Food.  Sometimes I think getting things done in Italy is so much bother that Italians just stick to the important stuff like good food and drink.  Or maybe its because they focus on the important stuff like food and drink that its difficult to find time to get the rest done. 

Either way food here is taken as seriously as the hype suggests.  Everyone has (strong) opinions about food though at least cooking it scores well on the quick and easy.  Which is great if you’re like me and given the choice between a ready meal and heavy cooking, well pass me the microwave. I now have regular conversations with the girl stacking the supermarket shelves who’s always happy to instruct the ignorant foreigner in the best way of cooking any particular ingredient.  She seems sympathetic; I think she imagines the bad English cooking I have undoubtedly been forced to endure. And my friends from different regions around Italy give me (usually completely conflicting) instructions on how to cook what. (Could someone please settle for once and for all whether cream should go in pasta carbonara?)

Food shopping is an extreme sport and elderly ladies the shrewdest and meanest competition at the morning market.  There seem to be hordes of them there each day as I walk past on my way to work, their infirmities forgotten or else wielded to best queue-jumping advantage.  This Saturday was one of those rare occasions that I dragged myself early enough from my bed to get there.  I cruised the stalls eyeing up who had the freshest zucchini, the glossiest tomatoes, to emerge triumphant with a bunch of the fragrant ‘Fragolini’ grapes conscious that of course I am in the wrong.  As a foreigner I am permitted not to visit my parents each weekend, so therefore I have no excuse not to become a regular at the market. I know I should show up each week to butter up the traders and get served first, with the best stuff and at a rounded down price.  Even so I don’t.  On the occasions I do go I still can’t believe how little I spend or how much I’m lured into buying – at least until my arms start to fall off lugging it all home.  Its no good, no matter how wonderful it all is, I just can’t manage those early Saturday mornings every week.   Still I comfort myself. Maybe as a foreigner I can cheat a little in this game. Flattery about how wonderful the food (and Italy) usually scores you enough points for a stallholder to give you a decent deal without them expecting the customer loyalty they’d demand of a real local. Or maybe its just competition between stalls is as sharp as between customers.  I promise myself though I will make it again soon for the gluts of hearty artichokes that will shortly arrive to stave off the darkening autumn evenings.

Even water here is not just sparkling or still.  I can find myself standing mesmerised, pondering the merits of slightly fizzy, very fizzy, naturally fizzy or carbonated, spring or mineral water. I scrutinise the labels, mostly line drawings of the tiny towns they come from, towns of which I have only the fuzziest idea where they are on the map.  And usually end up with my same favourite.

In the end I do miss the decent choice of ‘foreign’ food and sometimes still go out with British friends for an “anything-but-Italian”.  Here a curry is so daring that there are only a handful of Indian restaurants around.  I asked a Milanese friend why and she curled her lip as she insisted only bad meat is sold so heavily spiced, segueing straight into barbed comments about chilli and southern Italian recipes.  I shall ask my Sicilian colleague who I’m sure will have something to add about the blandness of Milan’s risottos…

One Response to “(02) And now to eat…”

  1. Adam Says:

    Hi Claire, Old Romebuddy here. Re, “We are the music-makers, And we are the dreamers of dreams”, interesting, as I did all the photography for Vikki’s ‘Movers and Shakers’ album. She also loved the O’Shaughnessy poem, and wrote the title track around it:
    Hear part of the track here:
    [audio src="" /]

    Still slaving in Rome, punishing heat here at the moment, and there’s been loads of changes at XX Sett. You are better off out of it – Gosh, what I would give for a rainy Monday and some decent autumn colours.
    Are you on Facebook? See: for all the news that’s unfit to print.

    Love your sarky articles on Rome. Keep ’em coming – There’s a book there, and I bet you can make them even more vitriolically entertaining from memory.



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