After a somewhat grueling trek through German cuisine, I can proudly say, “CR9, we made it.”
Of course, I’m not undermining the phenomenal currywurst, döners, and bratwursts. However, no one saw them as incredibly appetizing after eating the same thing for lunch for ten days straight. We were overflowing with excitement at the sight of El Gordo Loco (a Mexican/Colombian fusion restaurant) and Hard Rock Cafe in Munich.
The change in cuisine as we crossed the borders of Switzerland and Italy was quite exciting, both because we knew the novelty of eating something other than meat and bread would be incredible and because these new foods were either new to our palettes or some of our longtime favorites. For instance, when we arrived in Switzerland, we dined at a traditional Swiss fondue restaurant, eating nothing but bread and potatoes dipped in cheese for our main course. I had never tried fondue before, so the entire experience was almost an adventure to me. Although the strength of the cheese was apparently toned down compared to years past, I still thought it had a bigger kick than any other I had tasted before. Personally, I found that the flavor wasn’t an unpleasant one, as had been somewhat insinuated by the feedback of past students. Even aside from the taste, the experience of sharing a pot of fondue with the table and having a hands on dinner was so entertaining and memorable.
Now, on to Italy. The Eden of gastronomy. From pizza to pasta to steak to produce, this country seems to have all anyone could want. The food is relatively diverse enough to not get bored with the same dish after two weeks, and that array of food is absolutely delicious. Of course, I was enamored with the pastas and pizzas, but what surprised me were the other dishes of the country that I loved even more. For example, in Florence, we visited Fabio’s restaurant, Francesco Vini, which specializes in Florentine steaks. I had no preconception of what set Florentine steaks apart from any other, so you better believe I was speechless when they brought out the cut of meat that was 4 fingers thick. Cooked for five minutes on each side, the T-bone is almost burned on the outside but still rare on the inside. (Sorry, Mom!) It was phenomenal. Large enough for both Davis and me to eat on almost gluttonous levels, the steak was undoubtedly the best I have ever consumed. On another hand, one thing I learned is that Italy has incredible produce. In Cinque Terre, I would visit a fruit stand each morning to purchase an orange or exotic peach to go along with breakfast. Everything is so fresh–especially along the coast. I’m not exaggerating; I drank “freshly squeezed orange juice” one morning, and from an American perspective I figured that it would be pretty similar to normal orange juice like it is at home. Oh, no. This beverage contained so much pulp from the original oranges that you could almost chew the juice. It may sound a bit strange, but that drink was so good.
In sum, I was quite the fan of Italian food. Trust me, just ask anyone on the trip. I’ll use gelato as an example. This past week, I decided that I was going to pursue the record for most gelatos consumed in one day on CR. By midnight, I had eaten 7 medium gelatos (3 scoops plus whipped cream). In hindsight, it might not have been the most intelligent decision I have ever made, but… when in Rome?
Aside from the actual food, one thing I loved recognizing is the cultural impact of food. In Italy, it doesn’t matter who you are or what your background might be; everyone can unite behind good food. We ate at a restaurant one night that is presumably run by the Mafia. They may not have the same outlook on many things as others in Italy, but their passion for Italian food is just as strong as any other Italian’s, and that aspect alone has so much potential to unify a culture. We also had the opportunity to attend cooking class from one of the greatest culinary teachers in Rome. While there, we noticed the true community it takes to create the stunning meals we eat. Just to make the pasta alone, it took our entire group of 16 people as we held a long strip of dough stretched across the length of the kitchen. Then, we hand-rolled each shell of pasta until before us sat a bowl overflowing with an immensity of fresh pasta.
Yes, so much culture is housed in the history and art of a nation, but one thing I have noticed over these three and a half weeks is that the food alone of a region is so important in its cultural identity.