By Isabella Pittaway
If Italy was to adopt a chant similar to Australia’s ‘Aussie, Aussie, Aussie (Oi, Oi, Oi)’—my suggestion would be ‘cibo, cibo, cibo (food, food, food)’. Because, after all, Italy is food Mecca.
Pizza, pasta, gelato, prosciutto, cannoli—have I got you salivating yet?—are all foods we associate with Italian cuisine. Oh, and I’m forgetting one key condiment made mostly of hazelnuts. Yes, Nutella. That gooey, oily chocolatey deliciousness is also produced in Italy and boy, how they, and most of Europe, love it.
I remember having my first Nutella crepe at a Christmas night market. All these people were lining up at a cart, which had row upon row of these giant Nutella containers. The making is simple: the crepe mixture is poured on a round hot plate and then a giant spatula covered in Nutella is spread across the crepe. Fold it up, and pop it into a little cardboard box and you have a melt in the mouth Nutella crepe. Anyone who can eat one without ending up with chocolate on their face has serious skill!
Continuing with the chocolate theme, a special mention has to be made for Italian hot chocolates. Imagine melting down any type of good quality chocolate and then adding a dash of milk. Unlike our liquid hot chocs, the Italians prefer theirs rich and dense. I was struck with amazement by the texture; it was like drinking melted chocolate. Thankfully, I managed to stash a few sachets of Ciobar—a brand of Italian hot chocolate—into my suitcase which I’ll be rationing this winter.
As for the pizza, apart from being seriously cheap—and I’m talking AU$8 for a massive wood oven pizza—they are also delicious. A popular way of ordering and eating the pizza in Italy is by the ‘pezzo’ or ‘piece’. It was a lifesaver at lunchtime in between language classes and for just €1.50 you could buy two pieces of pizza. My personal favourite is the traditional margherita, but you’re spoilt for choice with flavours. Just be careful when ordering, because if you ask for a pepperoni pizza you’ll get a pizza with red peppers and not salami!
Now, pasta is perhaps the best convenient food on the market and obviously there’s no short supply in Italy. Admittedly I had a gnocchi fest while I was over there; anytime I saw gnocchi on the menu my choice was made. But all the different types of pasta and their accompanying sauces were enough to set anyone’s palate watering. From penne alla vodka to gnocchi with truffles, creamy sauces in the north to tomato-based sauces in the south, pasta holds a proud place in Italian culture.
Finally, no Italian meal is complete without a stroll to a gelati bar for a scoop or two. The range of flavours at some of the bars is wondrous. One place in Florence has over fifty different flavours! One of my favourites was a gelato/dessert bar in Milan, which had five flavours just for chocolate, including chocolate and red pepper. You can’t go past the staples though, and whether it’s from a modern franchise like Grom or a gelateria in Naples that’s been making gelato since 1864, my favourite is pistachio. While some places in Australia like Cocolat do get close, you can’t beat the gelato in Italy. Even in the middle of a cold and foggy winter, my friends and I would head to a gelati bar to fill our stomachs with their frozen deliciousness.
So, that is my very brief gastronomical tour of Italy. If you ever get the chance to go, don’t forget to eat where the locals do because that is where the best food tends to be.