Swiss Pride

Swiss Flags

Boy oh boy, do the Swiss love being Swiss!

There’s a lot of Swiss pride going on here. They just really dig their culture, heritage, language(s), and food. The Swiss flag can be seen everywhere, people are genuinely happy when you show an interest in trying out some new Swiss aspect of life, and a product being Swiss made - whether it be cheese, an electric razor, or underwear – is a definite added value.

Made in the USAIt sort of reminds me of the USA. Not that there are that many things “made in the USA” nowadays, but we do have a strong sense of patriotism. The Americans and Swiss are proud to hail from their respective countries and will brandish their flag with fervor.

Italians, on the other hand, seem to always look down on their own country and even feel embarrassed to be Italian, which is a shame since it’s such a great place. In fact, the only time during my time living there when I really ever saw Italian patriotism was during the World Cup.

Gennaro Gattuso

The topic of Swiss patriotism came to mind because today is Swiss National Day! That means that Swiss flags are popping up all over the place in celebration. It takes me back to growing up in my hometown when my Dad would decorate our front yard with tons of little American flags whenever it was Memorial Day or the 4th of July. So cute!

1. August-WeggenThe supermarkets here in Zürich are particularly decked out. There’s all types of Swiss paraphernalia and even this special bread called 1. August-Weggen (August 1st bread) with the Swiss flag’s cross baked into the top. In typical “Garrett loves all things authentic” style,  I’ll definitely be trying some today! Most likely on the Swiss paper plates and accompanied by the Swiss paper napkins that I bought.

Here are some pics I took for you guys from my local Migros. I got chided for taking pictures, but when the security man heard my horrible (read: nonexistent) German, he said “Ok. Tourist. You can take a few photos.” so it all worked out for the best.

Happy August 1st! In an effort to unite the blog title with the topic of today’s post, I’ll be sporting these bad boys:

My Swiss Underwear

My Swiss Underwear

Yes, they’re made in Switzerland! :-)

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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

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.

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!

Panini Do Nothing For Me

Italian panini suck! There, I said it! They are boring, and simple, and uncreative, and lack anything fried inside of them! As I’ve said many times before (to avoid a revolt … and because it’s true) Italian cuisine is great. However, when it comes to stuffing bread full of every meat, topping, and condiment possible, America has totally got Italy beat at the sandwich game!

Italian Panino

American Sandwich

Not only are Italian panini too simple and boring (imagine a single millimeter-thin layer of prosciutto, a solitary slice of cheese, and some dry lettuce without any condiment on it), but they also lack creativity. Anywhere you go in Italy, with a few overpriced exceptions, you find the exact same panini with the same dull options. Bleagh!

What’s worse, making any alterations to a “pre-set” panino is a no-no! After nearly 7 years in Italia, I must say that the habit that Italians have of making it difficult to make any changes to a sandwich drives me bonkers! I think I’m adult enough to know what I like and don’t like, thank you very much.

For example, this one time I was getting a sandwich at a café – one of the many where they don’t even permit you to chose your own fillings, but rather have sandwiches that are already planned out for you, even if they need to be made at the moment. The sandwich came with arugula, which I hate, so I asked for it without. When I went to pay they hit me with a surcharge of €1 because I asked for the sandwich without the arugula. And remember, the sandwich was not already made. It’s not like they had to take the arugula off and throw it away. They simply had to not add the damn thing, actually saving them both time and money. Well, I got in one of my infamous arguments with the lady at the cash register and stormed out without paying anything. So I guess I won that time, though I’ll have to add that café to the long list of places that I can never return back to because I made a scene.

This lengthy list also includes the sandwich shop where they tried to charge me fifty cents more because I asked for a condiment on the side, as apposed to actually on the panino. I guess the sandwich maker having to move his hand 2 inches to the right before squeezing the mayonnaise bottle is worthy of an extra charge in Italy…. Plus there is the place where I asked for a sandwich in Italian and the lady answered me in horrible English. I told her that her English was an atrocity and huffed out of there too, with no panino at all and still hungry. Well, this last one actually has more to do with me being too touchy about my Italian than it actually does with the panino itself, but it’s still on my black list.

In America, the local deli might have some pre-organized sandwiches, but you are more than free to simply create your own, choosing from the slew of options. The world is your oyster .. or, rather, topping. Your mile-high American sandwich will be stuffed to the brims and served with your choice of potatoe salad, macaroni salad, chips, or french fries. In Italy you practically have to open the two slices of bread to make sure that there is anything inside and the panino is served with your choice of … napkin.

I always feel bad for my American visitors who come to see me in Italy. They  have these great expectations for mouth watering Italian panini. I hate seeing the look of disappointment in their eyes when they discover that there is no such thing as a chicken pesto panino with roasted bell peppers and grilled marinated portobello mushrooms, smothered in tons of gooey melted mozzarella. That’s just the American take on an Italian panino.

I would say that the food I crave the most when I’m in Italy would be American sandwiches.  Man, I’d kill for a bologna sub from A&A with american cheese, mayo, pickles, grilled onions, jalapenos, and black olives! The best sub in my hometown! My mother would say that the best one is a steak bomb with mushrooms, peppers, and onions from Boyles, and those are pretty darn good too!

*** Grammar Point *** All this talk of food, and I almost forgot the grammar point I wanted to make. So “panino” is singular while “panini” is plural, so saying “I am having a panini” is technically incorrect. Although, who cares about grammar when you’ve got a foot-long sub to chow down on!

Italian Food Facts: Tiramisu

Tiramisu is among the most popular of Italian desserts. I, personally, don’t go crazy for it, but I think a lot of people out there are decidedly way more into this chocolaty-coffee dessert than I am.

You can find it in just about any Italian restaurant in Italy or America and I’d be wicked surprised if you, dear blog reader, have never tried it at least once in your life.

It’s basically lady finger cookies soaked in espresso coffee and then layered with sweetened mascarpone cheese and topped with cocoa powder. Easy!

The interesting thing about Tiramisu is the meaning, in Italian, of its name. It translates into “Pick Me Up“. Not in the sense of “give me a ride home” or “I’ve fallen”, but in the “put some pep in my step” way. Given that this dessert is loaded with espresso, it gives you a little coffee buzz, which is exactly what you might need to help you get up from the table after a nice long Italian meal!

Ottobre*

* (that means “October” in Italian)

It’s my absolute favorite month for many reasons! Here are the top ones:

  • Halloween
  • my birthday
  • cold “snuggle” weather that’s not quite as bone-chilling as winter

Luckily, I can enjoy these three things living in Italy just as much as I did when I lived in America. There are, however, some things that I really do miss about being in America, especially in New England, during the month of October.

This year in Italy we had the warmest September in the last 150 years. It’s true! If you don’t believe me check out the story from the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera. It’s in Italian though, so if you don’t speak Italian, you’re just going to have to go ahead and trust me on this one. Anyways, it was crazily warm here! I was going around in shorts and sleeping with the windows open until about two weeks ago. Even though this year was warmer than usual, autumn in general is less chilly than in Boston. I’m not sure if it’s because of the warmer temperature or different types of trees between The USA and Italy or even a combo of the both, but leaves here don’t put on that same spectacular show of changing into beautiful shades of red, yellow, and orange like they do in Massachusetts. The leaves in Italy seem to go from green to brown overnight and then just drop to the ground without any fanfare. The leaves changing color is something that I really miss! Not only because it’s always cool to see, but because it was also a sort of “signal” for me that October was here and that my two favorite holidays are coming up. (Yes, I consider my birthday a private holiday).

Another thing that I really miss is cinnamon flavored Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, candy apples, and pumpkin spice anything (latte, cookie, pancakes …). I love all autumny-spiced foods!  Every time I see an American friend’s Facebook status say something like “Having a hot pumpkin chai! Yum!” or see a picture they posted of them and their boyfriend/girlfriend making candy apples from the apples that they went and picked that weekend, I always think “That must be fun … insensitive jerk!”.

That said, there are some things that Italian October offers that American October doesn’t. One main thing, as I talked about in last year’s Halloween blog post, is the fact that the day after Halloween is a national holiday here, so you always have the day afterwards to rest up after your crazy Halloween party. Another thing is that you can find pumpkin ravioli and fried pumpkin flowers, which are both really delicious. Also, many small mountain towns in Italy have festivals in October where you can spend the day in the mountains wine-tasting and eating warm polenta. In fact, this year I went with my boyfriend and a couple of our friends to Morbegno for a fun wine-tasting where you get to go right into the cellars and sample the local wine accompanied by some brown breads and cheeses.

fried pumpkin flowers

So, it’s not a complete loss. There are plenty of ways to celebrate October right here in Italy, and fried pumpkin flowers are almost good enough to forget about the leaves not changing colors!

Isn’t the local food always spaghetti?

Italian food is good. Really good!

I’d be hard pressed to find many people who don’t agree with that statement.

Spaghetti, pizza, lasagna, cannoli, balsamic vinegar, eggplant parmigiana, prosciutto, mozzarella, and delicious green olive focaccia bread are foods that are known and appreciated the world over. C’mon, I mean who doesn’t love Italian food? The ingredients are genuine and the taste is always something spectacular. It’s no wonder why Italians are proud of their national cuisine.

Now, we have established that Italian food is exceptionally good, however, there are many other good things out there to eat: fresh Japanese sushi, a spicy Mexican enchilada, or flavorful Turkish kisir, for example.

Italians, in general, don’t seem to know or believe in this. In fact, getting Italians to eat non-Italian food can sometimes be an ardent chore.

In a big city like Milan or Florence, you can find a good amount of non-Italian restaurants (though the Italian ones far outweigh the ethnic ones), but you can sometimes see a really good Ethiopian restaurant that is basically empty while the mediocre (and probably more expensive) Italian one right next door is packed to the rafters. Italians often like to “play is safe” and a plate of pasta or grilled fish with zucchini is preferable to some weird unpronounceable ethnic stuff.

It’s not always a matter of taste or ingredient preferences either. Sometimes Italians even tend to be skeptical about the cleanliness of ethnic restaurants or where exactly their ingredients come from. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had Italian friends give me a hard time about eating at a Chinese restaurant. “How do you know that the ingredients don’t have some strange chemicals in them?”, they ask me. Sometimes even a foreign-run Italian restaurant, for example a pizzeria run by Egyptians, can lead to skepticism from Italians. Trying to explain to them that the Margherita pizza from the Egyptian-run place has the same ingredients that one from a completely Italian pizzeria does seems to do no good either. Even if I tell them that I stand as living proof that one can eat at an ethnic or foreign-run restaurant and not die, they respond “You’re American. You guys eat all sorts of crap. That doesn’t count.”

Now don’t get me wrong. Italians can eat whatever they want, it’s no big deal. I mean, most of them would probably have a problem with how much fried food I eat (and justifiably so). I’m not trying to tell my amici italiani what to eat, however this biased tendency towards all Italian food all the time, has a negative effect when it comes to foreign travelling, in my humble opinion.

I myself am a very adventurous eater, especially when it comes to traveling. I’ve eaten pickled herring in the Netherlands, chicken Kiev in Ukraine, black pudding in Ireland, crème brûlée in France, and vegetable tajine in Morocco. Even if I don’t think that I’ll like the dish (see black pudding), if I’m traveling and it’s a local dish, I’ll try it anyways because I think that eating local food is a large part of the adventure. Even if it’s something that I’ve had before, it’s somehow “cooler” in my opinion when you have it in the local land. And I will always get a goofy picture of myself eating the local food while doing a “thumbs up” gesture!

A horrendous photo of me eating the local food in Munich, Germany, a few years back

Italians, however, keeping with their love of national dishes, generally tend to eat one thing and one thing only, even when they travel: Italian food. I think this is limiting and can keep somebody from really getting the most out of foreign travel.

An Italian from Turin will go crazy for the carbonara in Rome or the cassata in Sicily, because though these dishes are not typical to their region, they still fall under the tried and true category of “Italian”. However, the local fare is often overlooked or even (for shame!) avoided in foreign countries. Not only that, but they are never happy with the Italian food that they eat outside of Italy because it’s not “real” Italian food, and it’s not what they expected. Just like I will find something very “Americany” every once in a while in Italy, like red velvet cake or spicy chicken wings. I get all excited, but then I’m always a little let down. Even if it’s good, it’s still not the real thing. It’s the Italian version of American food. That’s no fun! Where’s the butter? Where are my dipping sauces?

Again, Italians can eat whatever they want, even when they travel. I’m not trying to impose food rules. However, if you go to America and end up at Olive Garden, don’t come back to Italy and tell me that the breadsticks were too buttery, the spaghetti wasn’t al dente enough for you, and that the wine sucked because I’ll just tell you that you should have gone to Applebee’s and gotten a hamburger with loads of toppings and an ice cold Coca Cola!

Here’s a poll!