Friday, August 26, 2011

Eating my way through Europe

While I was, of course, looking forward to experiencing amazing and cultural sights on my recent Europe trip, I was also particularly looking forward to sampling a variety of Italian and French foods!  I did my best to stick with local specialties where possible as a way of trying a variety of foods.  
Pasta was a staple everywhere in Italy.  I had particularly delicious "spaghetti alla greca" at a little family-owned place in southern Rome.  The restaurant was located in a small alley and lit by little white Christmas lights.  It was my first meal in Italy and my first dinner alone on my trip.  Frankly though, I didn't feel alone for long---the couple next to me noticed my Rick Steves guidebook (which led me to the restaurant) and struck up a conversation about places to see in Rome and Sienna.  Then, as I finished, the 90-year old Uncle who owned the restaurant came to sit with me.  He was sharply dressed in searsucker shorts and suspenders and couldn't speak a word of English.  I tried to talk to him, but he kept saying "Mangia, mangia!" (eat, eat!)  When I was done, he asked his nephew for dessert---sliced peaches with sprinkled sugar.  He showed me that he wanted to share with me by spearing the slices with his fork and waved them at me until I ate them.  It was fantastic.

In Rome and the Naples province (Naples/Sorrento) I was all about the pizza.  My favorite coffee drink in Italy was an americano with a bit of milk.

In Capri, I saw a bunch of sardines swimming in the sea after I disembarked from my boat cruise around the island.  They looked delicious.  Fresh sardines at lunch that day (along with a Napoli pizza, of course) seemed like a natural choice.  Later that day, I went on a strenuous hour-long uphill hike to the best viewpoint on the island.  I relaxed at the top and cracked open a fresh fig.

The next day, I took a long and winding bus ride down the Amalfi coast.  I'd planned to use the bus all day to get between three cities, but I felt so queasy after the first town that I took the boat the rest of the day.  In the meantime, I needed a watermelon granita and a soaking-wet-with-rum baba to settle my stomach.
After walking through Naples for a few hours, I visited one of the oldest pizzerias in the city and had one of the best pizzas I've ever had in my life!  Thin, doughy crust and delicious toppings---mozzarella, sausage, and mushrooms!

In Florence, I ordered the famous Bistecca Fiorentina (Florentine steak), a delicious, juicy ribeye that was one of the most well-cooked pieces of meat I've ever eaten.  Unfortunately, I could only order the steak in grams, and the minimum order was 650 grams.  I had no idea how many ounces that was, and the steak was sooooo good that I ate a huge amount of it.  I later did the conversion and I think I probably ate a pound of steak that night!

In Sienna, I indulged in sausage and Tuscan white beans.  In Cinque Terre, home of focaccia and pesto, I had---what else?---focaccia covered with pesto (not pictured, unfortunately).

Let's not forget the gelato!  Oohhh, the gelato.  I averaged about 1.66 gelatos a day for my time in Italy.  I was on a mission to find my favorite flavors---probably pistacchio, stracciatella, pine nut (where available), and nutella when I'm in a special mood.  There was nothing worse than getting a sub-par gelato; I threw a few cups out when I realized I didn't like the flavor.  On one particularly memorable occasion, I bought a mediocre gelato near Piazza Navoni in Rome, but a block later meandered by a gelato place that looked MUCH better.  My friends from the hostel and I walked in just to look, only to offend the guy behind the gelato counter.  He told us that his gelato was much better than what we had---which we could see just by looking at it---and then he proceeded to ask all three of us which flavors were in our cups.  As we told him, he scooped out samples of HIS version all six flavors.  We agonized with each bite, because his flavors really were much better.  Lesson learned---don't settle for average gelato in Italy!  There's probably something delicious right around the corner.

Travel habits are hard to break---I found myself indulging once again in my daily ice cream on my first full day back in the country!

I'd saved most of my pastry and bread consumption for Paris.  I began with a sampler of delicious Herme macaroons.  I enjoyed croissants, filled beignets, croque madames, and quiche.  I ate foie gras, creme brulee, and duck.  I picnicked on baguettes, pain de fromage, dried sausage, and rotisserie chicken.

The best part about three weeks of this culinary wandering?  I only gained a pound!  I credit lots of walking, watchtower-climbing, and most of all to leaving food behind when I was satisfied.  Italy was littered with plates of half-eaten pasta and abandoned gelato flavors.  I ate truly excellent food and didn't settle for less (or more) than I wanted.

Ahh, la vita e bella!  

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