Archive for February 2016

Rome Reflections

When you visit a city fairly often, you notice things that may not have leapt off the page before.

So… I have a question or two for you. It’s not that I don’t love a great steak or burger. We’ve enjoyed fantastic steaks in Italy, grilled over a wood fire, the Italian way. Eating a good burger once in a while is just the ticket and was T-Bone Station 2almost the first thing we did when we returned from Rome! On one of our wanders around Rome we noticed a restaurant called T-Bone Station and I wondered, hey what’s going on here! Of course there are Burger King’s and McDonalds but we tend to view them as a blight on the cityscape! Besides the steaks, T-Bone Station serves everything from burgers, Buffalo wings, and nachos to good old Pepsi! Did I mention the onion rings, fries, and that totally Italian veggie, corn on the cob? OK…my first question is why and my second one is who’s the market/ demographic? I can see some tourists or exchange students longing for a taste of home and I suppose there are Italians who consider this food exotic or something. And…wait for it…T-Bone Station delivers; simply place your order on-line! WOW is this great or what!

Let’s move onto Hamburgeria di Eataly shall we? Brought to you by those folks from Eataly. You just never know when you’ll need a hit of a North American burger joint! Forget all that amazing Roman cuisine…it’s so “yesterday.” What all us tourists are clamoring for is a burger, right? Again, I ask about the market/demographic. It seems the average price at Hamburgeria is around 40 Euros. All I know is when we travel; we want to immerse ourselves in the cuisine of the country! I can see, like in Vancouver, fusion cuisine happening because of our various Asian influences. So taking the good old North American cheeseburger and putting an Italian spin on it by using pancetta (Italian bacon), cipolle (onions), a tasty, Italian cheese, maionaise ( mayonnaise is used in Italian cooking), senape (Italian for mustard) and a great bun, perhaps something from Gabriele Bonci or the Roscioli folks. Sounds damned good doesn’t it!

All large cities offer a variety of cuisines and Rome is no different.   Not that long ago most other cuisines of the world were not welcomed with open arms in Italy. Italians clung to their own regional fare even with the influx of immigration from different cultures.   As a visitor, trying local foods provides an insight into the culture.  Our experience of travelling in Italy, is the moment you begin talking to people about food, well next thing you know, you are having the best time!

DSCN8443 nx2It’s a plot! Now Starbucks is coming to Milan! Seriously…all our Italian friends can’t get over it, nor can we! I know lots of you adore Starbucks. Italian coffee is amazing, Starbucks by comparison, well, let’s not compare! OK…we’ve figured it out…IT’S ALL ABOUT FREE WI-FI…that’s what it’s about at these places. And all those Italian coffee bars, trattorie, osterie are going to have to suck it up somehow and provide it because everyone needs to be connected all the time! It probably won’t be cheap to do but if they want to keep customers, there may be no alternative. If you’ve been to Italy you’ll have noticed that free WiFi is not that easy to find, so these “smart” folks have found the hook!

We wanted to check out the Eataly location in Testaccio but failing to see the signs at the Piramide/Ostiense station pointing the way to the abandoned air terminal building that houses Eataly, we got lost (what else is new). By the time we figured it out we were in need of lunch. So much for Eataly! I wanted to see what all the fuss is about! And I am still curious! Founded by Oscar Farinetti, an entrepreneur formerly involved in the consumer electronics business, hooked up with the Batali/Bastianich Hospitality Group (Mario Batali, Lidia and son, Joe Bastianich) and they have been busy opening them all over the place. We were able to watch a tour of one of the locations on T.V. which gave me a good overview of what’s on offer. It reminded me of a large, glitzy food court. Friends in Rome were discussing Eataly with us and I asked “who shops at Eataly in Rome?” They didn’t seem interested in doing so.  I guess I can see the appeal in New York City or elsewhere in the States if finding certain ingredients is a challenge. Or maybe this is a way for American Italians to rediscover their heritage? But in Italy?? What concerns me is, won’t this type of large Supermarket, with its one-stop shopping, have a negative effect on the bottom line of smaller shops that have been in business for years? Volpetti not far from Eataly in Testaccio, comes to mind. Or even Castroni, a group of shops in Rome who sell typical Italian products of better quality, a wide assortment of ethnic foods, coffee, tea, spirits and sweets.

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A beautiful bouquet as seen around Campo dei Fiore.  A place to shop, have an espresso or a slice of Antico Forno’s pizza bianca, oozing with EVOO, sprinkled with sea salt or simply wandering about taking in what was once a traditional way of life.

 

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The Sweet Side of Rome

They’re everywhere! Gawd knows how we could have ignored the many and I do mean many, Pasticceria’s in Rome! Maybe we just kept telling ourselves “we don’t normally eat a lot of sweets” or something.” Ha! We finally succumbed on this trip. For research purposes only you understand!

DSCN9592 nx2A tip from Elizabeth Minchilli sent us to Pasticceria Barberini on via Marmorata in Testaccio. Well OK, sure we were going to Testaccio anyway…so a quick stop at Barberini for an espresso and maybe a “treat” to share??? You bet! If you share you only feel half as guilty! I admit it, we went twice! Can’t resist those little sfogliatelle! Elizabeth says the Sacher Torte is fantastic, just in case you’re in the neighbourhood…

And then there was the gorgeous window displays at i dolci di NONNA VINCENZA a pasticceria “tipica Siciliana” on Piazza di Monti Citorio. The first thing that leapt out at me was the cake stand of “St. Agatha’s Breasts or Minni di Sant Agata.” Sant’ Agata is Catania’s patron saint who lived during the third century AD. She was the daughter of an important rich local family and was very religious. She decided, while still very young, to dedicate her life to God by resisting any men who wanted her.  This was a turbulent time in Sicily when Christians were being persecuted. She became a martyr when Roman proconsul DSC_8424 nx2Quintian had her burned at the stake for refusing his advances. She was often depicted carrying her breasts on a plate because one of the tortures she supposedly suffered was having her breasts cut off. So now we have these small round pastries with a white icing and a candied cherry on top in honour of St. Agatha.

Being the suggestible person I am, when I read about Maritozzi con Panna, the Roman sweet buns filled with whipped cream that are often eaten for breakfast, I just knew I would have to find them! They are eaten for breakfast, no kidding… (sometimes without the cream), as well as later in the day. As I finish off my bowl of ultra-healthy oatmeal! In Rome we are hot on the Maritozzi trail, sniffing our way along! We finally found some at a Pasticceria near our apartment one afternoon….sadly, non crema (no whipped cream)…however the woman at the Pasticceria kindly pointed across the street to the Mercato where we would find cream and do it DSC_1979 nx2ourselves!! Just not quite what we had in mind! We bought the buns anyway and ate them, non panna, for breakfast. Of course, like I said, being suggestible also means that I need to try something and am not going to give up, so with those Maritozzi con Panna still rumbling around in my head, a couple of weeks after returning home I hauled Carol Field’s “The Italian Baker” off the shelf and made some WITH CREAM! So there! Hot tip: they were delicious without the cream too, warmed up with a little butter slapped on top!

 

Thank you Carol Field, you saved the day! Lucky for us, I know how to bake!

 

It’s a good thing we were on foot in Rome so we were able to “stumble upon” all sorts of places not only for fancy pastries but places like Antico Forno Roscioli. We would not have wanted to miss out on the astounding amount DSC_8427 nx2 ver 2of goodies that we, of course, would have not a hope of trying more than a few! We got a couple of “strudel di mele” (small, almost Danish like pastries with apples) and a small loaf of bread, all to take back to the apartment, all delicious!

Panificio Bonci…Gabriele Bonci the prince of pizza in Rome! We were very pleased to learn that he had opened up his Panificio not far from where we stay in Rome! We had the most fantastic “Roman” style pizza slices at his Pizzarium the previous year and knew, without any doubt, that his Panificio would be just as amazing! It’s pretty tiny, always busy, with amazing bread and other assorted goodies such as crostata, cornetti, various small cookies and biscotti…we bought a wonderful loaf of whole grain bread and we couldn’t leave without some of their excellent piazza bianca. Great stuff!!! If I could have hauled home a bag of the flour he sells I would have!!

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