Before I left to Italy, nearly everybody told me how excited I should be about their food, because apparently it is stuff of legend. I had certainly had americanized Italian meals, but never the real deal, especially because I have very little Italian heritage in my family. So of course I had to wonder, was it really as good as people said?
Because I was staying with a family, I was lucky enough to try lots of authentic home cooked meals rather than eating out every night. I also stayed in a smaller town, so when we did eat out, we went to smaller restaurants instead of those geared towards tourists (which I always recommend doing if possible!). I wish I had the opportunity to try some things that I didn’t such as a spritz (Italy’s famous mixed drink), some more pasta, and more candy, especially from the brand Kinder.
However, here is a complete breakdown of the food that I ate while I was there and what I liked and didn’t like:
When I arrived from the Paris airport and arrived to Loreggia, one of the first things I tried was tortellini. It was super simple, with mostly salt as seasoning and we also had a cured ham, parmesan, white wine, and bread. The parmesan was so great and was eaten just off of the block with some of the ham or nothing at all. The wine was a light Prosecco and something that we drank with dinner on most nights. Prosecco actually originated in Treviso, a nearby city, so we were close to the most original source.
We actually didn’t eat breakfast this morning because we headed straight off to Venice, so my first meal was at a hidden restaurant near the canals. Here I had a panini with salami and brie cheese. I really liked it! We just drank water with our meals. Unlike the United States, most places charge for water and you have the option of flat, distilled water or carbonated water. Carbonated was popular where I was, but personally I can’t stand it so I stuck with my plain, flat water.
For dinner, I finally got to try Italian spaghetti! However, it was not much different from any back home, which was surprising. In fact, some noodle brands are the same that we have in our stores. We also ate baguettes, parmesan, and sopressa, which is a super yummy type of cured meat. Along with all of that, we also had the strangest vegetable I have ever seen. It was a steamed romanesco, which is a type of broccoli and has a vibrant green color. The coolest part about it is its fractal patterns that create a weird symmetrical shape. We just ate it steamed and it was fantastic. My host family was surprised and entertained by my interest in the veggie too, since apparently its commonplace in Italy.
This was the morning following the visit of La Befana, a witch who fills your socks with all sorts of goodies, so I got to try Italian candy! There truly wasn’t anything I disliked, except for some of the fruity candy, but I absolutely loved Ciok and Kinder’s Cereali. The Cioks are almost like a cracker/cookie/biscuit thing with chocolate on top. Kinder is a very popular candy brand in Europe, known especially for their Kinder Eggs, which are actually banned in the US since they are thought to be a choking hazard since toys are stored (safely and obviously) inside. However, they also have many other products, such as Nutella (my favorite!) and Cereali bars which are chocolate bars with a white filling and rice puffs. They are my favorite candy ever, hands down, and are so addictive. Please get some if you go to Italy or Europe!!!
That day was also the first time I had real Italian gelato in Treviso! In my little town, we have a small bistro that has gelato, but I had never had any sort of comparison, meaning trying some was super exciting and totally on my bucket list. When we toured the city, we made a brief stop to get some, even though it was single digits and freezing. I was drawn to the hazelnut and chocolate flavor and I certainly did not regret my choice. I didn’t find it much different from that at home, but I did thoroughly enjoy it. Had it been summer, I would have tried some more flavors or more stores.
After returning from Treviso we returned to Lorregia to celebrate the burning of La Befana. There I tried more candy, although I have long since forgotten what brand it was or if I liked it. We then decided to go to dinner with some of our family friends and I finally got to try Italian pizza. Each person is given their own pizza to eat (albeit they are smaller than America’s sixteen inch or so) and they are pretty amazing! I had my pizza with ham, but the most common pizza is margarita, which has tomato, cheese, and basil. While I wasn’t obsessed with the other pizzas, the margarita ones are fantastic and I wish there was something comparable in my hometown. I would totally recommend them if you are in Italy!
Now would also be an appropriate time to mention the dinner culture in Italy. For the locals, dinner consists of a lot of chatting and a lot of time, which is absolutely phenomenal. We spent three hours at dinner usually, but there was so much connection and appreciation for one another. At the restaurant, we sat separated by age and gender, but conversed with everyone at the table, even though I wasn’t able to communicate as much due to language. Some had a light drink before the pizza arrived. After pizza, there was more talking and then coffee was served. For dessert, there was two options for liquor, of which most of the adults and young adults drank, including anisette, which is a shot that tastes strongly of black licorice, and limoncello, which is a light lemon flavored shot. Both of these are supposed to help with digestion and help with stinky breath. Afterwards, we talked some more and than finally said ciao or goodbye!
Much of the food we tried on day four was the same as food we had already eaten in days earlier, but I would like to draw attention to Italian hot chocolate. Here, most of our hot chocolate is watered down cocoa mix with marshmallows, but in Italy, it is more like actually, creamy, melted chocolate. It is very thick in consistency, but also very rich. I loved it, but I could only consume a small amount because it is so heavy.
DAY FIVE (AND THE REST)
So unfortunately, my notes on the rest of my trip are few and far between. We ate more tortellini and pasta, but what really stood out was tiramisu, a coffee flavored, soft cake that is super good. I actually got the opportunity to make one from scratch with my host family and it turned out so good. It is layers of coffee-soaked finger cakes and a cream/cheese filling. I have actually brought this recipe back and remade the cake here in the states, since it was that good. I love making it for family and family friends.
So was Italian food as good as people make it seem?
Short answer: I would say so!
Longer answer: It is certainly good, but there are certain foods that get a lot of hype and aren’t as good there (spaghetti being one), but there are also some that deserve a lot more attention, namely tortellini. I wasn’t completely in awe, but even after being home from the trip for two years, there are still foods that I miss and want more of. Romanesco, parmesan, tortellini, and tiramisu were easily my favorites and ones I would recommend you try! Overall, I loved the food culture and all the yummy options.