This was a very fun week because there was a lot of delicious food involved. I was able to learn about the traditional dishes and cooking styles depending on region. I actually took a cooking class there where I learned all about Italian cuisine and I was amazed at how much the cuisine varies by region. Cuisine in Italy is a very broad topic (Yes, food is that serious to Italians) so I’m just going to focus on the cuisine in Northern Italy and Tuscany, which is where I spent most of my time.
I want to start off saying that my expectation of how Italian food would be coming from the US was a little off. The food that the big “Italian restaurants” serve in the US to me did not represent actual Italian food. I personally believe that Italian restaurants in the US modify the dishes and Americanize them but that’s just my opinion so do not take my word for it.
Food in Tuscany is simple. It’s very common that in a Tuscan restaurant a dish would consist of just Pasta with Pesto or tomato sauce and Parmesan cheese on top is optional. Also Tuscany is famous for their unsalted bread that you can only find in that region; like the name says, it is unsalted, eaten as it is without oils or anything on the side. You will not see many pasta dishes with meat or seafood added nor 20 pounds of cheese to top it off in Tuscany. I think their motto is probably “Less is more” and I’d say that statement is true and because the food is not drenched in so many flavors, you are able to appreciate the actual taste of each ingredient.
Italians take their cuisine very serious and I mean it. When I visited Lucca, I went to a little mom and pop restaurant and wanted to order Penne with Pesto but I wanted some protein with it so I asked the server/owner of the restaurant if some chicken could be added to the dish… what was that for? I could tell she got very offended, she gave me a weird look and said “No, no” repeatedly. Maybe if it would’ve been a restaurant in a touristic area they would have accommodated my request but this was a traditional Italian restaurant and I should have known better, nonetheless, the dish was very delicious
Speaking of restaurants in Italy, they are a little bit different than American restaurants, you might be thinking, duh! They serve different food but I mean more than that. First of all, as my Italian professor pointed out, Italians don’t go to restaurants as much as we do in America, they prefer home cooked meals. Italians usually go to restaurants on special occasions and they do drink a lot of wine but not with the purpose of getting drunk but to socialize. As I have mentioned before, life in Italy moves slower and is not rushed, this applies to restaurants too, the server will never rush you out or bring the check without you asking. Something I noticed was that mostly the drinks they serve at restaurants are wine or water, some foods automatically come paired to their wine… Sodas and juices were not given as an option, I don’t want to say that they don’t serve them but you’d probably have to ask before it’s given as an option. Also you don’t tip the servers in Italy, restaurants have a sit down set fee called Coperto, which takes place of the tip. A little advice, if you go to a little restaurant or coffee shop and don’t get a table you don’t have to tip and safe yourself from paying the coperto.
I got my Northern cuisine taste in the city of Bologna. I came to realize that Bologna was not how I expected it to be; I thought it would not have anything special to view. My perception was wrong. I was surprised to see that the streets and sidewalks in Bologna are wide (I’ve mentioned in other posts that in Florence streets are very small) and I was not aware that there are two more leaning towers in Bologna. I enjoyed walking through the very old arches, which were made during medieval time and viewing the Canale di Reno, which is one of the most important canals in Bologna.
Northern Italian Cuisine consists of less use of pasta, olive oil and tomato sauce and instead replacing those for rice or gnocchi, butter and cheeses for creamy sauces. They experiment a little more in the North and there are many dishes with meats added to them, in fact Bologna is known for their tortellini, which is pasta stuffed with meat or other stuffing. Basically the Northern cuisine was the opposite of the Tuscan cuisine.
I visited the Accademia dei Notturni in Bologna. This is a restaurant that uses traditional ingredients from Bologna. I was able to see how pasta is made from scratch and that was the highlight of the visit for me. The pasta was made by elder Italian ladies and it was fascinating to see how much passion they have towards cooking. Then, we were provided with an excellent lunch. The lunch included two different types of pasta, mortadella and other hams and different types of breads that can only be found in Bologna. The lunch was one of the best I had during my time in Italy.
After lunch comes dessert and for this we went to Bologna’s Carpigiani Gelato University. I was so excited to visit because I love gelato and while I was in Italy, I had gelato almost every day and sometimes more than once a day (There are gelato stores in every corner, there is no way to avoid it. plus it’s delicious. and.. YOLO). Visiting the gelato university and getting to know more about a dessert that I love so much was an experience I truly enjoyed plus I was able to try different flavors of gelato, Yumm! It was interesting learning that gelato started from ice taken from mountains during cold time and fruits being added to it for flavor, such a simple idea kept progressing into what is now known as gelato. The machine shown in the picture below was one of the first machines used to make gelato, it was used to mold it and the gelato would come out from the bottom of the machine.
This week was one of my favorites as I enjoyed all the delicious dishes and learning about what makes them special. Bologna was great and the Northern cuisine was possibly my favorite in Italy.
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