price was a little high for my budget, but did not totally rule it out.  I continued to dig up information online about the event then quickly passed on the results to Melissa to see if she would be interested in the "wine tasting" her first night in Bologna. She said it sounded like a good idea, so that was that, we had Saturday plans.

We did not really know what we were getting ourselves into... We were just hoping whatever the real content of the event was, was that it would be worth every one of our 25 euro spent. We showed up rather punctualy and with growling stomachs, hoping that there would be enough food to hold us over.  Upon arrival in the Gia Baglioni, Due Torri Hotel, we quickly realized that we were going to be far out of league and by far the youngest people attending the event. Climbing the grand staircase to the event hall we were stopped to pay our sacred 25 euro, we received a receipt, and then were promptly given a glass.  We could already spy delicious hors d'oeuvres piled on a stacked buffet table and two vineyards representing their own two tables in the fabulous room dressed with a grand and elegant murano glass chandelier.  Before getting too giddy, we followed the "God Save the Wine" signs for the coat room, hung our coats, chatted about how to go about the night, then dove straight into the first room of deliciousness.  Little did we know this would be the first of many!

Stacked on the buffet table was an endless supply of mortadella based hors d'oeuvres.  There were tiny boats filled with a mortadella garnished salad, a mortadella polenta, and just plain old fat cubes of mortadella... this was a great find, and already proving worth our 25 euros.  Careful not to fill up on mortadella, we circled the room looking to get our first assaggio of wine for the evening. We stumbled upon two tables that each were sampling five wines each, and we realized this was probably already too much wine to handle! Who would've thought! First stopping at the very friendly Zuffa vineyards, we got a very thorough explanation of their organic wines and learned a lot about the history and location of their vineyard (a local Bolognese vigna).  We proceeded to try all of his wine which was very delicious, while practicing the take a few sips and pour the rest out method.

This was where we already started noticing the differences between an Italian wine event and that of an American wine event.  First off, the promoter for Zuffa was very interested in getting to know more about us and what kinds of wine we generally like to drink, he was very cordial and talkative, and VERY generous with his pours although frankly we had to pour most of the wine out to maintain a sober state of mind.  Getting to know Zuffa vineyards, we told him about our wine tasting experiences back home. That experience consisted of tasting a maximum of four or five ones in one tasting event, and being poured just enough wine so that the taste touches your tongue then vanishes.  Not ever having a big enough pour to taste the wine again to really discover the tastes and tones of a particular wine.  Another big difference we noted to the Zuffa man was that almost ALWAYS participants in the wine tasting event are coerced and asked to purchase some of the wine tasted (which is not always economic bottles).  If you do not purchase wine at American tasting events it's considered la brutta figura or being rude and free loader.  Instead at this event where there were nearly fifteen vineyards present, there was no pressure to purchase wine tasted, and better yet, there was not even the OPTION to purchase the wine even if you had fallen in love with something you tasted.  This Italian event was clearly about getting to know the wine, getting to know the vineyards, experimenting and enjoying your time while appreciating the art of wine. Yes. Please. America -- can you adopt at least this cultural aspect from Italy? Grazie :)

Fried Mortadella!
After staying safe and hanging by the Zuffa table, we realized that the other guests were disappearing off into other rooms.  So we dared to look around the corridor to a grand hallway that was lined with tables from other vineyards... score! The twenty five euro spent was seeming well worth it at this point.  Before going after the wine at these tables we decided to further explore. Off the hallway were two sitting rooms, one which we snagged a table in, the hallway continued left where there was another buffet piled with different finger delicacies... my favorite being a MORTADELLA BALL, in a FRIED sesame casing or Bocconcini di mortadella fritti al sesamo nero. It was by far the best thing I had tasted there that night. Taking our treats back to our table we made a game plan. We noticed there were a couple of younger people filtering in, so we no longer felt out of place, plus the wine was helping our confidence. We ate our food then went back out past the buffet table down to a secluded room that was home to the French vineyards who had brought various fancy champagnes. And yes, the gave us a half glass to try! Could this get any better? After trying the delicate and delicious champagne I told Melissa I wanted to find the Umberto Cesari table for they were the reason why I had discovered the event at all, and my mom and I were already passionate about their wine.  We met the lovely woman who was pouring for Umberto Cesari, and we first tried the Pignoletto frizzante.  It was not my favorite of the pignolettos I have had here in Bologna, but that could have been because it was actually mixed with some chardonnay grapes.  I told Melissa about my history with Cesari wines, and we proceeded to explore the event and attempt to make friends.

As an hour passed we were feeling rather good, even after pouring out the majority of the wine that had been poured to us.  It was seeming like an impossible accomplishment to even taste every vineyard present.  Our Zuffa man remained our favorite guy to talk to, but we also befriend the man who had become on behalf of a Tuscan winery, as I explained I wasn't completely convinced by Chianti. However, I came to admit that I found a few of his wines quite delicious.  Strolling back past the Umberto Cesari table we noticed they had started pouring a red into a decanter, and that seemed so special so I quickly became intrigued.  I asked for a pour, and was told it was their Liano, and I soon fell in love. It was a sangiovese cabernet sauvignon and I couldn't get enough of it! So much that as the night went on and we tastes as much as we could, mingled as much as we could, we thought we would try and visit Cesari vineyards later that week.  At the end of the evening we were nearly the last ones there, nearing the end trays of Parmigiano Reggiano were brought out... three chunks of that down and that was nearly 25 euro worth of cheese!! Then slowly but surely everyone who had been working the event began becoming part of the event themselves... must be nice working in the wine industry.  Out on the balcony of the Gia Baglioni we popped champagne with the various vineyards (literally).

Overall... I wish this happened every week. I now know never to underestimate an Italian wine event.  I tried wines that I would never have tried on my own.  I learned some things, like Cesari exports their Liano (cabernet) to the states because it has a safe taste, that is palatable to most Americans (I think this was a negative connotation, but hey I was an example of that, haha), and that it takes time to like the more daring tastes like Chianti or merlot mix. And I learned that America needs to be more daring in its wine choices because it is also lacking the fabulous taste of Pignoletto. My personal bolognese favorite. Needless to say, I think Melissa had a fantastic night, I think we tried mortadella dishes we would have never dared to try or come across before, and we made some new friendships.

Basically, God Save the Wine needs to return to Bologna before I leave, or it can make its way across the Atlantic to show the states what wine is really about!

Look here for a detailed list of wines and vineyards present at the event: God Save the Wine BO 2013