Yesterday, Mr. FB and I were strolling along a harbor in Palermo, Sicily. I love just saying that, Fellow FoodBeest. There was a very amateur photo shoot going on with six actors posing in mostly period clothes with enormous old leather suitcases.
We moved on after a bit and began watching Giuseppe and Giuseppe, two handsome young Italian bucks who were fishing with two enormous poles, fussing with this and that and catching nothing. We started up a halting conversation with them in their bad English and our nearly non-existent Italian (more a compendium of French and Spanish). Mr. FB took their pictures (and I took his with them). We promised to email it to them.
It brought me back to a conversation Mr. FB and I had several months ago, sitting in a Neapolitan pizza place in Chicago enjoying a Saturday lunch. “Wouldn’t it be great to spend a few months in Italy?” I said. “Set up housekeeping. Find out what’s it’s like there.”
“What would we do there,” asked Mr. FB. “You could cook. What would I do?”
Oh, I don’t know. Learn Italian. See new things. Take photographs. Learn the history. Meet people. Discover a new culture. Kind of a bucket list thing. Well, we sold the Bucktown Taj Mahal, moved into the two-bedroom apartment in Evanston (boxes all gone, pictures on the walls) and, a week later, took off for Italy.
We are starting in Sicily, the island being kicked by the boot and and the part of Italy where the families of most of the Italian Americans we know originated from.
The trip evolved into “only” a month, but what a month we anticipate. We’ll be traveling in Sicily for about a week, then up to the Amalfi Coast and then the Italian Riviera where the Giro d’Italia bike race will be happening. It’s not the Tour de France, but it is (I am told by he-who-knows) one of the major European bike races. That – for sure – is Mr. FB’s most anticipated leg of the trip.
Next we go to a little apartment in an old mill in Tuscany for a few days and then move to another apartment in an old castle in Umbria for a week where the owners have tempted us with cooking classes, wine tasting excursions and a truffle hunt.
It’s a total fantasy trip. We saw both our parents deal with their aging and failing minds and bodies and be unable to travel. So before our bodies break down any more than they already have and we really can’t do this kind of thing.
We are staying in a lovely little B&B in heart of Palermo, the capital of Sicily. When I say B&B, Fellow FoodBeest, I am talking about five sleeping rooms and a reception and breakfast area on the sixth floor of a building in the heart of Palermo. I’d forgotten how small European hotel rooms are. The bathroom is so dark I have to put on make-up by memory.
We are just blocks away from the Theatro Messimo, made famous by the last scene in the final part of the Godfather trilogy in which Sofia Coppola, as Michael Corleone’s daughter dies on the steps, thankfully killing her career as an actor and opening the opportunity for her to move into the director’s chair.
Breakfast is simple: toast with Nutella and those incredibly sweet and fragrant strawberries that a typical in Europe and impossible to find in American supermarkets. They don’t have the white shoulders that form on strawberries forced to open off the vine.
The restaurants we have frequented are mostly small (tiny even) that all serve the same regional and seasonal ingredients (calamari, sardines, cauliflower, carrots, mushrooms) and wonderful little wines.
Via Nina is essentially a family run sports bar where patrons watch the local fútbal team Rosanero (Pink and Black) play and Nina cooks fish to order that you have chosen off the table. That’s after you have helped yourself to her numerous antipasti dishes: fish and vegetable offerings off a massive table. One only hopes the rules of culinary safety don’t apply here.
That’s typical of virtually every restaurant we have eaten at. They are mostly small (tiny even) and all serve the same regional and seasonal ingredients (calamari, sardines, cauliflower, eggplant, carrots, mushrooms) and little regional wines.
I will say we are used to much more variety in our diet. I actually don’t want to eat one more pice of calamari (fried or grilled) or swordfish or sardine or shrimp. Crazy, right? But they’re served consistently at every meal. I suspect that’s pretty much how most of the world eats.
Caponata was on the menu at dinner last night. I said, let’s order some. Mr. FB looked at me sideways and said, “again?” But with several more days in (other parts of) Sicily, I suspect there will be more caponata.
A word about cannoli. It was invented here. . I don’t care if you have had the best of Little Italy or the South End of Boston or whatever, you have never eaten anything like this. The shell is very dark and crispy and the interior cream filling is sweet velvet. Just never tasted anything quite like what they serve here.