Since the last few days have been a bit rough (fit throwing 6 year olds, starvin’-marvin’ 5 ½ month olds, husband away all week, etc.) I have decided to avoid the cleaning and go to my happy place while the baby sleeps. Specifically, my fat and happy place: Italy. We asked Bridger about a week or two ago what his favorite country to visit has been and he declared, “Italy!” When we asked him why he replied, “because they have the BEST desserts!” I couldn’t agree more. I pretty much think they have the best of everything gastronomically speaking.
My favorite thing to do in the whole world is to go out to eat. Breakfast, lunch, dinner—I’m not bothered. Just out! Could that be declared a hobby? If so, it’s my favorite one and if I do say so myself I’m quite good at it! Plus in terms of spousal/hobby compatibility I married the perfect man. He loves to go out to eat as much as I do.
Going out to eat is far more than a hobby when we’re traveling, however. What’s the use of visiting every local monument if you never really experience the country they’re in? How on earth are you going to really learn about a new culture if you’re only ever around other tourists? What better way to encourage your children to try out the local language than through ordering their food or asking the sweet, non-English speaking server where to find the bathroom? Especially when their sweet “dov’e la toilet?” earns “ahhhhhhhh’s”…from every nonna (grandmother) within earshot. What better way to brush shoulders with the locals than by sitting side-by-side with them allowing them to introduce you to their favorite foods? You can learn a lot about a country through their food—but that’s a different post.
Bearing all that in mind, Scott and I feel you can never really experience a culture unless you eat out! We love to discover the tucked away hole-in-the-wall restaurant with good local grub and local people. I feel suspicious of places in foreign countries that advertise an ‘English Menu’ (and don’t even get me started about ‘air conditioning inside’). Where’s the adventure in that? Sure I may end up with frog intestine or mosquito eye balls, but if that’s the local delicacy isn’t that what I ought to be eating!?!? Here's the thing: If the parking lot is full? Line around the corner? Stuffed to the gills with folks speaking a totally foreign language? I’m there! I have even been known to hail a local walking down the street of a place we visit and inquire about the best place to eat. There’s nothing better than a local’s suggestion.
So imagine our chagrin when our first night out in Italy was a totally bust. Well, not total. The food was delicious, the service wonderful, the restaurant packed with locals. Try as we might though, bedtime is bedtime and baby Asher didn’t care that Italians don’t even begin eating dinner until well past his! The proprietors were very accommodating. Ushering me into the room with desserts (yum!) to bounce him and feed him, and turning off the lights to soothe him. Scott and I took turns bouncing and soothing and walking. At the end of the night we were bummed. How on earth were we going to really experience Italy if we couldn’t go out to eat? We decided we needed a new plan.
Thankfully local food can be found in places other than restaurants and Plan B can be nearly as fun as Plan A! More fun, if it takes a crying baby out of the equation!
We discovered (again by a local’s suggestion—namely our hosts, Gil and Ken) where all the best local food was sold. No need to be disappointed about not having a server to suggest the best thing on the menu. The 20-something guy at our deli was happy to play the same role. He sent us home with stacks of locale prosciutto and bresaola. The hilarious restaurant game of “I wonder what we ordered? Can’t wait to find out"--solved in the pasta section! Cartons of handmade pasta so local it didn’t even come with a label. We were never quite sure what we were getting, but it was always delicious! Gnocchi and ravioli and tortellini. Vats of Pesto Genovese. Balsamic vinegar so smooth you could have drunk it plain.
The tiny grocer was full of Italian produce. Six types of garlic, gorgeous Roma tomatoes, apples, and cavalo nero. Huge, ripe peaches and delicious pears.
The sweet lady at the bakery thought it was hilarious to try and figure out what we were ordering. We’d jabber away at her in English and she’d jabber away at us in Italian, and though we never quite got what we planned to order we always left with something incredible. Measuring with our hands the amount of foccacia to saw off the slab. Inquiring after which items were chocolate. Stocking up on fruit tarts for Caid and vanilla filled cookies for Bridge. We also managed to communicate what village we were staying in--thanks to Bridger's interpreting skills--and find out a bit about where she lived--again thanks to Bridger. Making friends with the locals!
It doesn’t get more local than picking ripe, luscious figs off the tree right behind your villa (with permission of course). We ate like kings. Every night. Washed down by €2 bottles of local wine so delicious it broke your heart to not be able to bring a drop of it home.
Plus, we never wanted for ambiance on our picturesque covered balcony—many nights looking out at the rain. Put the baby down to bed. Heat up the food, poor the wine, and sit. And visit. And be together. Add a sweatshirt or a fleece after a while and sit some more. Then when big boys start rubbing their eyes we’d get the book out. One boy on my lap and the other on Dad’s. We’d read and snuggle. Then we’d tuck them in and turn off the lights and sit a bit longer. Sipping the delicious wine and listening to the village clock chime away the hours.
Fat and happy. So happy. Who needs Plan A?