An accounting of our culinary experiences
Food is an obviously important part of our daily lives. However, when travelling it takes on an additional quality, adding much depth to the experience of visiting a foreign place. This trip was certainly no exception to this rule, and this time, I decided to put together a compilation page -- this page -- containing images and text related to the gastronomy on our trip.
First up was Asmir's pre-wedding bachelor party. Not technically 'on the trip', but part of the whole story. Asmir knows and enjoys cooking up what I like to called his Bosnian meat-wiches: delectable patties of meat with lots of spices and other goodies hand-worked into them, and served with a particular type of flat bun, sour cream, and onions. You can't just stop at one, even though one is plenty!
Deserving passing mention was the economy-class food on our Air France flight across the atlantic ocean. Not bad, really. Lots of various food items, all of reasonably decent quality. Two different types of alcoholic beverages (a small bottle of wine and a small bottle of port), as well.
Delicious German Grub
Next up, Asmir and Miriam's pre-wedding 'barbeque'. Not really a barbeque -- that was just a convenient moniker -- and more of a catered food type of affair. The food was all typical Schwabian (southern German) food, and was absolutely mouth-wateringly good. Spatzel, Roasted Potatoes, and various types of tender meats immersed in rich gravies.... hearty, hearty, hearty!
Wedding Dinner Menu
The wedding dinner itself was also a great experience in Southern German Food. Especially good was the Schwabian Wedding Soup - a delicious hot soup with big balls of tender, breaded.... somethings. I'll have to ask Miriam about that, I think. Kind of looked a bit like multi-colored corn pop cereal, but was a whole continent away in terms of taste!
Asmir admires the Hochzeitssuppe
Much, much later in the evening came dessert. A huge, huge array of desserts, of all different kinds. It was literally impossible to sample everything, although everything I sampled was excellent. A special surprise was a whole plateload of Asmir's Mom's homemade baklava - one of my favorites!
After the wedding, we moved south, transitioning from German foods to Italian. First stop was the Riva area, where we spent a fair bit of time at the Ristorante Leon D'Oro (related to our apartment rental place).
Our wine tour at the beautiful, historic Bertani Villa Novare included a very enjoyable wine tasting session that included an array of finger foods. A fantastic combination of excellent wines (especially the 2001 Amarone), fresh bread, cheeses, and antipasto meats.
A popular pastime for most of us was the Italian coffee bar stop. There was at least one of these per day, on average, and often more. Pu especially just had to have his cappucino!
Another popular food-related outing: the gelato bar. A warm Italian evening is well-served by a scoop or two of Italian ice cream.
A central 'foodie' highlight of our trip was our 'home food' experience. Here's a copy of what I wrote in the main trip report that describes this:
'Home food' is a joint project between Egeria Di Nallo, a sociology professor at the University of Bologna, and The Association for the Guardianship and Protection of the Traditional Culinary-Gastronomic Heritage of Italy
(that's a long one!). The project describes itself as "allowing guests to experience dinners in the homes of Italian housewives who have been specially chosen to provide an authentic Italian experience". These Italian housewives are dubbed Cesarine
-- not really a word in the Italian dictionary -- but perhaps a new term used to coin those who are masters of the kitchen. These Cesarine must undergo some sort of accreditation before they can start hosting homefood events in their homes: they must be skilled in preparing the local traditional cuisine of the area in which the meals are being held, must have enough space in their homes to comfortably accommodate guests, etc.
Before leaving on this trip, I had gone through the process of registering and applying for all of us to be guests of one of these homefood events. They accepted us, and, for a quite reasonable fee, we signed up for a particular event that was occurring in Bologna on the evening of June 23, 2010 at 8:30pm, at the apartment of Cesarine
Luisa Mambelli. I picked this event because (a) it was on a day where all five of us were available, (b) it wasn't too far from Riva, our home base during this period, and (c) the items on the menu for the event looked delicious.
You're probably wondering what the menu was. Well, here you go:
- Home made focaccia bread
- Strichetti (a type of bowtie pasta) with ham and peas
- Coniglio (rabbit) della Balia with a zucchini pudding and stuffed cabbage leaves
- Roselline di patate duchesse (duchesse potatoes)
- Torta col cuore di crema all'amaretto (cake of amaretto cream)
- Carefully selected regional wine
Arriving at Luisa's Apartment
I wasn't sure what to expect from this 'homefood' outing: Would we be the only ones there? If not, how would they arrange the nationalities of the attendees? Did Luisa and her family speak english?
As we were parking on the street on front of Luisa's apartment, we noticed another car pull up behind us and park, and a family (parents and 2 kids) popped out, and looked around for a bit. They didn't quite seem Italian, and the way they looked around in an unsure manner seemed to point to them being foreigners, or at the very least, out-of-towners. We overheard a snippet of english that clinched that idea, and given that they were there precisely at 8:30pm at the same address as us made me pretty sure that this was another bunch of attendees of tonight's dinner. "Hi! you here for the dinner, too?". "Yup", they replied.
Liusa's Dining Room
Now joined together as one 9-person force, we made our way to the gate and rang up Luisa's apartment. A voice answered in Italian, and, being the one with the most knowledge of that, I replied. The door lock buzzed, and we were let in to an open common area in between several of the apartment buildings. It wasn't clear which way to go, but soon a waving figure from a balcony in one of the apartments signalled the way. It was Luisa herself, pointing us to the door of her building and telling us what floor her unit was on.
Greeting us in Luisa's well-furnished apartment was (of course) Luisa -- a middle-aged lady with a smiling demeanor, her mother, well-dressed and gracious, and her teen-aged son. Both mother and soon had been recruited as assistants to Luisa for tonight's meal.
We stood around a bit in Luisa's apartment, getting to know the family that we'd walked in with. Turns out they were from California, and they were here on an extended trip to experience Italy's culture and food (food especially was a focus of theirs).
Luisa explained that we were still waiting for a few more parties, which surprised me. Already we were at nine people and figured that that would be a large enough group to fill her hands. She directed us to a large table set up in her living room. The others who were coming, she said, would eat in the dining room.
Not too much later, the other guests arrived (guess we didn't really need to arrive at 8:30pm sharp, did we?). We briefly introduced ourselves, finding out that all of them were from various parts of the US. An entirely english-speaking crowd. Was that by design, I wondered, or was 'homefood' mostly popular with english-speaking westerners?
We sat down, eager to taste the first course of our home-cooked meal. We had done a fairly strenuous climb, and had eaten very little overall today, so we were pretty famished.
First up was the foccacia bread, which we sampled with some quite interesting sparkling red wine. Looking at the label, it was indeed local to this region. I don't think I've had a sparkling red wine in a long time, and this one was pretty decent.
Next up was the strichetti with ham and peas. This was quite delicious, with a firmly al-dente pasta in a light creamy sauce and with tasty slivers of prosciutto-like ham. There was a lot of this pasta to go around, and we were super hungry. I had several plates of this stuff, probably too many, considering how much was to come!
After the strichetti, Luisa brought out the zucchini-based pudding. I'm not usually a fan of zucchini, but this was suprisingly good. Again, I had more helpings of this than I should have.
Next up was the roast rabbit surrounded with little whipped roses of potatoes -- the 'patate duchesse', I presumed. The rabbit was quite moist (which is difficult to achieve with rabbit) and still contained some offal within. The liver was -- again for something I don't usually like -- surprisingly good.
Although the food was excellent, I was by this time getting majorly stuffed. It was more than just having a multi-course meal; we were permitted and encouraged to have multiple helpings of each course, and being as famished as we were after the hike, this was an easy trap into which to fall! As a result, I was pretty much bursting by the time dessert came around.
Cake with a heart of amaretto cream was just not something I could pass up, despite my testing of the stretch limit of my stomach. I carefully managed to fit two delicious slices of it in.
After all of the food was served, everyone gathered in the living room for a bit of end-of-the-evening chit chat. Via the few people around that spoke both english and some italian (there were three or four of us), we had a fun conversation about us crazy canadians fitting so much into a single day (they had a hard time believing we had driven down from Riva just for the dinner). We thanked our guests for the wonderful evening, said our goodbyes to the family from San Francisco.
A very worthwhile experience, these 'homefood' outings. We must do one again at some point.
The homefood organization's website can be found here
From Riva, we moved southwards, down to Rome, where we spent the next few days. Lots of good food to be had here, too! One place in particular drew us back more than once: a small unassuming restaurant in downtown Rome called Navona Notte
. Very cheap, very fast, often very busy. But really, really good. Super-good pizzas, but not limited to just that: excellent seafood and meat dishes, also.