Italian food is…semplice…regionally diverse and eterno.
If anyone knows me well, they know my absolute love and appreciation for cibo/food. I always make it a duty to taste the local dishes wherever I go. To be honest, that is where most of my money went and still goes. It’s a waste of a trip if you don’t try to find some way of connecting to the people’s land and understanding a bit more about their culture and tradition. That’s why I love traveling and eating while traveling! Don’t just buy, ask questions on where you can get local dishes, what they’re made from, where did they come from….find the connection. I guarantee that you will be left speechless and maybe a bit closer to home when you go beyond what your eyes can see.
Italy is intensely regional, and a dish considered one city’s signature will be unheard of 100km (or less) down the road. Source here.
I couldn’t agree more and that’s one of the aspects of their cuisine that I admire. Their signature dishes are inspired by flavors of past civilizations/empires which give them variety, authenticity and more so, a connection to their ancestors/heritage of a time past that they still keep alive
In Northern Italy, there is a mix of German and Roman culture while Southern Italy shows a rich Arab & Spanish with the majority of the recipes being made with four to eight ingredients high in quality. This was a bit scary for me as I come from a culture where spices and seasonings are used in abundance and my palette’s preference of always wanting a burst of flavor.
Nella mia educazione del cibo Italiano, quello che mi ha colpito di piu e come queste simplice ricette del passato che i poveri cucinavano, sono diventate ricette famose in grande richiesta, carissime nei ristoranti e oggi, sono rappresentazione delle diverse regione italiane.
I stayed in the Tuscany region where rich fields, valleys, and hills are in abundance and so is the food produced. Living as a student in Siena was a time of growth and discipline financially. Though food probably takes up 70% of my thoughts, I had to be liberal and practical about how and where I dined. I ate out very little and when I did, I made sure that it told my palette its story.
UN TAGLIERE (Un Antipasto)
Eaten before the main dishes, un antipasto is usually very light and can be served hot or cold, simple or complicated. It serves to bring about the spirit of eating and preparation for the other dishes.
L’Antipasto all’Italiana is served on a “tagliere” or chopping board. It took me a while to realize that it was a chopping board hehe. The platter of cured meats(precooked) and cheese that range from salumi to pepperoni which is served depends on the territory and what is in season at that time.
That’s one of the dishes that I miss the most. When you see the mixture of meats with cheeses, bread and different spreads and even some fruits laid on the table, you can’t help but feel as though you’re in one of those ancient Greek and Italian paintings where all the aristocrats gather together to feed their gluttony.
I had a few tagliere in some restaurants and my favorite would have to be from “La Proscuitteria” on via Pantaneto, angolo Via Magalotti. You dine down in the cellars where the rustic and wooden decor and barrels make you feel like you’re back in medieval times. Their meats are fresh and bread spreads tasty and diverse.
Earlier in my Italian phrase, I mentioned my deep appreciation of how foods cooked by the poor long ago has become famous and sometimes pricey. Ribollita is a perfect example of the Italian idea of Cucina Povera or poor cooking which were simple inexpensive meals made in abundance in the past and stored in large amounts.
This soup, Ribollita literally means reboiled and is originally made by reheating the leftover minestrone or vegetable soup from the previous day. It is made of leftover bread, cannellini beans and vegetables such as carrot, cabbage, and kale.
The one and only time that I had it was at Pretto Proscuitteria & Convivio on via dei Termini 4 with two of my friends. This ristorante always intrigued me because of its décor and the fact that it was usually filled with customers.
It was one of the dishes I was eager to taste but was left disappointed. It was more spicy than flavorful and wasn’t that filling. I am sure that there are other dishes from their menu that would impress my palette, as well as another ristorante that could make better ribollita. Whichever it is, I’m still searching for the tastiest.
TORTA RUSTICA PROSCIUTTO E FORMAGGIO
Whenever I’d pass on via di Citta, I’d see a good size crowd just standing, drinking and eating outside this tiny strange shop with a wild boar on display which is really enough to make anyone want to enter.
I finally entered L’Antica Pizzicheria after my friend Fa Lu recommended that I try out their bacon and cheese muffin. Of course, I wanted to try a lot more but the muffin was my limit. The price was startling, lol. I paid maybe 5 euros which for me is a lot mainly because I lived on a student budget.
It’s more hard than soft with bits of bacon spread throughout and a cheese hole in the center which is nice. It lasted me two days😊. It may not necessarily be from or native to Siena but it is one of the many things the people have to offer.
PICI AI CINGHIALI
Many regions in Italy have their own type of pasta and in Siena, it is Pici. This handmade pasta made from water and flour and sometimes egg is similar to spaghetti but much thicker. The Cinghiali (ching-gee-ya-li) is wild boar which is a local emblem and delicacy in the Toscana region. Pici ai Cinghiali or Pappardelle Cinghiale is so popular that you can find it at almost any restaurant in Siena and the Toscana region.
The first time I had it was at a new tiny restaurant whose name I can’t remember, that didn’t impress me very much. BUT, the best I had was actually made by me. I had brought both pici and ragù di Cinghiale home for my family to taste and cooked it for my dad’s 50th. LET.ME.TELL.YALL. That was the BOMB! It was easy to put together and the ragù was appetizing so much so that my niece and little sister asked for more. The entire family enjoyed it.
Both the pasta and the wild boar sauce can be purchased at almost any supermarket.
The first food condiment I had ever purchased in Siena was Tartufo at the Mercato nel Campo in March 2016. I stopped near one of the local vendors and began asking about the Tartufo and such (mind you, I barely knew Italian). They were so nice to me and had samples that it was very difficult for me to walk away. I purchased 3 salsa Tartufo and oil for 15euros which wasn’t a bad deal. Until recently, I had no idea how to use them and placed them on whatever food I had.
Tartufo or truffle is a fungus hunted by specially trained dogs in the forest and one of the most expensive natural foods. It is sought after in Italy and also a part of their culture where they go hunting for them. The smell varies but for me, it has a grainy liver smell. There are many varieties and condiments and recipes that can be made with the truffles and before leaving, I purchased three from La Bottega del Tartufo on 70 via di Citta and used one as a spread for one of the many crostini I made for my dad’s 50th.
VIN BRULE-MULLED WINE
This wine is spiced (cinnamon & other spices depending on the place), heated and usually served during the Winter. My first encounter was at Christmas time at the Mercato nel Campo. I heard wine and my money was out before I could think. Though not of Senese origin, this type of wine was first recorded in Rome during the 2nd century. What is fascinating about Vin Brule is that it takes many names in different cultures.
In Victorian times, Wassail punch; in German-speaking countries and in the region of Alsace in France, Glühwein; in Nordic countries, Glögg;in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro, Slovenia and Serbia, kuhano vino/kuvano vino/кувано вино;in Brazil, vinho quente; in Quebec, Canada, caribou; in France, vin chaud.
- It is rewarding being a conscious traveler. Do research on the restaurants, from what type of food they serve to the prices and location. Some places really do charge way more than they should and certain locations increase their prices. If you are money conscious, stay away from the restaurants and shops in and around Il Campo.
- Locals almost always know best. Don’t be afraid to ask and if possible, in their language. They really do appreciate the effort, well, at least some do.
- Take some food condiments back with you, especially if you’ve never seen or heard of it in your country/island. It is always fun sharing food with people. Your friends and family will enjoy the thought and experience.
OTHER RESOURCES/ MORE FOOD OPTIONS:
Know any of these foods? What foods have you tasted from your travels that impressed you?
Let me know & don’t forget to share & pin for a foodie! 🙂