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!