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!

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!