A Culinary Reflection on Italy

What is Italian life like? I thought I knew before I came here. I thought of Italy and saw soccer and Italian men. Red and green and white flags. Olive Garden. Now? Now I see Italia for what it really is: food and wine and culture centuries deep. 

From winery tours on the top of the mountain to coffee roasters in a small town in Tuscany. Little cafes full of every type of pastry you can imagine to pizzerias with smells to die for. A walk down the street in Tuscany was like a different world. 

The first restaurant we ever went to in Arezzo was called Mariano’s. Twelve of us piled in out of the pouring rain and begged for a table… even though the restaurant didn’t open for another hour. (One of the oddest things about Italy was the restaurant hours! Most dinner places didn’t even open until 8:00!!) A huge friendly man comes out and claps us all on the shoulder “CIAO!!!!” It was some of the best pizza I had ever had although it was weird: they never cut it. You have to fend for yourselves, but wow is it worth it! 

Same for everything sweet: croissants and crepes and gelato, sweet bread and creme brûlée and muffins with Nutella …heaven. Speaking of Nutella, almost everything in this country is sold with Nutella on it. I’ve had Nutella pizza, Nutella crepes, Nutella gelato. Peanut butter is not a thing and chocolate actually means Nutella in some of the shops… It’s everywhere!!!

Other things on every corner: coffee, cheese, wine, honey, alcohol, bread; every kind of amazing food you can think of. Every day I go to bed full with new food in my stomach and another beautiful delicious day to look forward to. God I love this country!

Hyped up on Caffeine

Coffee is life. Seriously I don’t think I could live without coffee. I actually think I could be certified as a caffeine addict: I love coffee ice cream and coffee flavored sweets, if I ever go without coffee in the morning I have a headache by noon,… Let’s just say I have a problem.
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You can probably guess then that one of my favorite days here in Italy was my class trip to the coffee roaster!!! We walk inside and are immediately greeted by a barista who makes us all espresso shots (it was my third coffee that day!) It was milder than I was used to from Arezzo, but still exceptionally strong!
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We learned so much about coffee on that trip too: everything from the kinds there are to how the beans are chosen and roasted and ground… even the ways it can be prepared! Warning to coffee haters out there: the following might be extremely boring!!
We started by touring the research lab where the owner told us about the two main types of coffee: Robusta and Arabica. Arabica is the “better quality” bean which makes up 70-80% of world coffee, growing slower, in higher altitudes, and with more shade. It, in contrast to the Robusta, can be used by itself to make high quality coffee, while the Robusta needs to be mixed to taste good. The Robusta also differs in that grows much larger (hence “Robust”) in higher humidity, giving it a very large caffeine content, and taking up 20% of the world market.
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Next, our class found out a disgusting fact about coffee: if it has too much humidity it can become overcome by bugs!
*bug picture*
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Um gross. Fortunately though, they only tend to grow on a special type of bean called “Monsoon coffee,” for which they found a solution and don’t tend to have that problem anymore. But just to be sure, the roaster does a check of every single bean that goes into their coffee. They check the size, the level of oxytoxins, the humidity… they even practice roasting the beans!! It was one of the coolest things I had ever seen, and I loved the rest of the tour!
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We saw the roasting machine, the giant sorting vats, and the automatic packaging apparatus! The most fun thing though? In the middle of the warehouse there were bags and bags and bags of beans stacked all together which we got to climb… like a jungle gym. I felt like a 6 year old again which, let me tell you, is no easy task when you are taking organic chemistry in a month! God I love coffee!​

NO I DON’T WANT A PURSE

“No thanks. No really I don’t want one. Thanks no. I DON’T WANT A PURSE!!!”This was me in the leather market in Florence. Vendors calling from every direction, no personal space AT ALL, and arguments all around. The streets were full of tourists but the locals didn’t cower and curse us under their breath. Instead they reveled in it: shouting and cursing and shoving things in your face. It was chaos but they thrived on it. I had never seen anything like it until I stepped foot in Florence.

The minute our train arrived in the station it was like New York… European version. While way more clean than Rome, it none the less was the Big Apple on another continent. Lines and lines of tourists speaking hundreds of languages, road signs to the nearest monument, even over priced ice cream (though here they called it gelato)!

The people were different though: the Italians lives seemed more put together. They took more time to do everything… From walking to drinking coffee to eating dinner, the Flortians were in no hurry at all.
Another weird thing about Florence? The artwork.

We started in the Uffizi Gallery which housed statues, frescoes, paintings…every type of art you can imagine. Raphael and Da Vinci’s rooms were amazing but for me nothing beat the crazy statues that lined the halls.

Yet my favorite piece of art wasn’t a statue. It’s was a piece called Judith Slaying Holofernes by Artesmesia Gentileshi. It was crazy violent but also insanely beautiful and way more interesting than anything else there.


The people loved their art too. They cared so much about the history of their city. It’s so different from home where everyone moves from place to place without a second thought. I loved it because they loved it!

All in all, I very much preferred Florence to Rome!

(and I did buy a purse!!!)


Wine o’clock somewhere

A beautiful summer day? HAHAHAHA no. Yet the drenching rain did not hinder the beauty of the mountain view as my classmates and I made our way slowly up the mountain on a rickety old bus. We laughed and took pictures, trying not to feel carsick as we bounced and bobbed and narrowly avoided cliffs.Finally we reached the top and were rushed inside to escape the downpour. The first room we see is giant. Huge metal tanks line the aisles, gleaming silver. “Fermentation Tanks” the guide told us.
 The vintner walked in and continued to tell us about the way wine was made. The grapes are brought in and crushed and then the red is allowed to ferment before it is separated from it’s skins while the white is pressed and then the juice alone is left to ferment. Both kinds of wine are left in the temperature controlled tanks, letting the yeast turn glucose to ethanol (alcohol!) and the flavor develop. After a long enough time passes, the red wine is pressed and the juices of both kinds are purified before being put in barrels to age. Lastly it is bottled and ready for tasting! (So was I at that point!)

But before we sat down to taste, it was time to tour the vineyard so our guide brought us outside. As we stepped outdoors again, rain gone, we were greeted by a beautiful view. Acres and acres of vines, stretching as far as the eye could see. The vintner told us about how the grapes are grown: carefully pruned so the best bunches can thrive, sprayed with copper sulfate to keep the fungi and bacteria away. Our entire class was able to feel the grapes and leaves and soil. In fact, the soil was part of what helped the grapes grow so well: it was extremely rocky, allowing excess rains to drain and not drown the plants, as well as allowing the vines to dig deep, deep roots. As the information dwindled outside, we finished up with a few…ok a lot… of pictures against every possible backdrop.

They then took us inside a new room and we sat down at beautifully made up tables; more plates, silverware, and glasses than we knew what to do with, as waiters bring trays and trays and trays of food to our table. Everything from prosciutto to pecorino cheese to bread loaded with patee (chopped up liver)! And finally the wine came: a Toscana Bianco (white), Vin Santo (dessert), Syrah (Red) and Sassocupo (Red).

Our first wine was a delicious white, the Toscana Bianco. It was 13% alcohol made of a mix of three different grapes. As I followed the owner’s instructions, I smelled a flowery scent and saw a clear, yellow wine. It felt dry and tasted flowery and sweet, delicious! I even bought a bottle!!

We also tasted a “dessert wine” which is known to be extremely sweet and is a specialty of Tuscany. Apparently it is made by letting specially picked grapes dry out until they are almost raisins, with all that sugar locked inside, before the fermentation process. This creates an extremely high alcohol content of more than 16%!!! It looked pink, almost salmon, and smelled like syrup straight out of a bottle. The taste was so sweet a couple of people almost spit it right back in the fancy wine glass! I didn’t mind it as much as the others, but did turn down buying a bottle.

The owner gave us two reds to try in addition to the white and the Vin Santo. The first was called a Syrah, made of purely Syrah grapes. The color was a beautiful ruby red and the wine had a strong pepper scent with a warm sensation. It tasted dry, but not quite as dry as I had come to expect from red wines, and had a 12.5% alcohol content. The second red we tried was a Sassocupo (I love that word) which was 13.5% alcohol, made of two grapes and aged for seven years. It was a dark red with a strangely pleasant mineral scent. (Who would’ve though rocks had a scent?) After my first sip I was immediately in love. I tasted warmth mixed with acidity and promptly raised my hand to buy a bottle, my hatred of reds gone forever.

With two bottles in tow, and the tasting over, we headed back to the bus and real life. And by real life I mean cafes, gelaterias, and cobble stone streets…. We were still in Italy for another three weeks!!

All Roads Lead to Rome

“No.”

I’m taken aback. What? What do you mean no? You crazy lady.

All this runs through my mind as I stare at the little old lady shaking her head ferociously. I was sitting in a little Italian restaurant 10pm with my professor, trying to get some food before I fell flat on my bed into blissful sleep. I had just landed in Rome, Italy and made my way to the adorable hotel where my class was staying and wanted to get some food before I passed out. My teacher was kind enough to walk with me (so I wouldn’t get kidnapped) but the crazy lady at the restaurant wouldn’t let him sit at the table without ordering something.

That was not the only weird thing either. When we first walked in the guests stared at us, up and down, up and down, no shame. Our waitress? No English. In fact no one I had meant seemed to know any English at all. I quickly picked up the phrase “mi dispache” to apologize for every time I did something wrong.

Just like that night. Dr. Morvant finally ordered cheese and we were good to go. I looked at him like her was crazy when his food finally came out and I realized it actually was cheese… A giant block with honey poured over it! (It was actually delicious!) I also got a spicy pasta that was possibly the best thing I had ever tasted in my life!

Finally I try to pay. Yes I do say try because the lady never brings me a check! She walks by once…twice…three times…ok that was enough. I try to wave her down but it almost seems like she is ignoring us, the rude Americans who tried to order only one dinner! What was going on? Apparently they think it is rude in Italy to bring the check before someone asks for it!

When she eventually gave me the check I go to tip and am told by Dr. Morvant that “they don’t tip here”…. What? “Mi dispiace” I say for the hundredth time…

And that was my first night in Rome! Total, utter, culture shock! I couldn’t believe how different it was here! The phrase “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” needs to be updated to “When in Rome, try your best to do as the Romans do!”