Italy and the food

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I am typing this on a fuck all Turkish airlines with a stop over at Istanbul. I vow to fly international on Air India only in the future. It is sooooo much better than the rest. I am going to remember this flying experience every time the Messi ad comes on.

*We switched to a much, much better flight at Istanbul so it was all good*

We picked Italy as a destination because we wanted to have the pizzas and we had our fill of them. The great part about Italian food is that though every meal may not have been a delight, nothing was ever bad. We did not eat anything we didn’t truly like. Considering both of us are fussy eaters, that is quite an achievement.

On the downside, the food is quite monotonous. The same things for every meal can be a drag. I am not used to it since a weekly meal at home includes South Indian, Sindhi, Marathi, Punjabi, maybe even Bengali since the cook is one and Italian, Chinese, Gujarati etc etc. I have always taken India’s diversity for granted but Italy has made me truly appreciate it.

B’fast

An Italian’s day starts with croissant and coffee. The croissant maybe filled with jam or chocolate. At the very least, it will be glazed. It may cost a few cents (60-80) or more than 1 euro depending on where you pick it up. The coffee is served in tiny cups and very, very strong. I don’t like coffee at all but I did try it and promptly threw it away.


The only things available for b’fast are sandwiches and croissants. Nothing else. And they taste the same in every cafe. After a few days, it feels like a bread overdose. I have eaten bread after a long time. The croissants are great though and that is what we had on all days. In Florence, I came across omelette sandwich and was very happy to eat egg for b’fast till I took the first bite. The bread here is awful. So hard. You need teeth of steel to chew.

 The very, very hard and inedible bread served in restaurants

Main meals

We didn’t skimp on food but we didn’t eat at premium places either. In Italy, you pay a cover charge if you sit at a table and eat. Most places charge 2 Euros per head in addition to the bill and tip. It is quite a WTF because I cannot imagine that happening in India. In fact, I can walk into a coffee shop, spend an hour, not order anything and leave. The whole idea of paying to sit is beyond me.

We had pizzas, pastas or burgers for meals. Pizzas are most common, burgers can be had at Mc Donald’s or Burger King and pastas are available mostly at places where you pay cover charge. You can eat frozen pasta warmed in a microwave at cafes without paying cover charge.

Every city had a slightly different kind of pizza. In Naples, the base is very soft and you fold it like a thick roti and eat it. In Florence, there are very thin potato slices on top of the sauce. We also came across one shop in Venice which had the thickest base but we didn’t try it. They all taste good. Since KC eats only chicken and Italian food rarely uses chicken- It is mostly pork, ham and beef; we mostly stuck to margarita, marinara and verdure. In fact, there are more vegetarian options rather than chicken everywhere.

Now this will sound blasphemous but I think pizzas taste much better in India. The authentic Italian pizza cannot rival the ones at Fat Lulu’s, Pizza Express and Crusty’s. I probably sound like a dehati saying this but I do think Indians have improved on the pizza. Not to say the Italian pizza tastes bad.. After all, can any pizza ever taste bad? The best part about the Italian pizza is how light the cheese is. You can eat it for every meal and not feel stuffed.

Pizza at Venice   
Pizza at Florence. Notice the thin potato slices

Pizza in Rome

Pizza with a thick base in Venice- we didn’t find this in any other shop in any city


The pastas are great in Italy. We tried gnocchi, spaghetti, lasagne, ravioli, cannolini and risotto (not a pasta but am clubbing it together). I love gnocchi. It is so hard to find it in India. It is amazing the kind of magic can be created with only a few ingredients – tomatoes, pasta/risotto, basil and cheese. So yum.

  
    


On our first day in Rome we had dinner at a Sicilian restaurant recommended by our host. We paid cover charge and ordered arancini and risotto. Arancini are rice balls stuffed with things like peas and cheese. They were very, very tasty. The risotto was an amalgam of flavours of orange and cheese. I couldn’t even imagine using orange in a risotto.

  
 We also tried the frozen pastas in a cafe and they tasted quite decent. Not a bad option if you are on a budget or in a rush.

I had the best lasagne of my life – at a cafe near Vatican, Rome and at Milan. The latter had beef. Italians restaurants in India need to up their lasagne game. I have never ever eaten an authentic lasagne anywhere. Now I avoid ordering it because I don’t want to be disappointed.

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A pasta will costs between 4 and 8 Euros depending on where you have it and pizza slice is 1.2-4 Euros.

In Florence, I also had a different panini. It was a stuffed pizza base. The stuffing was spinach and cheese.


McDonald’s and Burger King are not budget options in Italy. A burger meal at both costs 6-7 Euros which is a bit much. They mainly have pork and beef options. Some chicken burgers have pork in it so please do check beforehand. McDonald’s has a 1 Euro burger too but it won’t be very filling. I tried the hamburger and beef burgers and found them ok. I don’t like red meat not only because it is bad for health but also because the salt content is very high. I prefer chicken and fish any day. But yes, the burgers were a good change from the pizzas and pastas.

  
 Gelatos

I had a gelato everyday. After 2 days we realised that 2 flavours can be served in 1 cone. KC and I tried different flavours and we managed to taste quite a few of them. The best part about the gelato is how subtle the flavour is. You will only find flavours of fruits which are in season and their colour will be light. According to Lonely Planet, dark/deep green colour of pista flavour means the gelato is not good… Light green means it is nice. I didn’t come across a deep green colour anywhere. The gelato tastes good everywhere. It costs 2-4 Euros.
We tried these flavours – melon, pineapple, lemon, tiramisu, cheesecake, cookies and cream, coconut, mint with chocolate, forest fruit, pista, strawberry, amaretto, choco chip, mango, raspberry and coffee. My favourites were coconut, coffee and mint with chocolate.
There is a shop in Florence near the Duomo which sells gelato on a stick. I did not come across any other shops in any other city which sold that. Must try.
The gelatos are a must must must try. Travel to Italy only for them. They don’t taste like ice cream at all and Indian gelatos are bullshit.

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Desserts

We managed to try a few desserts. Tiramisu is of course a must try. We had it in Milan and the cake pieces are very moist. Amazing. In Naples, we came across a cafe which had mini versions of all desserts and we tried quite a few. 5 of them cost some 4.5 Euros. I think these are French desserts because I have seen them at L’Opera bakery in NCR but am not too sure. What I liked was how they are not overly sweet. I hate that about Indian desserts- they only taste of sugar. I hate an overdose of sugar. We had a strawberry tart, biscuits with cream in between, a tart with cream rolled in between and a biscotti.

We had this cheesecake in Florence. Very Indian-ish because it was quite sweet. Looks good though.

  
       Macarons are not very common in Italy which is a surprise. I had the best macaron of my life in a cafe at Coin department store in Rome. It was a strawberry shell with marshmallows filling. Don’t buy the packaged ones in a supermarket because they are quite hard. The macarons are so much better than the ones I have had in India. The outer covering is so much harder in India. Must try.

This is a coconut macaron in a bakery at Venice. I didn’t imagine any other country except India could make such good use of coconut in their food.   
 Other cuisines

Every time we came across anything apart from Italian we were very, very happy. We had 3 such meals

  • Chicken Hut – This outlet is spread across Rome and Naples and run by Bangladeshis. It serves burgers, shawarma, chicken biryani and even chicken/mutton/beef gravy with rice. We tried the tandoori burger, another dish which had chicken pieces, cheese, pizza base like thing, greens and sauces. Not bad. On the eve of my b’day, when it was midnight in India, I satisfied my rice craving with some chicken gravy and rice for 6 Euros. Not very cheap.

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  • Chinese restaurants – We had Chinese at Wok at Rome central station and last night in Venice. Yummy food. The meal in Venice cost us 25 Euros which is quite pricey specially since the quantities were minuscule.

        

Coffee

If you are a coffe person please do buy a French press and the Nespresso coffee. Pretty impressive. Nespresso has a counter in the Coin department store. The coffee is sold in a store which sells makeup.

  • Hot Chocolate

After looking for it everywhere I managed to have it in Venice. Hot chocolate is not sold in summers.

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Upcoming posts

  • Thoughts about Italy
  • How to plan a trip to Italy and the cost

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