Trick of Treat What Do Italians Eat (Drink, Buy and Do)

Let’s play a game of “Trick or Treat!”

Here’s the idea: We’ll present you with a few commonly held ideas about Italian culture and living to see whether you know if it’s true (treat!) or a false view of the way Italians eat, drink and live (trick!). And if you have any tricks in your pasta pot let us know and we’ll see if we know how to see and savor Italy.



Italians Eat Pizza with a Thick Crust

TRICK -Pizza with a thick crust and deep dish pizza are American inventions.  The classic Neopolitan pizza, considered by all Italians to be the benchmark for all pizza, is made from a thin disc of dough cooked in a wood-fired oven according to guidelines outlined by the Verace Pizza Napoletana Association, based in Naples, Italy, the birthplace of pizza. According to their rules, an authentic Neapolitan pizza must be . . . Read more

Italians Favor Wine from Chianti

TRICK -Although the wines of the Chianti region in Tuscany are highly regarded there are other regions in Italy that produce outstanding wines. Quite frankly Italians generally favor the wine from the region they come from defending their territorial appellations with as much passion as an AC Milan vs. Inter rivalry (unless it’s prosecco which everyone agrees that the best is from the Valdobbiadene). Some of my favorite regional Italian wines come from Piedmonte (like a Langhe Nebbiolo) and a Valpolicella from the Veneto if I am drinking a Chianti, a Colli Senesi  from the hills of Siena suits me just fine.

Italian Gold is some of the Finest in the World

TREAT – Italian goldsmiths have been shaping jewelry out of gold from the time of the Etruscans. The  Ponte Vecchio, Florence’s bridge of bling, is lined with jewerly shops selling hand crafted gold necklaces, rings, earrings and bracelets but many smaller studios and workshops throughout Italy carry on the ancient tradtions of Italian gold.

Shops in Italy are Generally Closed Between 1 and 4 o’clock in the Afternoon   

TREAT – Although not all of the shops in Italy are closed between the hours of 1 to 4pm  it is still quite frequent to find Italians taking a pausa  (the break after lunch when shops close in many Italian towns) during the afternoon. Italians believe that there is a benefit to taking things slowly, savoring the food, the company and the passing of the day. Each business owner’s siesta will vary so don’t be disappointed when you arrive in the afternoon to discover CHIUSO (closed ) posted on the door.  Americans may find the idea of an extended lunch break frustrating at first, but if you’re traveling like an Italian it can be a welcome riposo for a nap or an afternoon stroll in the park – a well-deserved treat.

Food Shopping in Italy

Whether you’re walking down the street on market day gushing over the frutta e verdure, planning a roadside picnic or shopping to prepare a meal in your rented farmhouse or appartamento, buying food in Italy means you’ve taken a step outside the tourist flow. You’re ready to immerse yourself into life on the streets and live like an Italian. Here are a few language skills I found helpful when food shopping in Italy.

Your Italian food buying vocabulary needs to combine words and gestures. The least common denominator for describing what you want to buy may be pointing to the item and a hand gesture to indicate the number you want. But you need to be aware that hand signals in Italy are different than they are in the States. Raise your thumb, as if you were hitchhiking to indicate the number one. Use  your thumb and index finger for the number two and so on.

Also in Italy it is considered disrespectful, dare I say rude, and unhygienic to touch the fruit and vegetables at the market. In the States we rummage through the produce bin looking for the best piece of produce (good luck). In Italy it is the standard to allow the market vendor to choose for you. Why? because in Italy food is respected and the producers and growers take pride in the fruits of their labors. They take pleasure in selecting their best for you. If you are uncertain about selecting your own item you can always ask as in “posso?” meaning I can or “con permesso” meaning with your permission. However be prepared to use plastic gloves in larger food/grocery stores (alimentari). They are dispensed right next to the produce display and then carefully select and touch only those objects you wish to buy.

You’ll also need to deal with weights and measures.

  • “Un chilo di mele, per favore.” – A kilo (2.2 pounds) of apples, please.
  • “Un mezzo chilo di pere, per favore” – A half kilo of pears, please.

A tenth of a kilogram is an etto (etti pl.) which is just under a quarter pound and about the right amount for two people. When the butcher shop (macelleria) owner holds up a salsiccia (sausage) and asks, “Quante?” you would reply, “Un etto, per favore”.  Or if you’re hungry “due etti” -(more piu) (less meno).

Also knowing directional terms in Italian will be helpful as you point to the formaggio in the front (davanti) of the cheese case and tell the commessa (saleswoman) that you want these artichokes (questi carciofi ) rather than those (quelli).

Finally, remember that a comma is a decimal in Italy and as in all shopping (fare la spesa) the one interrogatory phrase you always need to know is “quanto costa?” how much is the cost.

How I Cured Jet Lag with Turkey, Pumpkin Pie and Football

I’m an end justifies the means flyer. Unlike my travel companions who relish in the rarified air of the wild blue yonder, I view flying as a necessity more than a pleasure. A way to get from point A to point B. Maybe it’s because of the delays and layovers or maybe it’s because of my seat assignments (my seat guru always seems to be slightly off). Then there’s the jet lag. The 9 hour+ trip to Milano always results in a major upset in my diurnal rhythm resulting in lack of alertness, poor sleep, irritability and stress. Not the way I want to hit the Via Montenapoleone.

I travel for business and pleasure and often don’t have the luxury of the “1 day of recovery needed for every one to two time zones crossed” theory for my circadian rhythms to adjust. So over the years I have searched and researched strategies that take the lag out of flying and help re-align my internal clock. You’ve probably read about, heard or tried most of the conventional wisdom on avoiding jet-lag. Adjusting your sleep patterns before departure, light therapy, aromatherapy, herbal remedies,  vitamins, acupuncture, turning your watch to the time of destination as soon as you get on the plane and various other sleep aids, all claiming to cure jet lag. There are hundreds of anecdotal and scientific studies on the causes and cures for jet lag including the Argonne Lab Anti-Jet Lag Program. Developed by Dr. Charles F. Ehret, a biologist at the University of Chicago’s Argonne National Laboratory, the program uses a series of planned foods (proteins and carbohydrates) to re-set nature’s internal clock to help your body adjust to a new time zone. Sometimes referred to as the Feast or Famine Diet, the basic program alternates “feast” and “fast” days before travelling.    

All and all the general consensus on minimizing jet lag is to avoid overstimulation and when the cabin lights dim – sleep. Enter the turkey.  If you really want to sleep, eat turkey.  Think about how content, relaxed and sleepy you feel after that big Thanksgiving dinner. There’s a reason for this. Turkey is high in the amino acid L-tryptophan, which acts as a natural sleep aid. Eating turkey, can help you get a great night’s sleep right before you depart or leave you tired enough to rest on the plane. I always eat turkey the night before I leave and take a couple of turkey sandwiches to eat pre-flight and on the plane. This year I’m thinking about downloading my i-Pad with a few football games and making sure to bring a 3 oz. vial of essential oil of pumpkin pie along just for good measure.



Gold Eggs and Ham

The color of gold has been used to describe the culture and cuisine of Italy for centuries. The illuminated halos of gold in Renaissance paintings and the golden tiles of the mosaics of Ravenna are indelible examples of  the brilliance of Italian art. The golden balls of the Medici bankers were image makers long before branding became a market strategy.  Gold merchants span the Arno on the Ponte Vecchio, Florence’s bridge of bling, and the Doges of Venice wore stiff horn-like bonnets (corno ducale ) made of  golden brocade. The high-fashion emporia and chic boutiques of Milan’s Qaudrilatero d’Oro (Golden Triangle) have made the color of gold a design icon. Italian chefs create culinary alchemy with golden grains of saffron flavored risotto and “liquid gold” from Italy’s extra virgin olive oils while fields of yellow sunflowers have Italianophiles longing to bask under the Tuscan sun.

But perhaps the most dramatic symbol of Italian gold is not found in the Vatican museums or the jewelry shops of Florence and Rome but in the farmyards near Pisa where Paolo Parisi has taken the lowly egg and elevated it to the status of Italian gold. Parisi’s heritage bred Livornese chickens, fed on a foraged diet supplemented with scraps from the production of cheese from the goats on his farm, are said to produce an egg of such extraordinary flavor (sweet almonds) and texture that they carry a price tag of  €8, or $11 for a half dozen. What makes this egg the richest egg in Italy? The fresh taste and a golden yolk that is softer and richer in fat than most with the capacity to incorporate three times the amount of air than the average yolk when whipped. This means that your pasta, zabione, creams ,custards  and carbonara will be golden in flavor and appearance because the yolks of Parisi’s eggs are intensely – fluorescent gold! Parisi also raises Cinte Senese pigs, an ancient breed native to Tuscany known for their heritage flavor. Giving new meaning and color to one of the world’s most famous culinary parings – eggs and ham

And if Parisi’s commitment to eco-sustainable farming methods wasn’t enough his eggs are lovingly housed in a carton made from an organic fabric embedded with small seeds of marjoram. Plant, harvest and then cook “L’uovo assoluto” a Parisi recipe for eggs made with foglie di maggiorana (majoram)shown on the backside of the pack. Brilliant.