After a very long and time-confusing eight hour flight, I touched down in Milano for my 12-day tour of all Italy has to offer. Although the European country is known for its rich (read: violent) history and elegant architecture, its most flavorful artifact is its vibrant food culture. Or so I thought.
Though there is no shortage of restaurants, Italy's food scene is very, well ... Italian. Luckily for me, a tourist-tailored Italian lunch was included in each day of our stay. Unluckily for me, the large size of our tour group (14 ladies) meant fixed menus and very one-note meals.
Meat. Dairy. Carbs. And LOTS of tomatoes (which I hate, btw).
Here are the highlights of how each city transformed those mystery basket ingredients:
Our first night was spent in Milan. Immediately from our flight, we were whisked away to a shmancy seafood restaurant in town called Blu Blu Blu. It was one of the few times we ventured from the four Italian staples.
The vibe was relaxed and cool, with a bit of Latin flair. Not because there were Mexican sugar skulls or Dominican flags on the walls. But because they played a surprising amount of reggaeton! We were enjoying our appetizers and singing along to Danza Kuduro.
Did I mention that most Italian lunches are three courses? Well Blu x3 definitely outdid the standard and the continuous stream of food was met with bewilderment and delirious laughter.
My food was eh. I ordered the "fried fish" expecting to receive a breaded filet. Instead, to my chagrin/surprise, the waiter placed in front of me a tempura'd assortment of tentacles, calamari, and a whole shrimp that was staring up at me.
"When in Rome ...," I thought, though we were clearly in Milan. Either way, I tried the "fish" and it was exactly what I expected it to be: chewy.
The next day, we packed up our suitcases and headed for Venice, the beautiful sinking city. I have so many wonderful things to say about Venice. The buildings are regal, the culture is abundant, and the food is great!
We sat outside, being serenaded by accordion at the Pizzeria Trattoria Vesuvio.
Much of Italy's cuisine is centered around red meat, which I do not eat. After much groveling (and a little pouting), I was able to try their sea bass filet. As if a consolation for the previous day's "fried fish" fiasco, Vesuvio's sea bass was well-seasoned, fresh, and cooked perfectly.
The most exciting part of the meal was getting to try some squid ink pasta! A stark contrast from the traditional tomato sauce, the squid ink topping tasted exactly like the sea that it came from. All I needed was some sand in my crevices and it would have been a complete beach experience.
Oh, Florence! You will always have my heart!
Besides the Duomo di Firenze and the Ponte Vecchio, the most magnificent place in Florence was this quaint little restaurant tucked away in a side street called Trattoria Guelfa.
First course was pasta as always, but the tangy-sweetness of the sauce mixed with the refreshing palette-cleansing of the mozzarella made for the most beautifully composed bite. The chicken was seasoned well, not overly oily, and excellently roasted. Now, for that cheesecake ...
Never in my 22 years of eating have I had a cheesecake so amazing, so decadent, and yet so light! I would walk back to Florence for another piece of that cheesecake.
No dessert could really come close after having the literal crème de la crème, but I tried anyway. Before heading back to our hotel, we stopped at the very Instagrammable Amorino Gelato.
When you order one of their many gelato flavors on a cone, they craft the ice cream into a delicate rose. And for a few euros more, you get a cute little macaron placed gently in the middle. Pretty. As for taste, it was nothing to right a blog about. Also, for my first macaron experience, I was severely underwhelmed. It's just a cookie.
We didn't spend much time in Pisa, but after standing in the sweltering sun holding up a leaning tower, La Lupa Ghiotta was a welcome treat.
Let's just get this out the way ... I had a piece of pizza in Pisa.
Or should I say a whole pizza, since they don't do slices in Italy, so you get your own personal pizza the size of a large plate.
For our first course, we had an interesting plate of cold cut meats and fried dough. The dough was not sweet and covered in sugar like a zeppoli, but it was soft and warm, and a little salty.
Similar to New York, Pisa pizza's crust is very thin, but the flavors just were not spectacular. Now, there is some confusion when it comes to the OG inventors of pizza. Some speculate that pizza did not in fact begin in Italy; it is unclear. Whatever the case may be, until I try Chicago deep dish, New York pizza continues its reign as Queen of the Pizzas in my opinion.
As for dessert, we were given what they called "lemon sorbet," however it was not sorbet at all. If I had to describe the taste of this creamy dessert-in-a-glass, I would say it tasted like a warm, melted lemon Italian ice. It had an extremely weird consistency and was too slimy to want to finish.
Italy was great and the food was definitely an emotional experience. But by the end of our trip**, I was ready to return to New York and the variety of cultural fare this city has to offer!
See you in my next post, ciao!
** We ended our trip with a five-day tour of Rome, but the food we had there was so bland and uninteresting, that I won't even mention it honorably.