Food in Italy can be divided into two categories: gelato and everything else. The city is a sweet-fiend’s dream, supported by ice cream shops on seemingly every other corner. Gelateria is Italian for “magical land of smooth ice cream that somehow tastes better than anything back home,” and I considered it my duty to visit as many as possible. Gelato for breakfast? Si. A pre-lunch treat? Of course. My record was four cones in one day, which sounds piggish until you realize that I always order the smallest size. That’s reasonable. The best gelato was at Grom in Florence. I imagined it was made by young surfer boys.
In Siena, a downpour threatened to let itself burst over the town. My foot was also aching, so I figured I’d sit for a bit, let the storm pass. Tourist traps were everywhere, but I found a place that had salad, crostini, and pasta for five euro. Didn’t expect much and got so much less: a microwaved spaghetti dish served in its plastic bowl. Paranoid visions of Bisphenol-A poison slithered through my mind while I silently stewed. Really, you’re Italian, I wanted to say. Italians don’t microwave pasta! Except they do, and then desperate limpy American girls pay for it because they’re too cheap to pay three times the price elsewhere for only twice the quality. Oh well.
There was terrible cheap pizza in Rome, excellent cheap pizza in Florence, and a bright tomato sauce over gnocchi a few blocks from the Palazzo Pitti. Time Out led me to a clever pasta bag (pictured) at Pane & Vino in the Oltrarno, and I stumbled across mind-blowingly delicious foccacia in Monterosso al Mare. In Riomaggiore, I learned a useful phrase — Vorrei formaggio. Pecorino, per favore. Grazie — and employed it before heading to the water with fruit, aqua frizzante, and bread. Excellent chocolate was not found in Italy, but again, I was a gelato vacuum.
Travel, for me, is inextricably linked to food. I remember places in tastes. Every meal, whether simple street fare or haute cuisine, becomes a memory that differs from daily meals back home. So I’m trying to figure out how to bring that link and passion into everyday life. Thus far, the plan has involved buying gianduja bars and stinky cheese. It’s going all right, but further Italian field research may be required.