One of the highlights of our trip was eating our way through Italy. Mama mia, the food was fantastic!
Of our two-and-a-half weeks in the Napoli area, we only had one dinner that was just so-so. The rest of the time, every morsel that came our way was delectable.
Mealtimes in Italy are a much slower-paced than here at home. Dinner is much later in the evening – around 8 p.m. In fact, some restaurants aren’t even open for seating until 7-7:30 p.m. You won’t find hours-long waiting, either. At least that was our experience. It was really nice to eat at a leisurely pace and not feel like we needed to rush through our meal because there are people in line, waiting for a table.
My morning usually started with a trip to the hotel’s dining area for breakfast. Seriously, how can one not want to eat when the aroma of fresh, warm pastries wafts through the air? I had zero self-control. So, I would grab one – only one – along with some fruit, yogurt and a cappuccino. Sometimes I would vary the “extras,” and grab some cheese or cold cuts, which were always offered as well. The two hotels we stayed at offered eggs and cereal, but I observed most people dined as I did – a sweet roll and espresso or cappuccino.
Most mornings, I took my breakfast to the terrace or balcony. Depending where I was, I listened to waves as they caressed the shoreline or enjoyed the chirping of birds and roosters crowing. There was always a subdued energy and excitement to the start of the day.
Cappuccino is usually reserved for mornings. Espresso is an all-day, beverage of choice. But… I totally broke the rules. While my husband would enjoy his double espresso, I would make everyone cringe with an afternoon cappuccino. I knew the custom, and I always apologized to the server, but I also am not a huge espresso drinker. When I asked one of our friends why afternoon cappuccino is frowned upon, she explained it is because of the amount of milk that is used, making it better-suited for breakfast. So, next time we visit I will try a macchiato (espresso with a bit of milk) so I don’t look so much like a tourist!
Drinking espresso or cappuccino is an experience. The server will bring you a small glass of sparkling water with your caffeinated beverage. One drinks the “Acqua frizzante,” sometimes referred to as “Acqua with the gas,” before the coffee drink to clean the palate. (If you want plain water, order “Acqua naturale.”) Enjoy that beverage, but don’t cap off your coffee drink by guzzling a water chaser, as it isn’t customary to drink the “acqua” afterwards.
Most espresso bars offer pastries as well as lunch-time options. We did dine a few times at a café, but mostly hit restaurants and grabbed a pizza or panini.
Napoli pizzas are served individually, and most people eat them using a fork and knife. I’m not sure why, maybe because they are scorching hot out, served right out of a wood-fired brick oven. Come to think of it, I had never seen a pizza served pre-sliced. Maybe because these delectable pies looked like a piece of art as they are placed in front of you? Surprisingly, it is fairly easy to eat an entire pizza, or in my case, most of it. The crust is so very light, and the sauce is usually crushed tomatoes, so it felt light, too. In my case, I tasted as many Margherita pizzas as I could, and enjoyed each and every one of them. Each one, though similar, had a slightly different taste. I equated it to relatives using the same family recipe – the food tastes nearly identical, but there is a slight difference.
My husband was in his glory in Positano, where fresh seafood was plentiful. I enjoyed pastas and gnocchi and fresh salads. I didn’t see any bottled dressings. If my salad didn’t arrive tossed with olive oil and lemon, those items were brought to the table. Balsamic vinegar and olive oil was also available. We enjoyed meals that were simple yet elegant; fresh and locally-sourced.
Presentation of the food was beautiful, too. Each time we purchased a to-go item at a bakery, it was wrapped elegantly, which was perfect when we were taking pastries to our friend’s home.
On two occasions, I indulged in a burger. Can you say divine? The homemade potato chips were delicious. I had the best fish and chips ever – better than I had in England – in a little town outside of Napoli. Even the Chinese food we had was outstanding.
Trust me when I say, there are days since our return that I long for the amazing food and wonderful dining experiences. Most of the time we enjoyed sitting outside, soaking up the weather, culture, sights and sounds. In Amalfi, we were sitting in the middle of the main piazza, where vehicles and foot traffic were part of the dining experience.
I’m being totally honest – I miss Italy. A lot. I appreciate the slower pace than we have here in the States. I felt that way after being in England for a while, too. It’s hard to incorporate the European lifestyle here at home, but we are definitely trying. We are eating dinner a little later than before. We are a little more aware of bringing the “slower food” concept into our home.
I think that is one of the best things about traveling – whether here in the States or abroad. There is always something to learn and appreciate about your surroundings, even if they seem odd, like eating dinner so late. (Though it certainly curbed late-evening snacking!) What I liked about the Italian dining experience was that people didn’t just shove food down their gullet to fill a hungry belly and rush off to an activity. They were unwinding from a long day. They were nourishing not only their bodies, but their minds and their souls. They were connecting with family and friends. They weren’t in a hurry.
Yes, the wines, coffees, pizzas, pastas, paninis, pastries, cannoli, gelato and other foods and beverages were amazing. But it was the near-spiritual experience of dining that made such an impression on me as we were eating our way through Italy.
© Lynne Cobb 2017
Did anything you experience in your travels stick with you or made you want to change the way you did things when you returned home? Feel free to share in the comment section.
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