Everyone seems to have something against carbohydrates these days.
“Don’t eat that slice of pizza!” they say. “And don’t even think about looking at those chocolate-chip cookies. It’ll go straight to your booty and not in a good way and then your life will be over, and you’ll lose all the gains, and please just go eat some broccoli, while you think about your poor life choices.”
Err, no. You can keep your broccoli. While I’m all about living a healthy, balanced (ish) lifestyle, I’m also all about them carbs. So, as you can imagine, I hit the jackpot when I arrived in Italy, where pasta is served with a warm bread roll on the side and it’s encouraged that one eat gelato at least twice a day (that’s a thing, right?). In light of this news, it seemed like sacrilege not to base an entire blog post on my six-day culinary journey through Italy, which kicked off with some gelato in Florence, took me to the sweetest dinner under the Tuscan sun, and included a tad of day-drinking in the capital of Roma (it was 34-degrees, okay, we needed to rehydrate) and the silkiest pasta, enjoyed on the seaside of Venice.
In my mind, ice-cream is a food group all of its own. Not only that – it’s also one of my favourites, to be consumed any time of day, regardless of season. However, now that I’ve had a taste of genuine Italian gelato, I might have to reconsider.
You see, ice-cream and gelato aren’t quite the same – the latter has less cream and more milk, and is churned at a slower speed, resulting in a much silkier, milkier and denser consistency. As a result, compared to its non-Italian counterparts, gelato comes bursting with even more flavour – about which I could not agree more. It was a scorcher of a summer’s day in Florence when I walked (more like bolted) into my first Gelateria, and I could practically feel my eyes popping out of my head at the immense choice of flavours, displayed in silver tins behind glass cases topped with leaning towers of sugar cones (side note: we’d been warned that the real stuff is displayed in metal containers, and the real deal we did find!). Lemon sorbet and coffee is my favourite combination of ice-cream flavours (don’t judge me), so that was the order for the day, and it was as delicious and silky-smooth as I’d hoped.
But, also it’s Italy so I didn’t only indulge in Florence – I basically had a different flavour in every city (I mean, duh). Although I will admit that when in Rome I was confronted with 150 different flavours at an Italian institution of gelato dreams and I panicked so I just ordered lemon and coffee again. Actually I think it was called “cappuccino” there, so that counts as branching out, right?
Having fulfilled my sweet cravings for the morning, it was time to be whisked off to a Tuscan winery for an al fresco dinner prepared by a (gorgeous) winemaker and his family. Course after course of home-cooked and -prepared bread, olive oil, pasta, cheeses and cured meats arrived at the long blue tables where we were seated, enjoying the red wines chosen perfectly to match each course – and that we’d just been taught how to taste like connoisseurs of the highest order.
I mean, does life really get any better than real Italian food, prepared by a real Italian family with mama at the helm, and served under the real Italian (Tuscan) sun? Nope. Belly full to the brim and eyes sleepy from all the sun and wine, I had to practically be rolled back into the bus for the journey back to base camp in Florence.
Okay so this the point in the culinary journey where I drop a fact-bomb (brace yourselves, pizza connoisseurs, this one might come as a shock). Apparently the whole “Italians make and eat fresh pizza all day, erre’day” thing is actually a myth. According to our temporary Italian bus driver (he was gorgeous too, obviously), Italians only eat pizza once or twice a month, and most of them DON’T EVEN KNOW HOW TO MAKE IT FROM SCRATCH (horrors). I felt momentarily betrayed by this news. Because, while my travel buddies and I were devouring slices of the gooey, cheesy goodness twice a day, telling ourselves that “When in Italy, do as the Italians” we were basically just lying to ourselves. Oh well. It was still delicious. Regrets? Zero. Guilt? Not today, sir! Best cheesy moment of the trip? The pizza italia (flatbread topped with fresh tomato, slices of buffalo mozzarella, basil leaves and a very generous drizzle of olive oil) shared with new Australian friends at a little ristorante in Piazza Navona in Rome. We started the meal with dessert (at the 150-flavours-of-gelato-to-ignite-your-indecision place) and it was followed by a walking tour of the city, which concluded at the colosseum as the sun was setting.
After two days in the world capital of carbohydrates, the daily midday cravings for pasta were starting to become a natural way of lunch – I mean, life. And, when the cravings for pasta arrive, the cravings must be answered! This exact thing happened while atop the Altare della Patria, a monumental monument so grand and white and reflective you need sunglasses to look at it, which is located in the central Roman hub, Piazza Venezia. From here, one is afforded panoramic views of the Colosseum and Roman Forum. However, after a solid morning of Vatican-ing and other Roman-esque missions in the 34-degree heat, the only thing I wanted to get a view of was a great, big bowl of pasta. And also possibly a cocktail. Luckily, from the elevated position of the Altare, I could also scout out the nearest ristorante, which I promptly made a beeline for. Here, I subsequently came face-to-face with the (possible) bellini of drunkenness – I say “possible” because the cocktails that arrived at our table were not the cocktails we ordered, yet they were served in bellini-like glasses. So bellinis they became. Okay but also I’ll stop typing the word “bellini” because its starting to sound as funny as I felt after downing that cocktail. Note to self – don’t drink on an empty stomach when dehydrated at lunch time in the middle of Italy, where they definitely do not measure the amount of alcohol in each drink. Not to worry, though, we walked off our wayward day-drunkenness during the three hours it took us to find the Fountain of Truth.
So, you know how I basically ruined your life with my whole “not all Italians don’t actually make earth-shatteringly good pizza” announcement? Well, the same cannot be said for pasta. The Italian bus-driver I mentioned told us that he often eats pasta twice a day, and would eat it for every meal if he could. Pasta consumption is an essential part of his national consciousness. However, the Italian fascination with pasta is not about the noodles – it’s the sauce that’s seen as the hero. The noodles, on the other hand, are merely the vessel to carry said sauce to the mouth. That being said, the pesto pasta I devoured for lunch in Venice, sat alongside the beautifully blue waters of the Venetian coast with gondolas bobbing atop the water, was the perfect combination of silky, slightly underdone noodles and a mouthwatering sauce. And, as if life couldn’t get better at that particular moment, the pasta came with a roll too. Carbs on carbs on carbs and a very, very happy Emma.
Never mind the pesto pasta, though, Venice in itself was a dream, a fantastical city with a romantic atmosphere to rival even that of Paris. I could have spent the whole day getting lost in those winding, narrow alley ways, which conceal stores selling masks, and glass beads and marzipan shaped like tropical fruits, and little cafés brimming with happy people and aromas of coffee. Having got suitably lost, we decided to rest our weary legs, order some (delightfully strong) cappuccinos, and enjoy a little bit of “la dolce far niente”. I actually only learnt this phrase – which means “the sweetness of doing nothing – after returning to Cape Town, while watching Eat Pray Love during a girls’ weekend away in the coastal town of Hermanus, but it’s something one should make a point of doing while travelling. We tend to spend so much of our time rushing around, trying to see as much as possible, seeming to fear being idle. But, an important part of experiencing a new place, is just sitting and doing nothing, and enjoying the moment for what it is. In other words, make like the Italians, and incorporate “la dolce far niente” into your future travel plans. You can thank me later.
But, what was the most important lesson learned after six glorious days in glorious Italy? One can never eat too many carbs because carbs, my friends, are happiness.
Speaking of happiness, Venice was one of my favourite cities I visited throughout my 18-day Eurotrip, so I can’t not share in more detail the beauty of the place. So look out for my next post, featuring all things Venetian, including a lunatic of a gondolier and some seriously world-class prosecco.
Until then. xx