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Food trail: What, where, and how to eat when in Italy

first_imgMuch has been said and recommended by way of cheese, ham and pasta in Italy–so hopefully, you know what to look out for. But truffles and olive oil need some dwelling on. Everyone, of course, talks of their Tuscan holiday and the truffle fair in San Miniato in November. A less touristy region to visit for the “black diamonds” and the rarer white ones is Umbria, though, in the heart of Italy.The bacon-imbued carbonara topping is the clear winner–inevitably because this is the Roman sauce (even if you come across it in pastas more often). The other thing you must have in Rome is the cacio-e-pepe, another typical Roman sauce. Literally cheese and pepper, this is deceptively simple and most touristy places mess it up. A real cacio-e-pepe should be made from the sharp pecorino cheese (not parmesan). Then there are the various kinds of fritti–Romans have a serious penchant for deep frying. If a typical Italian meal is a long, multi-course affair of the heart and stomach, coffee and gelato must be had standing, or walking. That is an important lesson in etiquette. Unlike the morning cappuccino, which is breakfast in itself, espresso is competitive sport and always had standing up at the bar counter. In fact, restaurants charge more if you want to sit down and have your coffee. Gelato, similarly, is best enjoyed on the move. Also read: London grub hop: Restaurants and kiosks along major tube stops Lemons are everywhere, but you cannot make real limoncello everywhere–not even in Italy. Real limoncello is always made from the perfectly ripe oval of Sorrento lemons–the fruit and its rind is much sweeter than anywhere else. When buying a bottle, look for the Sorrento mark on it. You can have the liqueur on ice or straight or mix it with other drinks. advertisementProsecco, of course, is more preferred and faster growing than Champagne globally. Part of the reason is price–but also because it is generally sweeter (15-16 g of sugar per litre unlike 9-10 g for Champagne, though the bottles don’t list it) and fresher in taste. But some proseccos today are chemical-tasting and less creamy. So, if buying a bottle, make sure you have one from superior vineyards such as Valdobiaddene or Cartizze. The pre-dinner aperitivo is an Italian institution that you cannot miss either. The designated cocktail hour stretches from about 6-9 pm. The drink to order here is the aperol spritz–made with prosecco, aperol and a splash of soda. A slice of orange is added to make it fresh.  In Spoleto, a surreal, small medieval village near the university town of Perugia, go to the Osteria del Matto, a small family-run place, for a unique experience. Matto has what must be the world’s largest collection of Pinocchios. He also has a mamma, who is exceptional in the kitchen. Dinner here is a long-winded affair.The southern leg of Puglia is olive oil country. A gourmet tour cannot be complete without visiting the presses during harvest time. Puglia has some of the biggest makers but everyone with a bit of land and some olive trees makes their own. So get invited into one of these family-run places for a spot of cooking, dining, and tasting of fresh olive oil (many places open up to such experiences).The extra virgin olive oil that you will never get at a store is the unfiltered one. You’ll get this only during the harvest season, fresh off the press. It is full of sharp flavour and antioxidants. Heady. It can last up to a year, if you store it well (cool and dark places).What to eat whereIn times of palate globalisation, you can findanything anywhere. But the really discerning know that nothing beats local flavour. Here’s taking you into the heart of Italy.Lombardy in the north: This is the rice region, so tuck into the risotto here. The creamy dish emerges painstakingly from constant stirring, and has many different variations in different regions.Parma: Obviously for the ham and also the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (not all parmesan can be branded as such; it must come from this region).Rome: From all types of fritti (artichokes and stuffed zucchini are a must when in season) to cacio-e-pepe spaghetti in Trastevere and square pizza slices–not in a fancy restaurant or touristy cafe.Sorrento and Capri: The most beautiful coast of Italy is also the place for limoncello. If you’re not having the drink, at least taste some of those delicious Sorrento lemons (you can eat the rind too, it’s that sweet).advertisementPuglia: Two hundred types of pasta. Take your pick. And in harvest season, go to one of the presses to bottle home some of the goodness of the “juice of olives”–straight and unfiltered.Piedmonte/Turin: Think Italian dessert tiramisu comes to mind. That is so touristy, though. Try the zabaglione, made with egg yolk, sugar and wine, whisked together and aerated.Found in every nook and corner of Italy are small family-run restaurants called osterias. These serve homely food and can be equated with dhabas in India.Truffle fact: One of the best ways to eat truffles is to shave them over risotto or mashed potatoes.last_img

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