Food was one of the major highlights in Italy. There was rarely a time that I could even begin to feel hungry before our next meal, and even if it was a hunger pang that I felt, it was one that was satiated pretty quickly.
Our food and accomodation expenditure started out on the high side. Rome was more than just statues and ancient ruins, but filled with delicious meals of tortellini, ravioli, all other kind of pastas, fresh artichokes and colourful vegetables, pizzas, cheeses and endless scoops of gelato. Other people approach their travel with a trusted guide from the Lonely Planet, I moved through the city with a guide on recommended places to eat, districts known for food and areas with weekly markets. Basically, I was more keen on building my experience around seeing and tasting the local food more than visiting the historical sites *blush*.
I believe, the best way to appreciate and experience a place is through its local food.
Italy was all about fresh ingredients. I’m convinced that is the reason to why Italian food in Italy tastes distinctly different and much better than Italian dining in Kuala Lumpur. Even if the latter was cooked by an Italian chef in a 5 star Italian restaurant, it still does not compare to say a 3 Eur Margherita pizza in Naples
There is no doubt that Italians love their food. I did see some Chinese restaurants and kebab stands randomly scattered around Rome, Naples and Florence but the occurrence of this was far and few in between. What I loved was the availability of fresh vegetables, herbs, pastas, breads served straight out from the oven and of course, freshly brewed coffee. We trawled through a number of mercatos and I was spellbound by the colors and sight of it all.
Although organic did not seem like a big deal to the Italians, partly because everything they have is grown in an environment with minimal exposure to chemicals and pesticides or we were just looking in the wrong places. I stand to be corrected.
Italians were also big on their truffles, and rightfully so. This stuff is gold in the culinary arena. But whoever thought of combining sea salt with pieces of truffles must be pure genius. I got a sniff at it and the flavor that exploded out of the bottle was indescribable.
Certain moments and sights remind me of the famous Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne, Australia which was my weekly sensory indulgence and also where I used to stock up on my groceries every weekend as a student. It was also the place which led me to eventually appreciate markets, fresh produce and knowing the ingredients that will eventually become my food.
Having an appreciation of amazing food is half of the equation, being aware of how individual ingredients are produced, its impact on the environment, the benefits it will bring to you and how it will ultimately nourish and heal your body completes the experience of enjoying a certain dish or meal.
It goes without saying that I am obsessed with food. I was taught from an early age, if you had to a limited amount of money to spend, always, always scrimp on the clothes and other inedible things, but splurge where you can, on the food. And splurge on food in Italy, I did.