Monday, May 20, 2013
Magic and Pasta
Pasta with ricotta salata
"Life is a combination of magic and pasta."
~ Federico Fellini
"What," Mike asked me as we were walking the passeggiata tonight, "has been the hardest thing for you?"
I did not hesitate a bit. "Eating. You?"
Americans who do not travel to foreign countries or who are going for the first time do not realize just how different dining in foreign countries is. You may think that we're talking about different foods and such, but we're talking more about how and when they eat. As Americans, we are pretty used to eating between 5 and 7:00, and restaurants are, for the most part, open all day. Those that open for dinner service usually open around 5:00. (There are exceptions, I know, but please know I'm speaking generally.)
In Europe, restaurants generally do *not* stay open all day. Some open for the lunch hour, close, and reopen for dinner. Others are open only for dinner, and some are open only for lunch. You won't find breakfast as Americans know it — eggs, bacon, toast, etc. — in restaurants. The basic breakfast we've en all over Europe is coffee and pastry or sweet bread.
"I'm getting pretty sick of having the same thing day-after-day," Mike surprised me by saying the other day. I thought he loved those chocolate croissants.
"Right now, I'd kill for a cup of coffee," I replied.
"I know. You keep saying that."
"SO DO YOU!" I think the lack of American coffee is shredding my nerves. ;-)
Cantina di Biffi
Lunch hasn't been much of a problem because we eat that at home all the time. When we get hungry, we have salad or a panini or something like that. We would have loved to have soup when it was cold, but finding that anywhere was impossible. Of course, the timing of our lunches drives the locals a bit nuts when we talk about it.
"How can you eat lunch at 11:00 or noon?" my friend Aurio from Spoleto exclaimed. "That's too early. I don't close my shop until 1:30-2:00 for lunch."
"How can you wait so long?" I retorted. Of course, he owns a salumeria, so I know how he can wait. Besides, he flits from the salumeria to the cafe all the time, so I doubt he goes too long between eating.
"We cannot eat that early," he replied. "What time to you eat dinner?"
"We usually eat at 5:00 or 5:30 at home," I said.
"WHOa! I don't close the shop at night until 8:00. We eat dinner 8:30, 9:00, 9:30."
He's not kidding. The European restaurants generally open for dinner around 7:00 pm. Yes, there are some in the larger cities that stay open for tourists, but most of the "better" restaurants open later. We though that 7:00 was late . . . until today.
Because our refrigerator is morto (dead), we decided to eat out tonight.
"Where do you want to go?" the dapper dude (DD) asked me.
"I don't care. Where do you want to go?" (As I mentioned yesterday, it's always this way.)
"I don't care. You choose." Oh, my gosh, I was going to scream, but just in time, he chimed in with, "How about Clemente since Marcello said it was good?" Done deal.
We walked for a bit in the passeggiata and around 6:30 headed to Clemente which we discovered closed and dark. Not only was it closed, but it had those metal Rolladen-type shutters over the doors and windows.
"Maybe it's closed on Monday," I think I said. (That's another phenomenon in Europe, by the way. Some stores and restaurants close on Mondays. It amazes us, but it's the way it works here, so...)
So, we headed to Piazza Garibaldi to another place, and the door was open since it was about 6:55. We looked at the menu and decided to stay.
"We open for dinner at 20:00." The waitress smiled at us. "8:00. 20:00."
"We'll walk around a bit," I said to her. Of course we were going to walk around. The place wasn't open for another hour.
We walked along a bit more, and that's when Mike asked me the question at the top of this blog. During our walk, we came upon three or four other restaurants all of which were, you guessed it, closed until 8:00 pm.
We never did find out if Clemente opened at 8:00 or not because the two other times we walked by it, it was still on lockdown. At a little before 8, we were near Piazza Garibaldi and three of the four restaurants that opened at 8.
"Where are we going?" I asked the DD.
"I don't care," he answered. "Where do you want to go?" We were at it again.
"Let's go to the place in Garibaldi. I'm starving and don't have the strength to go any farther." I can be such a drama queen at times. ;-) In my defense, though, we had not eaten lunch today.
So that's where we ended up. I'd tell you the name of the place, but I never did see its name. We shared a small cheese plate, Mike had lamb, and I had paccheri (LARGE rigatoni) with fresh tomatoes. I forgot the camera, so I have no photos of that for you.
Some appetizer served on our ship
We weren't in the restaurant more than an hour, but midway through our meal, a family with kids came in. As we were leaving, they were finishing their appetizers, and the waitress was bringing out their Primi Piatti. The amount of food ordered and served is a whole other story, but I'll save that since I'm tired. I just kept thinking that those kids were going to go to bed on full stomachs. Ugh. But, that said, it's what they're used to.
"What's grappa?" I asked as we headed home enjoying a small gelato each.
"Wine," DD said seriously. "No, really, I don't know. What is it?"
"How do I know? That's why I asked you."
"I thought you were testing me." I rolled my eyes and signed.
"The guy at the next table ordered it after his dinner," I said. "I wondered what it is."
He was right in a way, by the way. Grappa is a liquor made by pressing the skin, stem, seeds and pulp of grapes leftover from winemaking. Italians serve it as a digestive after meals. I don't think I'll be trying it any time soon.