Monday, 29 December 2014

Italia: A Little Taste of Home

I've been perplexed over how to start this post on Italia (Italy). So much so, that I've found myself at a loss for words up until now-I know. It's a shock to me, too! Let me begin by telling you what I know of Italy and how the culture, and even more importantly, the cuisine, has been a part of my life.

I'm no stranger to Italian food and culture. My mother grew up in Sault Ste. Marie in northern Ontario which is famous for it's large Italian (once-upon-a-time immigrant) population. The Soo (as many fondly call it), was my home for a very short time, too. My sister was born there while we were en route from Edmonton, Alberta (where I was born and spent four years of my life) to London, Ontario. My mother's family was very closely associated with many of the Italian families in the Soo and since everyone knew everyone...Well, I'm sure you get the picture. My mom and grandmother taught me how to make red pasta sauce (marinara and bolognese), meatballs (the ones that melt in your mouth), lasagna, and sweets like genettis and tie plates/pizelles-both anise flavoured. I heard Italian words that I've only recently discovered are Italian (like kaka and manis) and if you ask me what kind of carb I could live off of for the rest of my life it wouldn't be rice, potatoes or bread (I'm a terrible Asian!). It would be pasta. I could eat pasta every day and never get sick of it. I've always felt part Italian ;)

I left for Italy at the beginning of December after a month of crazy preparation since I would be returning only days before Christmas. Italy wasn't my destination of choice; it was my partners. He-who-must-not-be-named (Harry Potter nerd alert), is working abroad and wanted to get away from the Middle East (understandable since that's where he currently is). Thinking of me-as he always is, the amazing man-we decided that southern Italy would be ideal since the weather is cooler than where he is (and he loathes the heat) and warmer than where I am (and I loathe the cold when there's no snow...and there's still no snow here). Destination: Napoli (Naples).

Travelling to Naples was ridiculously easy and stress-free, thanks to my wonderful friend, owner of Jeve's Pet Care (yes, that's a plug. Check out his company! It's a business I can support, and Jeve is a very good friend of mine: http://www.jevespetcare.com/), who was travelling to Toronto! He dropped me off at Pearson airport and checking-in was a breeze. Flying from Toronto to Charles de Gaulle airport and then onto Naples was sooo simple and quick. Paris had a line at passport control, but it was NOTHING compared to the waits I've experienced in the U.S.A. (SOOOO HAPPY I DIDN'T FLY THROUGH THE U.S.A!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Going to keep trying to avoid it when I can!). Once I arrived in Naples I simply got off the plane and collected my luggage. No one asked me why I was visiting Italy, or how long I'd be there for or what I was bringing into the country. It was a dream. I arrived and waited roughly an hour and a half for my other half to arrive. I'm not going to go into any details about him, because if you've read my blog you already know him as the Irish chef ;)  Yes, that patient guy waited around until I was ready, but I hope he believes I was well worth the wait. Okay, enough of that.

We took a taxi to the flat we were staying at on Via Silvio Spaventa, a hop, skip and a jump away from Piazza Garibaldi, the central train station in Naples. The driver wouldn't bargain with us about cost, saying he didn't understand, but it was clear he did (it only should have cost 16€, but ended up costing us 25€). If you're going to bargain with a taxi driver, write down the price and don't get into the taxi until this is settled upon or else they'll try and rip you off, as our host told us afterwards. Our lovely host, Davide, was able to get us settled in nicely. Airbnb is honestly the most wonderful website. That's the site I've had the most success with.

We contacted Davide at the last minute because the Irish chef was waiting on his vacation dates. Davide was very kind and helpful and the flat was AMAZING!!! It was sooo nice and comfy! We loved where we stayed: https://www.airbnb.ca/rooms/313850?s=qQ5-. It was a busy street, but that didn't bother us. The noise just made us feel like we were in a lively place with character which neither of us minded. We shopped for food every day at the local grocer just across the street. They didn't speak any English, so we had to practice our Italian and do I ever feel bad for those people! They were really kind and helpful and it was nice to meet locals and see a friendly face if we were passing by. We cooked a lot because we like to and because the produce sold was local and AMAZINGLY delizioso!!! How could you not want to cook with fresh cheese, vegetables, cured meats and olives?!? The local wine was extremely cheap (look at the price tags on the photos below), so we might have drank a lot. In fairness, we used it in our food as well! I didn't take photos of our cooking, but no matter. We enjoyed the local specialties: pizza, pasta and fresh seafood in addition to A LOT of other food!

Here are some snapshots:

 Can you see the price??? 1.80€!!! Awesomely enough, the wine was very nice. The one on the left from Pompeii was crisp and dry. The one on the right was a bit sweet and full-bodied. Both were much too easy to drink. I'm glad we didn't overlook these as they were better than the more expensive wine I had in the restaurants!
 Our first dinner out at a restaurant close to the station. Not a place I'd recommend. Stay away from restaurants around the Piazza Garibaldi (Garibaldi Station) as they're overpriced and don't serve the best food :(
 GELATO!!!! COFFEE gelato! I LOVE gelato! The Irish chef made sure we stopped for some for me to try out since he knew it was one of the foods on my hit list :)  Check out the name of the place: Vanity Cafè
Sadly, I have NO pictures of the Indian food we purchased from this place. We found it on a side street off of Via Toledo, but it was incredible! Spicy, too! Yum!!! 
 Ohhh, more street food. This came from a restaurant literally a few feet from the flat. It's bread with pasta, sauce, cheese and aubergine (eggplant). This was so yummy that I could have eaten another one. I tried a ham and cheese version of this, but it wasn't half as good.
 These are my sister and father's favourite chocolate, so I had to eat an actual Italian Ferrero Rocher. They would have wanted me to, lol!
 With all the sweets around, I couldn't resist getting some one afternoon! This sugary little delight had a hint of lemon and it was sooo soft and warm!!! Thank God we walked A LOT!
The Irish chef opted for chocolate (he loves it!). This Nutella-filled croissant was nice, but after accidentally squishing the rosette on top it looked a little like kaka, which I found out means poop (that's the nicer version) in Italian, Hungarian AND Arabic. You learn something new every day!
I passed this delightful dessert shop by the station and had to stop in! I'm not a sweets lover, but my curiosity sometimes (always) gets the best of me and then this is what happens...
 Voilà! Chocolate pastry for the Irish chef and a lemon concoction for me!
 I saw A LOT of pastries shaped like this and I'm still not sure what they are. I have to say though that most weren't filled with cream AND this one was almost completely soaked through with a glaze that tasted like limoncello (the local alcoholic specialty: a lemon flavoured liqueur).
We went out for a "fancy" dinner at an outdoor restaurant (covered with heaters) and it was incredible! We started off with steamed mussels (which were HUGE!). I also tried the limoncello which you can see behind the mussels!
 A basic salad that was PHENOMENAL because of those huge, green, BUTTERY olives! I couldn't get enough of those olives! P.S. is rocket popular EVERYWHERE else in the world except Canada??? I just discovered today that we call it arugula...I feel so uneducated about the "spicy" lettuce.
This was the Irish chef's choice: Battered and deep-fried cod and it was mouth-watering!
I ordered a mixed deep-fried fish plate and I was in HEAVEN! It may have taken me three years to eat (because my de-boning technique is quite...Tedious), but it was SO TASTY! I can't remember the name of this location, but it wasn't too far from the Orto Botanico di Napoli (the Botanical Garden).
 Our guidebook recommended Sorbillo. HOWEVER, it recommended the location at via Tribunali 32...NOT 38. Ooops. Regardless, the pizza here was sooo yummy! A LOT of pizza places on via Tribunali are worth trying!!!
 What is the world coming to when designers have nothing better to do than design (if you can call it that) a pop can??? It was a sad moment for me.
The Irish chef chose a pizza with tomatoes, goat cheese, zucchini and prosciutto
 My pizza was pesto based with tomatoes, mozzarella and basil :)   
 We found this gem in Pompeii: the starter platter. LOOK at that mozzarella!!! I enjoyed EVERYTHING on that plate!!! The tomatoes were sooo fresh and were farmed locally (of course they were! We were in EUROPE!!!)
 This pasta was hand-made that morning and is a creation of the chef's. I helped out when it came to eating the small octopus!!!
My pasta was not as unique, but between the melted cheesy goodness, the eggplant and tomatoes, who cares? It was to die for! I didn't talk. Imagine that. We ate in silence. Doesn't that say it all?
 Dessert: another homemade concoction by the chef who'd baked it earlier that morning (chocolate tart).
Maybe by the time we got these clementines we were so full that I was going to burst, and maybe I didn't want them to go to waste and wanted to keep them for later, so maybe I threw them into my purse while no one was looking. Maybe the waiter looked at us funny when he took the plate away and noticed NO peels ;)  I'm not called mikan monster for nothing ('mikan' is actually a tangerine and I was given the name by my family in Japan when I visited and wouldn't stop eating tangerines).
The view of the street from the interior of the restaurant. It was a beautifully warm and sunny although we did get a little rain in Pompeii that afternoon.
The view of the restaurant from the street. I recommend eating there!

Just wanted to leave you with a funny shot. Don't worry! We didn't eat here-mostly out of fear. Lol! Maybe this needs to go on www.engrish.com or does 'amnesia' mean something in a different language? Anyone???