Curious Appetite

Casareccia Eating

Food and Community- examples from Emilia-Romagna

As part of a monthly bloggers group I am apart of, Italian Food and Wine Travel, we journey through the world of Italian Food and Wine, one region at a time. This month the topic is Emilia-Romagna and in the past for this blogger’s group, I’ve written quick cheese guides. This month however, I decided to dive a little deeper and closer to my blogging roots. And that is- cross cultural examinations and analyzing food ways.

I have been in Seattle for nearly 6 months after a very challenging 2.5 years of establishing a life in Florence. I am just a few weeks away from being back in Florence after this little hiatus and I have been busy reflecting and observing my home country in comparison to my new one. Continue Reading

Trattoria Mario in San Lorenzo, Florence (Italy)

As much as I enjoy a fancy cave aged, herb crusted goats milk Tomme cheese and a oily, aromatic glass of Sauvignon Blanc from the Dolomites, at the end of the day I simply adore a good rustic Tuscan greasy spoon hole-in-the-wall with house wine that could pass just as easily as an oily gasoline…

This is what I ACTUALLY adore most about Florence. It’s the family run, health department renegades, the hole-in-the-wall where you sit elbow to elbow with strangers at your table, the Tuscan peasant food oasis that has absolutely ZERO pretension…Italian food is this to me. Fancy name brand chef restaurant serving shot glasses of heirloom tomato coulis and vanilla pod risotto with some equally pretentious mystery “foam” that lacks not only soul but the ability to make you break a sweat when you’ve eaten a little too well. Put it away. I don’t want it. Unless a gorgeous Mediterranean man is insisting on taking me there (happens ALL the time!), I will snub it just like it snubs me with its out of reach menu prices. Continue Reading

Eating cheap, discriminately and extremely Tuscan in Florence

I take eating very seriously. It’s my job- fer chrissake! When I originally started this food blog, it was intended for detailing restaurant experiences. And I kind of took a detour with bits of travel notes and cultural reflections, but my true passion in blogging still lies within writing in a sort of food critic-y voice. If you gave me an unlimited dining expense account, I would probably be like a kid in a candy store. Everyone goes out to restaurants and has their own selection process. I have my own which can become a job of its own. It needs to have the following ingredients: character, location, a good SMELL and a menù that incites curiosity and passion. There are so many garbage restaurants in Florence, so many overpriced mediocre restaurants and so many overrated, over discovered restaurants that to me make it harder to find a restaurant that I am pleased with (at least in the city) than it is for me to eat back in Seattle. Okay, that is a high claim but it is very true. It’s so easy to get ripped off in Florence. But the type of restaurants that I am currently in love with are casalinga-style trattorias. Casalinga is a very hard concept to translate but it literally means housewife. If a restaurant does cucina casalinga (housewife style cuisine) it’s kinda family, rustic style with absolutely no frills and no makeup. It is the grandma in the grubby kitchen with the family or just simple cooks whipping up greasy spoon Tuscan fare at very modest prices. It is blue-collar dining and it is the kind that warms my heart and reminds me why Italy is such a wickedly awesome place. I really don’t go for the top name brand restaurants that have the most cutting edge modern Jackson Pollock style cuisine (dot on a plate- not food!). Okay, one day I would like to have a Michelin starred experience and the chefs within really do have some skill and deserve their fame. But what to me these fancy, exclusive arm-and-a-leg priced restaurants lack is grit. They provide a very sterile experience in a stuffy, privileged atmosphere which you can get anywhere in the metropolitan world. The illustrious hole-in-the-wall (such that of a cucina casalinga) is a true gem that you can only find off the beaten path. Granted, my idealization of casalinga restaurants aren’t super organic and presumptuously artisan, but they provide to me one of the cornerstones of the food movement that I think is utterly essential. And that is: good, fresh healthy food at fair prices which is accessible to everyone. I very much disagree with the exclusivity of eating and dining. I think dining is a beautiful experience that everyone should have access to- regardless of socio-economic status. And this is why I loved these blue-collared, working class casalinga resto joints in Florence. In America, unless it is ethnic food, it is quite hard to find healthy, cheap food in a charismatic environment. There are things like diners, soup kitchens, delis, burger joints, etc but nothing…I mean NOTHING can compare to the sheer wholesomeness of a Tuscan hole-in-the-wall.

Recently I discovered 12€ Tuscan straccetti chicken in a luxurious cream sauce topped with aromatic fresh shaved truffles with rice pilaf at a restaurant I will not disclose because I do not want them to get over-discovered. However, if you want a name you can take the time to contact me and I will happily give that name to you.:)

creamy chicken truffle heaven

I also enjoyed a fresh personal burrata with an anchovy cream (which strangely is a great balance between extreme umami saltiness for the sweet creamy gooey burrata cheese). Burrata and truffles are basically 2 foods in life that have the ability to make me cry.

Burrata cheese- a mozzarella-like embodiment of heaven

At Trattoria Giorgio, a name I can disclose since they are already over discovered but still okay, I marveled at the fact they offer a full course meal for €14 euros to include a 1st (an ample selection of delicious, gut filling pastas) a second (albeit salty, yet savory meaty mains including sliced steak or crispy saucy rabbit leg) a veggie side like garlicky collard greens or Tuscan beans and this also includes a 1/4 liter of house wine, water and bread. The food wasn’t exquisite, but I quite enjoyed how we were all cramped inside, eating elbow to elbow, surrounded by cheesy imitation renaissance wall paintings (including very creepy looking babies with la madonna) eating on tiny tables with red checkered paper place-mats and the kitchen looking like a scene from some New York soup kitchen in the 80’s. Again, it’s an everyday blue collar joint that everyone can partake in.

I actually recently visited La Casalinga (THE casalinga resto in Santo Spirito with the family working their tushes off 6 days a week, hooting and hollering around the kitchen making cheap Tuscan fare for the tripadvisor masses) and I must say- I wasn’t that impressed. I felt they were a bit over-discovered, commercial and didn’t have much of a soul in respect to the last couple places I recently attended. I distinctly remember going to the bathroom and noticing wrappers of grocery store mozzarella and while I know this is the sign of a casalinga, home-style resto, I just wasn’t impressed that a mozzarella plate was nearly €10 when at the Conad (where they bought the mozzarella) it cost them €1-2. Having ordered a slab of pork chops and a bruschetta board, I didn’t think it was that tasty, interesting or that remarkable in character, aside from the scenes in the kitchen of the family stewing away in aspirated Tuscan dialogue. However, it is still quite cheap as we got away with appetizers, a main, wine and dessert for €20 each. Just not my cup of tea.

I have a few more I have found off my curious path that I intend on trying and that I may share on my instagram feed but whose name I may not reveal in the romantic hope that they retain their charm and local vibe.

Until then, stay hungry and ever so curious- as they say: when in Rome!

p.s. don’t forget dessert- especially when it’s a flourless chocolate TORTA!

rich, thick chocolate love.

Curious Appetite

La Ghiotta: a Florentine Tavola Calda

I love when someone wants to get lunch. On a weekend in Italy. Especially this time. There is this little hole in the wall in my neighborhood that I look into every time I pass, curious as to the simple Tuscan delights that lie within. Most good restaurants in Italy are brown and mustard decorated hole-in-the-walls. They have paper place mats, uncomfortable chairs with the straw seat that give you splinters especially if you wear a skirt and get stuck in your leggings and hand-written menus. And mostly everything is under 10 euros a plate. The exception being the bistecca fiorentina (Florentine steak) which is like 30 something euros a kilo and you usually split with others. But personally, I wouldn’t get a bistecca fiorentina at one of these. When in Rome, or rather Florence, stick with the mom-style comfort food in a joint like La Ghiotta.

When you walk in, you immediately are greeted with all the tavola calda type items like roasted pork, polpettone (big Tuscan meatballs that are typically meaty and breadcrumby), small fried fish medley, hot gooey lasagna, fried polenta (a decadent goodie I discovered in Florence) and maybe some random slices of pizza. You can either order some of this to-go or to bring immediately to a table, or you can order from the hand-written menu. There is nothing pretentious here with nothing to hide or show off. What you will find is simple Tuscan food at modest prices. Antipasti include salami boards and crostini toscani. Primi include spinach and ricotta ravioli in a fried sage and butter sauce. Mains include generous slabs of Milanese style veal cutlets and roasted fried potatoes. No fru fru fusion, just damn good (real) Italian food. What I had was the mare caldo (warm ocean) with a personal carafe of sparkling house wine:

Delicious. The calamari had a perfect balance of chewy and meaty. The clams were little buttons of flavor. and the Mussels were creamy and retained a good deal of garlic and herbs. The sauce was silky, herbaceous and woven nicely with garlic. I was even taken aback by the shrimp, which I usually do not care for in restaurants as they are rubbery and freezer burned. Again, the buttery texture soothed my senses and revitalized my appreciation for this little meaty sea creatures. This was served on a modest piece of toasted (very plain) Tuscan bread which soaked up all this wonderful broth and it basically melts like pure umami in your mouth.

After this, of course we enjoyed an espresso and a dessert: Tiramisu’

Tiramisu’ literally translates into “Lift me up.” Well, how could this not lift you up? It’s a booze cream and marscapone cheese cake with cookies soaked in espresso. Not to mention the obvious sugar high this invokes.

Tiramisu’ is not a traditional Tuscan dessert, but La Ghiotta was out of frittelle which are little fried rice donut-like sweets- I’ve seen these in Venice also so may not be exclusive to Tuscany. And sometimes I see them in the bakeries filled with custard.

The point is- when you are in Florence, eat off the beaten tourist path. Be okay with getting squished in the corner with straw-bedded chairs that drive splinters up your bum. It’s okay. You know why? Because you will probably have one of the best meals all month at a traditional hole-in-the-wall without burning a hole in your wallet. And leave with a slight buzz at 3 in the afternoon. These gastronomic moments in Italy are priceless.

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