The simpler the better

Fancy ForkThe United States is brimming with swanky, chic Italian restaurants. Walls, napkins, and candle holders in trendy colors like burnt umber passion or titanium flambé. Artfully displayed and long-winded dishes like mahi-mahi penne with a Napolitano ponzu sauce reduction or mini pesto torts topped with a whipped brie and artichoke chutney. Creative restaurant names like “Linguini & Tinis”, “Scampi 38″, or “Ciao Bella Fashion Lounge”. There’s nothing at all wrong with these types of places. The food is creative and tasty and the atmosphere is funky. It’s just that you’ll have a hard time actually finding similarly lavish places in Italy … at least, that is, if you want the food to be any good.

There are some cool, “in”, expensive looking restaurants in Italy, especially in Milan. However, if you’re looking for properly priced delectable dishes I highly recommend going to a “hole-in-the-wall” place that looks like it was last refurbished in 1973, perhaps by somebody fond of tacky wood panelling and frightening tchotchke. These places are where the real Italian dining experience is to be had.

Italian restaurants – good Italian restaurants – offer no-frills service and atmosphere. I’m talking no music, simple decor that borders on ugly, and a straightforward menu lacking any unpronounceably trendy words. No squinting at the menu through mood lighting. No having to ask the waiter what a “zucchini ribbon nest with a Pugliese compote” means. No pushing open 8 different doors (Oops! Broom closet! Oops! Kitchen!) to find the one to the delightfully ambiguous bathroom. Just food. Honest, good, and lovingly prepared.

Red Checkered TableclothIf you’re picturing those oh-so-stereotypical red checkered tablecloths in your mind’s eye, then you’re getting the right idea.

One great example of a down-to-earth Italian restaurant in Milan is Trattoria Bolognese da Mauro. This restaurant, opened back in 1969, mostly serves dishes from the Bologna region, which are, in my humble opinion, the best of the best. If you are ever lucky enough to eat there I recommend, nay, insist, that you try the salsiccia gramigna. Strepitosa (amazing)! Honestly, I make a mean salsiccia gramigna, but da Mauro’s is 10 times better than my own. Not only is the food spectacular, but it’s boatloads less expensive than most restaurants in Milan and the people that work there are welcoming with a hint of bohemian kindness. I just dig the whole vibe of the place and think it really sums up the concept of what a real Italian restaurant is all about.

Good eatin' goes on here!

Good eatin’ goes on here!

Here are some pictures I took of my last trip to Trattoria Bolognese da Mauro. Hungry yet? Jealous? Wanna be me? :-P


So remember, when it comes to Italian dining in the home country: the simpler the better. Oh, and grated parmesan goes with just about anything!

Grated Parmesan Cheese

About these ads

Italian Tidbits

Today I just have 3 quick and random things that I wanted to share with you. These lil’ tidbits aren’t really substantial enough to merit blog posts unto themselves, so I’ve decided to stick ‘em all together here for a lovely *guazzabuglio of Italian things.

1) McDonald’s, Italian Style

Beer at McDonald's

Beer at McDonald’s

There are two things about McDonald’s in Italy that would never function in the USA. Firstly, you have to pay for condiments here. Not on the sandwiches themselves, but like, if you want extra dipping sauces for your nuggets or even ketchup and mayonnaise for your fries. Americans love their condiments and sauces way too much for such a thing to work. While an Italian can pay ten cents and make do with one ketchup packet, Americans need to drown things and would probably spend more money on the sauces than on the actual food itself. The other thing is that Italian McDonald’s serves beer! Good stuff, too! Peroni! Italians are more responsible than Americans when it comes to drinking. They can have one beer with their value meal, and move on. In America, beer at McDonald’s would turn into a sh!tshow and there would be people puking in the ball pit.

2) Gucci Fashion Map

Gucci Map

Gucci Map – Front

Gucci Map - Back

Gucci Map – Back

Everybody knows that Milan is a European fashion capital. But did you know that Gucci has actually made a sort of fashion map to help you find their various stores around the city. Crazy, right? And this map only includes the actual Gucci stores and official retail spots, not  stores where Gucci happens to be sold together with other brands. I just think this is so cool! In fact, I had one hanging up in our bathroom for a while! Talk about taking a fashion shower!

3) Shutter Holders Thingys

Italian Shutter Holders

Italian Shutter Holders

I’m not sure exactly how to call these things in Italian or English, but they’re the things that you use to hold window shutters open and flush against the house. I’ve really Googled the crap out of these things to try and find out more information on them, but have been largely unsuccessful. Besides learning that they are popular in France too, I haven’t been able to figure out much so I’m just going to have to go on what I’ve heard from other people regarding these things. Looking at the photo, you’ll note that when the shutter holder thingy is in the up position you can see the face of a man, and when it’s down you can see the face of a woman. Cute, aren’t they? Well, rumor has it that these faces are supposed to represent Giuseppe Garibaldi and Anita Garibaldi. I haven’t been able to “officially” verify this, but at this point my blog is all the authority you need, right? ;-P

* If you don’t remember what guazzabuglio means, click here for the Italian Phrasebook.

Urban Penguins

Pao Penguin Kaleidoscope Little known fact: penguins are native to the city of Milan.

Well, ok, not real penguins, but urban ones!

The Milanese street artist Pao is famous for spray-painting adorable little blue penguins all over Milan. The dome-shaped cement blocks, used for keeping cars from driving up on the sidewalk (even though Italians find a way up on them anyway), are transformed into something much cuter!

Pao Penguin in Via Tortona, Milan

The penguins have become considered Pao’s “classic” street art examples, at least in my mind, but he also does other characters and forms of art like paintings, sculptures, and graffiti murals.

The courtyard of Wow Spazio Fumetto in Milan

The courtyard of Wow Spazio Fumetto, Milan

My own lil’ Pao Penguin

I really enjoy seeing  Pao’s artwork all over town, and I’ve even picked up a mini penguin replica for my apartment. I think it’s  fun and colorful, plus I’m supporting local art!

I’m  curious to know which of the 4 Pao creations above, you guys think is the best one. My vote def goes to Penguin! Let me know in the survey here below!

That’s a lot of oil!

Italian Olive OilExtra VirginIt’s no secret that Italians love their olive oil. They use it all over over the place in the kitchen: drizzled over bruschetta, mixed into sauce, and used with balsamic vinegar to dress a salad. Olive oil is to Italians like butter is to Americans (which I think says something about our comparatively different waistlines).

Some home remedies also see olive oil used to heal chapped lips, get car grease off your hands, polish furniture, and as a home-made bath scrub when mixed with sea salt. An all natural cure-all!

I obviously knew all about olive oil before living in Italy, but I was totally unprepared for how many different types of olive oil there are here! I mean, we have half a supermarket aisle dedicated entirely to Italian liquid gold! There’s even this cool wine and olive oil shop called La Vineria that’s part of the classic tour I bring visitors on. The nice guy that works there lets my friends sniff the various vats of olive oil that they have, and I’ll be damned if different types of olives don’t produce oils with different smells – spanning from roasted tomatoes to fresh-cut grass. It’s amazing!

Back in Roman times, there was so much olive oil used, that it contributed to one of the largest ancient spoil heaps in the entire world.

AmphoraeMonte Testaccio, in Rome, is a huge pile of crushed amphorae (that’s a fancy name for old earthen pots). These pots were used for transporting and containing oil back in  ancient Rome. The used amphorae were smashed and then placed on the carefully planned spot where Monte Testaccio still stands today. It’s estimated that the hill is formed by 53 million olive oil amphorae. Mamma mia! That’s a lot of olive oil! 6 billion liters, to be exact! To give you a better idea, this hill covers an area of 20,000 square meters and is 35 meters high!

Nowadays, Monte Testaccio is overgrown with plants and trees and is surrounded by the houses and shops of the neighborhood, but it’s still cool to think that under it all lies the olive oily remains of many, many tasty Italian meals.

Monte Testaccio

Monte Testaccio

I hate the word “nougat”

Classic Italian TorroneNougat” is a gross word. Like “moist”, “plump”, “fondle”, or “panties”, I hate even pronouncing it. *Bleargh* :-(  However, I’m going to have to tackle the word “nougat” in order to take on today’s Christmas blog post. Ah, the things I do for you guys. ;-)

There is a very typical Italian Christmas candy called torrone. It’s basically made of honey, sugar, and egg whites to form a ….. *sigh” … nougat. (I just puked in my mouth a little bit…) Then things like hazelnuts, almonds, candied oranges, vanilla, and chocolate can be added to create different variants. 'Nilla & H-Nuts

My first experience with torrone happened back when I was young. I remember my Italian Consolazio grandparents bringing it to our house every Christmas. They brought bite-sized pieces of torrone, individually packaged in little boxes with an Italian bakery guy on ‘em, and there were flavors like classic, orange, and lemon.

One great place to pick up torrone, here in Milan, is the Oh Bej! Oh Bej! Christmas market. The name of the market means “Oh So Nice! Oh So Nice!” in Milanese dialect. That’s usually where I get my torrone to bring home at Christmas. If I dared show up without any, I’m not sure if my parents would even let me in the house…

The Milan Christmas Market

The Milan Christmas Market

Since my parents will probably read this (they better!), I’m gonna have to prove that I’ve already picked up this year’s supply. Here’s a picture of me below with the torrone I got. So, Mom & Dad, hang my stocking by the chimney with care, because I’m coming home … with nougat!

Italian Torrone - American Boy

Italian Torrone – American Boy

MERRY CHRISTMAS

Pumpkin Party

Let’s do some simple math: I love pumpkin + Mantova is the Italian city famous for pumpkin = I went to Mantova to eat pumpkin.

Boy howdy, did I ever eat pumpkin! Me, my boyfriend, and two of our good friends drove out to an agriturismo (a farm where you can eat local food that they produce themselves) and had ourselves a pumpkin party in the countryside surrounding Mantova.

We had fried pumpkin, pumpkin risotto, pumpkin-filled tortelli (similar to ravioli), pumpkin gnocchi, and even pumpkin pudding for dessert. Pumpkin-issimo! We also had chunks of parmesan cheese with mostarda, another speciality from the region.

After eating our fill of zucca (pumpkin), we decided to go take a stroll around the old city of Mantova to work off some of that food. I took a bunch of pictures of the entire day and wanted to share them with you here below. Enjoy!

P.S. For those who are interested, the agriturismo that we went to is called Il Galeotto, and specializes in rice. In fact, the risotto was, in my opinion, the best part!

Pick it up, pal

I like dogs enough. I’m not really what you’d call a “dog person”, although if a dog is well-behaved and non-intimidating I’m all for petting or playing. Plus, they can be damn cute sometimes. Who knows, maybe someday I’ll grow into really loving dogs. Hell, my parents, over the last few years, have gone off the deep end for dogs and now I have a new “sister” and 2 new “brothers” – BellaZio, and Fenway.

My Dad with the dogs (from left to right: Fenway, Bella, and Zio)

Italians, however, certainly seem to be dog people! It’s a good thing that I can get on well enough with dogs because they are EVERYWHERE here and people really let them do whatever they want. Dogz Rule n’ Ownerz Drool!

Dogs can be found in stores, in cafés, on the tram, and running around on the streets, parks, and beaches without leashes. Usually it’s not a problem although I sometimes find myself grumpily asking “Who’s friggin’ dog is this?”. In fact, it’s so common for dogs to be able to enter public spaces that some places have to put up specific “io non posso entrare” (I can not come in) signs  to show that dogs are not welcome.

A doggie-tote on the subway in Milan. I’m ok with this. No running around disturbing passengers, well contained, and very cute!

The real problem with this, in my opinion, is not the fact that you might have to step out of the way to make room for a dog when you’d least expect it or guard your panino with your life. It’s poop. Yes, poop. The streets of Italy are a minefield of dog crap.

You can never really go for a carefree stroll in Italy without having to look where you’re walking from time to time. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve been walking with someone and had to warn “Poop! Watch it!”. It’s no wonder that Italians believe that stepping on dog doo brings good luck. I mean, we may as well invent something positive about all the crap around town.

One time my friend told me she saw a woman step on dog crap on the marble sidewalks of Bologna. The woman skidded, slipped, and not only fell, but also had dog sh!t smeared up her entire leg. I don’t know how that poor woman reacted, but I would have killed the next dog and dog owner that I saw, even if they had nothing to do with the accident. I would’ve just completely lost it!

I must say that I have, very occasionally, actually seen an Italian dog owner pick up after their dog, which made me feel like stopping in my tracks, applauding, and saying “Brava, signora! Brava!”. To those who are responsible owners and pick up after their pets, I say “Grazie!”. To the rest of you bums, I say “Pick that up or I’ll feed it to ya!”