Italian Food Facts: Cappuccino

Pouring CappuccinoCiao ragà! It’s time to learn some more cool stuff about the Italian foods (or beverages, in this case) that we all love.

Hot n’ frothy! No, it’s not the name of an adult film … well, actually it probably is … but that’s not the point! Today, we’re talking about cappuccino!

Ok, so you know what a cappuccino is, right? Sure you do! You’re a card-carrying citizen of planet Earth! How could you not? But do you know the meaning behind the word “cappuccino”. No, no you don’t. That’s why you need me.

The word “cappuccino” means “little hood” in Italian. No, I’m not talking about a small urban area known for its tough streets. I mean “hood” in the, “head covering attached to a sweatshirt” sort of way.

Capuchin MonksThis famous Italian coffee concoction got its name because of its light brown color – the result of the espresso and steamed milk coming together. This shade of brown is the same as the one found on the robes of the Capuchin monks, they themselves being named after the hood on their robes. See the connection? There are tons of pictures I could show you of real Capuchin monks to illustrate this point. I, however, have opted for the salt and pepper shakers that my grandparents used to have.

These sure bring back memories!

These sure bring back memories!

A few more quick points on cappuccini (note the correct plural form in Italian is “cappuccini” and not “cappuccinos”):

  1. Good luck trying to order a cappuccino in Italy after 11 am or (horrors!) after a meal! That’s sort of against the rules here. Something to do with Italians believing that milk will block your digestion.
  2. Have you ever gotten a cappuccino with cinnamon on it? Mamma mia! It’s good stuff! Try it!
  3. There are some real cappuccino artists out there. Baristas who decorate the top of the cappuccino with the foam or cocoa powder. It always puts a smile on my face when I order one and it comes with a little extra care put into its aesthetic quality. Here’s a few examples of cool cappys!
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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

Spooky and so very “in”

It’s Halloween time once again!

I, for one, am wicked excited! As I’ve talked about in previous blog posts (click here and here) I seriously love Halloween! This past weekend we decorated our house for the holiday with lots of things given to me by family and friends back in the USA. This includes having Halloween themed bowls with some fun candy.

Halloween candy in our apartment

So, we made our apartment all ready for Halloween, complete with the smell of a freshly baked pumpkin pie (the 1st one I’ve ever made … it turned out ok, nothing spectacular). However I felt that I, myself, wasn’t quite ready for the holiday. This has been kind of a hectic and busy month for me and I didn’t really get the chance to enjoy October as much as I’d usually like to. I feel as if I didn’t do enough “autumny/Halloweeny” things.

Well, a little pumpkin bracelet has made me feel better and has put me a heck of a lot more “in the Halloween spirit”.

Italian brand Cruciani has these colorful bracelets that are EVERYWHERE in Italy now and were extremely “in” this summer. It’s impossible to go anywhere without seeing somebody sporting one.  The original form is that of a four-leaf-clover, but various other shapes (hearts, butterflies, lock and key) have come out since then. Now, just for Halloween, they made a pumpkin version, available in orange or black. As soon as I saw them I decided “you shall be mine, pumpkin-shaped bracelet!”, so I ran out and picked one up this weekend.

The window display at the Cruciani store in Milan

These bracelets are so very me! I mean, they really scream Garrett! I’m wearing mine right now as I type this and it serves as a sort of Halloween reminder, right on my wrist! It may seem silly to some of you, but this little piece of Italian fashion has made me feel better about how my October has gone and makes me all “Halloween Happy“.

This last picture I’m leaving for you guys is what I’m rocking on my wrist right now. You’ll note the orange Cruciani pumpkin bracelet and traditional green four-leaf-clover one. In the middle I’ve got a knock-of version that I got in edicola that I thought was cool because it’s got a skull and crossbones. I know this picture looks like something from Teen Beat magazine for young girls thanks to all the added images, but I couldn’t help but play around with all my photo editing apps on my iPhone! :-) Happy Halloween!

Halloween Fashion!

 

Get Out of Town

:-D Happy Ferragosto! :-D

Non-Italian blog-reader: “The hell is Ferragosto ‘sposed to mean?”

Me: “Whoa, calm down! No need to take a surely tone with me! What are you stressed-out today? You need a vacation or something? Well, lucky for you, it’s Ferragosto!”

Non-Italian blog reader: “But I still have no Idea what the fu…”

Me: “Auu! I’m getting to that! Geesh!”

Ferragosto means summer vacation time in Italy! It’s a holiday that takes place on August 15th – smack dab in the middle of the month. It’s kind of a weird holiday because there are no special cakes, no special songs, no special gifts, no special anything. It’s just sort of a national “let’s close up shop and head to the beach” day. The only real way that you’d ever know it was Ferragosto would be if you tried to go to the local pharmacy, bar, post office, or shoe store. Everything, everything, is closed! You find empty stores, empty piazzas, and empty streets and not only on the actual day of Ferragosto. Places close for the weeks before and after the holiday as well! The only thing you’ll see are lots of these “closed for vacation” signs.

If you didn’t speak Italian and didn’t know that “chiuso per ferie” means “closed for vacation”, you might erroneously believe that all of Italy has caught the plague and that the Italians have decided to announce this woeful fate by means of hanging up whimsical, neon-colored signs everywhere! You’d think to yourself “Oh, those colorful Italians”, as you began to apprehensively second-guess your stuffed up nose.

Now, please don’t freak out if you’ve planned your summer vacation to Italy during the month of August. More touristy places and the shops in the city centers are often at least partially open. And the beaches are most definitely booming! Let’s just say it’s not the best time to visit Italy. Also, because it’s hot as balls!

As a matter of fact I’m not even in Italy right now! I wrote this blog post ahead of time and pre-programmed it to publish today. I’ve been on the beach in Croatia for a week already, soaking up the sun. Now I’m in Amsterdam, and then I’m heading back to Italy with some good friends from the USA. Even though we get back to Italy after Ferragosto, we’re still on the tail end of the summer vacation period. My only problem is going to be trying to find a restaurant to bring my visiting friends to that will actually be open!

What are you guys getting up to this summer? Leave me a comment!

Italian Hand Gestures – Part 6

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted a hand gesture video, but I’ve finally got a new one for you!

In the video, I talk about how the light quality isn’t the greatest, but then in post-production I discovered that YouTube has some new options that you can play around with to try and sort out the lighting/contrast/brightness. It’s still not perfect, but it’s a heck of a lot better than it was at the start! Though, if anybody wants to gift me a professional HD video camera, tripod, and some lights, I wouldn’t say no. ;-)

So, here’s the vid for you guys. Learn the Italian hand gesture for “there is/are none“.

Enjoy!

It’s the Anus of the Dragon!

Italian is a beautiful language. It’s the poetic craft of Dante, the musical prowess of Verdi, and the finicky language where it’s all too easy to say “anus” when you really meant to say “year“.

The Italian word for “anus” is ano while the word for “year” is anno. The only thing that sets these words apart is an extra “n”. I think these two words are recklessly similar, and the problem is not just with the spelling!

The Italian language has a double consonant pronunciation where you basically hold the consonant for a fraction of a second longer than usual. So, when speaking, if you don’t hold that “n” long enough, you’re in for an embarrassing treat!

It seems like a cruel joke aimed at foreigners that one of these double consonant words just happens to be the one for “year”, doesn’t it? It’s such a commonly used word. Oh, and let’s not forget that it’s easy to say “Can you please pick up a pack of penis at the stationery store while you’re out?” Only one little “n” differentiates the word “pens” (penne) from “penis” (pene).

C’mon guys! Anus and penis are among the words that I can easily biff up in Italian? Are you kidding me?!? I mean, couldn’t we have chosen less potentially dangerous words to be the counterpart of the much more innocent ones? I feel like I’m walking around on a linguistic minefield here!

You are cordially invited to buzz the hell off

So, the Italian language has two different types of “you” – the informal one (tu) and the formal one (Lei).

  • Tu is what you say when you are talking to your friends, younger people, and other people who you know well and have a close relationship with
  • Lei is what you use when you are speaking to strangers, your elders, or people whom you want to show a certain level of respect to

Wanna know something cool? Italians have this great way of using the formal “you”, even when in the heat of a verbal dispute.

Using Lei when arguing with somebody you don’t know or who you want to show respect for even as your chewin’ them out is something that I just find so hilarious! It’s a linguistically artful way of telling somebody off while still remaining polite despite the fact that what you’re yelling may well be laced with swear words and insults.

To give you an idea of how funny this concept is (at least to a native English speaker living in Italy), here are some masterful examples of the vocalizations you might hear when people “politely argue” in Italian. Please note: to get the most out of these, you really should  envision them being said in a posh British accent.

  • Good sir, I heartily insist that you keep your !@%#ing dog’s mouth shut!
  • I should find it swell if you would stop double parking your sh!& box of a moped in front of my mother!@%#ing car!
  • Would you be so kind as to go take a good sh!& for yourself, you !@%#ing idiot!
  • Hello there, outspoken b!+ch! Please refrain from busting my !@%#ing balls!
  • It is with the utmost respect that I entreat you to go !@%# thyself … with vim and vigor, mind you!

So, the translations of what was being said in Italian are not exactly spot on, but since English doesn’t have the formal “you” there was no other way to really convey the idea. Plus, it gives me a valid excuse to use lots of bad words!

Now I won’t be the one to write down any Italian swear words here in this article, but if you guys want to leave a comment with any Italian parolacce that you may know, I certainly won’t be able to !@%#ing stop you! :-)

Italian Hand Gestures – Part 5

Ciao ragazzi! Here is a new Italian hand gesture for you to learn.

Italy is known the world over as a country with great food to eat and this video teaches you the hand gesture to say that you appreciate the local cuisine!

I filmed this video in my bed because the sun sets early here these days (being winter and all) and my apartment is really not the best in terms of lighting. I did a few test runs and my bed seemed to give the best results.

I guess we’re getting more and more intimate here on the blog! ;-)

Little Mouse

I am a huge Mickey Mouse fan! Have been ever since I was a boy!

I love Mickey so much that when I was little I dressed up as the famous Disney mouse for numerous consecutive Halloweens. My Mom gave up on trying to persuade me to change costumes by saying “Why don’t you try being a cute lil’ Dracula” or “Don’t you want to be a Ninja Turtle this year? Cowabunga!” and just accepted the fact that she was going to have to dust off and slightly alter the old Mickey costume once more, for the 4th year in a row.

Me as Mickey Mouse for Halloween in the 80’s! How cute am I?!!?

One year Mom was able to convince me to be a cowboy … but I still had to have some Mickey Mouse involved!

You may even say that I was possessed by Mickey Mouse. In fact, my parents have video evidence of me being silly (what else is new?) and talking in a high-pitched voice saying “Hi! I’m Mickey Mouse!”. When my parents kindly ask “Garrett, use your normal voice.”, I creepily respond by shrieking “Garrett isn’t here right now, but you can talk to me, Mickey, if you want!” The video is an old 1980’s VHS home movie, and I have absolutely no idea how I’d go about transferring and uploading it to YouTube so I can’t show it to you, but I think just writing about it is embarrassing enough for me!

Now, you might be asking yourself “What’s this got to do with Italy?”. I’m getting there, don’t worry!

Mickey Mouse is known around the world either by the original American name that Walt Disney gave him or by a country’s local version (ie. Mickey Maus, Miki Miška, Ratón Mickey, Mikki Mús…).

Italy is an exception to this rule. In Italia, Mickey Mouse is known as Topolino (which translates to Little Mouse) and there’s an interesting historical reason behind this name change.

The cover of the first issue of the famous Topolino magazine in Italy … still read by children (and adults) even today!

During the period of fascism in Italy, Benito Mussolini outlawed the publication of foreign comic strips, especially American ones. The only one American comic that was “allowed” was Mickey Mouse, apparently because Mussolini’s children loved the character so much. The way to get away with publishing it anyways was to get rid of Mickey’s filthy American name and give him a new Italian one that was more in line with the ideals of strong Italian nationalism and pride. Fascism in Italy may have died off but the name stuck, and to this day Italians refer to the Disney star as Topolino.

Call him whatever you want, all I know is that Mickey Mouse continues to have a special place in my heart!

I think it’s quite clear which Disney character is my favorite. What’s yours? Leave a comment below! :-)

Italian Hand Gestures – Part 4

Here’s another vlog* for you guys: the Italian hand gesture for “That is perfect! That is precise!”

* Vlog means “video-blog” in internet-dork jargon. (I recently learned that myself!) :-D