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

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!

Italian Superstitions: Touch Yourself

This is the second installment of my Italian Superstitions series (for the first one, click here).

I had planned on eventually getting around to blogging about the superstition that I’m going to talk to you guys about today, but the other day I was talking to my Mom on the phone and I had mentioned this superstition to her. She thought it was so funny that she immediately yelled to my Aunt (who was visiting) “Get over here and listen to this!”. Being that it got such a good response from my Mom and Aunt, I was prompted to up this one to priority status on my list of things to write about and that’s why you guys are getting this lil’ gem right now.

The two ladies that got such a kick out of an Italian superstition: my Mom and Auntie Bev

So, in America we knock on wood to ward off evil, right? Well, in Italy they touch iron. Now, while that is a fun little fact to know about Italian culture, it isn’t really interesting enough to merit its own blog post and it’s certainly not what my Mom found to be so funny.

Grabbin’ myself, Michael Jackson style!

The thing that made my Mom laugh so hard is the other thing that Italians do which is equivalent to knocking on wood (or touching iron): touching themselves. Yes, you read that right. Italians touch themselves to ward off evil, and I’m not talking about touching their heads or noses or hearts. They touch their … *ahem* … intimate bits.

If someone says something like “I sure hope your house didn’t catch fire while you were out” to an Italian guy, he will grab his balls to avoid tempting fate. If someone says something like “Maybe your scratch will get infected and the doctors will have to amputate your entire arm” to an Italian girl, she will grab her left breast in order to assure that it doesn’t happen.

So guys, if you’re in Italy, it is perfectly acceptable to touch your testes if you want to keep evil things at bay. And ladies, make sure that it’s your left breast that you grab. I’m not sure what happens if you touch your right one, but I think when it comes to things like superstitions, it’s better not to take any risks.

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 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!

Gay Flurries

It seems as if a homosexual blizzard has hit Italy, dumping gay snow all over the streets! That’s right, it’s Carnevale time once again here in Italy!

I love how at this time of year you can see colorful confetti all over the place! It’s so fun and is definitely one of my favorite little things that I enjoy about this country!

Buon Carnevale a tutti! 

Confetti on the streets of Italy

Gay snowstorm collage

Italian Superstitions: Corno

Italians all say “we’re not superstitious“. Don’t believe them. That’s a lie. Italians are most definitely superstitious. Even some of the most sensible and logical Italians I know are still inexplicably superstitious.

I thought it’d be fun to kick off 2012 with the first in a series of posts based on Italians’ ideas on fortuna and sfortuna (good luck and bad luck). I always like to start on a positive note, so today let’s talk about good luck.

Red Coral Corno

The most popular Italian good luck charm is by far the corno (the horn).

The origin of the corno is said to stem from the Old European moon goddess, before the rise of Christianity, and it’s supposed to protect you from the dreaded evil eye.

The corno is traditionally made from reddish/pinkish coral that predominately grows in the Mediterranean sea surrounding Italy, and is worn around the neck as a charm. Although today you can see it in lots of forms including silver, gold, and even plastic key chain versions which you can easily find in any tacky souvenir shop in Italy.

Plastic Key Chain Corno

These good luck charms are so popular that you can see them in America too. If you’re Italo-American then you probably already know what I’m talking about. If you’re not, then go ask one of your friends with an Italian last name if they know about the corno. I’ll bet they do!

Now I’m not superstitious, but I do have a corno that I often wear. I’ve been living here a while now, and certain things have rubbed off on me!

Paired with my hairy chest, I’d say that it’s pretty darn Italian of me! :-)

My Corno

Do you guys have any preferred good luck charms? Leave me a comment and share yours!

Here’s to a 2012 filled with good luck for all my readers!

The Christmas Witch

Buon Natale a tutti!

My non-Italian readers may find the above picture to be strangely out-of-place during the Holiday season. It seems more like a Halloween thing rather than a Christmas one, doesn’t it?

Well, this witch with a heart of gold is very Christmasy in Italy. Her name is La Befana (or “Beffy” as I like to call her). She flies around on her broomstick and fills the stockings of  little boys and girls on the night of January 5th for the Christian holiday called Epiphany on the 6th. She gives candy and small toys to good children and coal to bad ones, just like Santa Claus does in America.

In the USA we have Santa that does both presents under the tree and the stockings while Italians have Babbo Natale (Santa Clause in Italian) for Christmas presents under the tree and La Befana for the stockings at the beginning of January.

Apparently, Italian Santa Claus was too busy enjoying “la bella vita” to get around to taking care of stockings, so he enlisted the help of the good witch.

Personally, I think it’s kind of cool to have the gifts split up between two different holidays that are close together. Getting presents on multiple days is sort of like a mini Hanukkah!

Well, I hope you’ve all been good this year or Beffy will be leaving you a lump of coal. If you’re lucky, maybe she’ll give you some candy coal instead of the real thing!