Fast Food, Italian Style

Ciao Readers!

I think now that ferie is over and delectable things to eat are popping up all over town, I will stick with the food theme for a bit.

For the past 2.5 weeks we have peered in the empty window of  the neighborhood “Rosticceria,”  anxiously awaiting their return from ferie on Tuesday, August 28.  In way of explanation of our waiting-with-baited-breath: 1) this particular rosticceria is directly below our apartment on the ground floor of our building (can you say convenient?!) and 2) a rosticceria is Italy’s gourmet answer to fast-food.  Rosticceria have all kinds of prepared foods – from salads to pastas, to a wide variety of fried foods, to meats slow roasted on an open grill – most of which are cooked on the premises.  This is the go-to place for busy people without time (or people without the space) to cook.  The quality of course varies, and we had no idea what to expect from the humble/empty looking space downstairs.  And then it began…

Early Tuesday morning we could swear we smelled someone already cooking…and we had… And boy, did it smell good….  Now, according to one of the proprietors, the selection we saw today (Tuesday) was nothing, because it was their first day back from ferie and they are just getting up and running.  To give you some idea of what “nothing” consisted of – they were roasting whole chickens on a spit, there were all sorts of pasta dishes, including a rich and scrumptious-looking lasagna, and there were several different salads (veggies, cous cous, and more).  Those were a few of the things we did not try today.  The things we did try included a delicate fish filet that was divine (poached in oil I think), roast beef that was perfectly rare, oven roasted seasoned tomatoes and savory cooked (but still dark green and al dente) spinach.  Admittedly, we ordered in Italian-sized portions (1 “etto” of each – 100 grams or about 4 o.z.), but this entire spread was only 12 euros.  I had earlier picked up a loaf of fresh-baked bread (didn’t know they also sell that [though I suspect they get that from a bakery]) and we had the most fabulous lunch!   Now, I was trying to make a good impression on these folks (who I am guessing we’re going to get to know well over time), so I suppressed the urge to photograph.  However, I think by the third or fourth time we go back this week, it should be okay…

So, today I returned downstairs and had a nice conversation with the proprietor.  I told him (in my baby-Italian) that I could smell the food cooking in my sleep (this morning we could smell roasting onions, and sure enough, there were whole roasted onions today).  I went on about how delicious everything was and he commented about how hot it must be on the top floor of the building (and as you know, it is; and, in case you are wondering, no – the a/c repair men still have not come).  I asked for a suggestion of something new to try today and ended up with a delicious piece of spinach-ricotta pie (think spanikopita) and some sauteed broccoli-cauliflower mix.  By now I felt comfortable enough asking if I could take a few photos, which I did.   Enjoy them, and your weekend!  Ciao!

The Best Gelateria in Florence (so far)

Ciao Readers!

Here it is – the moment you have all been waiting for… The crowning of the best gelateria in Florence (from the ones we’ve tried so far)… And the winner is (drum roll please)…..            Perché no!…

So, why “Perché no!…” and what was our methodology you ask?  Though not exactly scientific, we tried to compare apples to apples so to speak.  We tried to try the same two quintessential gelato flavors everywhere – “cioccolato” and “pistacchio.”  Of course, those of you who know me, know I have a difficult time ordering the same thing twice in a row, so I would usually pick randomly from interesting new flavors and Steve would (usually) get the requisite ones.  Today at Il Procopio we both went off-script (I ordered two specialties of the house, Steve tried lemon-basil and mango). So in our dedication to you, the reader, we went back and got a small cioccolato-pistacchio to share (the other flavors were so good we knew we had a contender).  What were we looking for? Mainly two things – 1) were the flavors “flavor-y” – in other words, was the chocolate chocolatey and the pistachio pistachio-y, and 2) were they smooth and creamy.  We have also been observing the pricing, the friendliness of the proprietors and more, but this review is based solely on yumminess.

Perché no!… (the ellipses is in the name itself) wins because the flavors were intensely flavor-y and it was sooooo creamy and delicious!   I had two house specialties –  orange cream (with bits of candied orange peel) and caramel cream (with swirls of caramel) and Steve got the chocolate/pistachio combo.  The pistachio had visible pieces of nuts and was the most pistachio-y we have tasted; the chocolate was dark and rich and intensely chocolatey.  And, while it had no effect on this review (?), when we told the owner how much we appreciated his handiwork, he came outside with a free watermelon granita sample for us (actually the more appropriate frozen treat in this weather).  That granita was very watermelon-y, and so refreshing!  Pictured below (row 1) are the shop/proprietor, pics of the gelato, and Steve’s review (i.e. the smile on his face).   It is worth mentioning that real artisinal gelato does not have artificial colors, so it doesn’t look as pretty as the fake colored stuff in the windows you see at the tourist spots.

Several runners-up also deserve a shout-out..

Il Procopio (the one we tried today) was a very close second (and apparently won an award at last year’s gelato festival).  The unique flavors we found off-script were tasty (the mango was exceptionally mango-y) and the pistachio and chocolate were just a nose short of Perché no!…  Of course, Il Procopio (pics 1&2 in row 2) is a much shorter walk from our apartment, so I am guessing it may become our go-to place.

Carrozze was in contention to be second, until we tried Procopio today (sorry, Josh).  We have actually been there twice because when we went to try Carapina the other day it was still closed for ferie.  The gelato was delish, but I think it may suffer from being a bit too much of a tourist attraction (right by the Uffizi and the Ponte Vecchio).  (Carapina actually opened back up today, but on seeing it open I realized I had tasted it on one of my house-hunting trips here and I wasn’t that impressed.)

GROM is a chain, but actually makes pretty creamy, flavorful gelato.  I had tried it in Milan and it was worth another taste here (the coconut is yummy).  Vivoli is rather famous, as attested to by the tour group inside.  It was also actually delicious, but just doesn’t stand out in our memory the same (and was the most pricey).   Il Lingotto is perfectly respectable and gets a shout-out because in addition to being tasty (though a little less flavor-y), it is literally less than a block from us, the most reasonably priced, and always open.  One famous one that just didn’t do it for me was Carabé – I thought it was much more icey than the others, though I later read they are more famous for granita, which makes sense.  The very lowest of the low (no surprise), was store-bought “artigianale” gelato (last picture, below).

Overall, we reluctantly (not) threw ourselves on the gelato sword, for the benefit of you, the readers.  If you have any similar queries (e.g., what is the best pizzeria in Florence?), I am sure I can convince Steve to join me in that quest as well…


“Piano, Piano”

Ciao Readers!

I had mentioned this saying (“piano, piano”) in a post last week and a few people e-mailed or commented asking me what it means.  I thought I would take this opportunity to explain, as well as share how it plays out in our adjustment here in Italy.   “Piano, piano” basically means “slowly” or that everything will happen in due course.  A “piano” is actually a floor of a building – like “piano 3” – so it more literally means “step by step.”  When I was in school in Bologna and I would get frustrated at not picking up a concept right away, my teachers would advise “piano, piano.”  This encapsulates the approach you want to take here in order to remain upbeat as opposed to exasperated.

A few days ago, I have to admit I was getting frustrated and had fleeting thoughts of “what the heck were we thinking?!?!”   Some of the things that I was letting bug me:

The electricity/ a/c situation – we have been here over 2 weeks and the electrician and a/c repair man are still out for ferie.  At first I admired the vacation mindset here, but after 2 weeks with intermittent a/c (which, if I haven’t explained, are individual units limited to certain rooms; the rest of the house will remain a sauna regardless), and a fear of blowing out my remaining mini computer, the charm has started to wear…

Our packages – it is still a daily surprise 1) if any packages are going to arrive that day, and 2) if we are going to have to pay for them to be delivered.  So far twice we have had identical packages come (the latest were boxes for pictures) and we have been charged for one, but not its twin.  Every time a new package is on its way, customs in Milan either calls our realtor, calls here, or just mails me forms to fill-out.  Each time its a different customs person and they each seem to have different ideas what goes on the forms and whether or not the box will cost to deliver.  So far we have filled out forms on about 12 boxes, 8 have come, and none for the past few days.  Each arrive in various states of squashed/smashed, but I was actually expecting that.

The paperwork – you seriously have to do more paperwork for everything here.  I can’t think of one transaction that has taken a single form.  From changing over the gas, to getting a pay-as-you-go cell phone, to sending mail.  And don’t even ask about opening a bank account – literally 2+ hours and about 20 signatures (the lawyer in me is aghast that I am signing all of this stuff I really can’t read).  On an entirely other level is immigration – though from what I know the US immigration process is no picnic either.

“Otherness” – it’s an interesting lesson to be the outsider (“stranieri”).  I remember when we were traveling in small towns in Japan, sometimes people would literally cross over to the other side of the street when they saw us coming; once they even refused to get into an elevator with us.  I suppose that is how we treat certain groups in the U.S.  Here it is not that stark, but the fact that I can’t communicate well is frustrating.  I think to the unobservant, lack of communication and lack of intelligence become one in the same (think about Stephen Hawking without his talking keyboard).  Several times here I have completely understood what was going on (like why our wifi wasn’t working), but my inability to communicate effectively had people thinking I was just dumb.  These are a few of our many challenges/frustrations.

However, today was a new day, approached with the “piano, piano” frame of mind.  Our Sky tv box (and lots of cables, cards, usb key, etc.) came today – complete with installation instructions (yes, of course in Italian only).  At first I was exasperated – giving up hope that I could manage to complete my first cable tv installation with only Italian instructions.  But ya know what?  Steve and I laid all the pieces out, and between the photos in the instruction manual (of a completely differently configured box), my few words of Italian, and some new-found patience, I magically accomplished installing Sky tv (again, YAY me!).  We followed this accomplishment with a leisurely lunch out and then found the local public pool and passed the afternoon in sweet relief from the heat.  No boxes came, a gas contract came which I can’t make out, and our other a/c has joined in making that horrific noise, but the tone of the day was different.  I feel relaxed.  It’ll all work itself out.  I recall “what the heck” we were thinking.  As they say, “piano, piano”…

Membership (to the Uffizi) has its Privileges

Ciao Tutti!

As I have mentioned in a previous post, we became members of the Uffizi (Amici degli Uffizi).  As I have not mentioned in a previous post, we have been “popping in” on some of the world’s greatest art in between the projects and appointments.  That sounds so weird – but we have literally been “popping in” – just saying “Ciao” to Michelangelo’s David (at L’Accademia) and Botticelli’s Birth of Venus (at the Uffizi).  The Uffizi cards are too cool!  Not only do we walk past the long lines of folks without reservations (photo below), but also past the shorter lines of those with the knowledge/foresight to make reservations.  We literally just walk right up to the front, flash our cards, and get let in!  At the Accademia they opened the rope blocking the front door for us, which Steve likened to being super VIP’s at some swank night club.  I have to admit I felt many eyes on us today as we bypassed the pictured line and walked right in!

It’s a little surreal.  I remember the first time I saw these amazing works of art I stayed and stared – thinking it might be my only chance to ever see them.  That was 2006, and as Steve confirmed, not in a million years did he think at that time we would be living here (though I am guessing those thoughts at least entered my head).  Now, in stark contrast, we just “pop in,” knowing we can come back and view the other pieces at our leisure (and in cooler weather – it’s even HOT in the museums!).  I have decided to just try and absorb a few pieces a visit.  Today a piece I have never seen before caught my attention, as much for its name as for the art itself – “Saint Nicholas Resurrecting Youths who had been Pickled” (by Gentile da Fabriano, 1425) (yes, that says “pickled,” not a type-o). You can read the tale here.  No photos are allowed in the museums, though they do have a realistic (not) replica of David in the courtyard for photo purposes (below).  I am close to having tried enough gelato for a full review post…close….

Italians Take Real Vacations

Ciao Tutti!

We have arrived (only a little worse for wear) and are getting settled in our new Italian home!  I am eager to share our many exploits as well as the hurdles and good fortune we had on our way here and over this first week, but I am still gathering my thoughts.  So, in the meantime, I thought I would share with you one large cultural difference we have experienced from arrival – the Italian vacation.

Italians seriously know how to go on vacation.  And they all go in August.  They call it “ferie,” which from what I have gathered means “personal holiday.”  And when I say they go on vacation, I mean vacation; not what we Americans consider vacation (lap top, cell phone, one week tops).  Folks that own shops close them – for weeks at a time.  They just hang a sign and get out of town, lost business be damned.  I would say about 1/2 the restaurants and more than 3/4 of the shops in our neighborhood are closed for all or part of August  (lest you worry, our local gelateria is open).  And everyone else just chooses not to exist.  For example, our main realtor and the owners of our apartment are on vacation, which means you can’t call them (even though our electricity is on the fritz) and everything that needs to be dealt with can (i.e. will) wait until vacation is over.  This is not ideal for us trying to set-up our new home, but I think it’s GREAT!  Imagine getting to check-out for 2 – 4 weeks and no one thinking it was anything but normal and expected!  On top of “ferie,” today is Ferragosto – an official national holiday when everything is closed  (a good excuse to take a break and blog to you!).

I took a walk around our neighborhood the other morning and shot these pics of the many varieties of “gone on vacation” signs:

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