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Tagliatelle Funghi Porcini e Tartufo. Image credit: Silvia Ferrante

When I received my acceptance email for The Wandering Scholar and saw the words “Cuisine and Culture of Italy,” a giant smile spread across my face. Coming from a family that rarely eats anything but Pakistani food, I was thrilled to be part of a trip that emphasized my exposure to traditional Italian cuisine. As excited as I was, I am going to admit that I was a bit worried too. Aside from the delectable pasta and pizza, Italy has a lot of food that includes meat. I can’t expect halal meat to be available everywhere I go, so I will be adopting a pescatarian diet for the trip. Not only do I love my roasted chicken, but not being able to eat the meat of farm animals significantly reduces my meal options…or so I thought.

Breakfast options in Italy tend to be great for the vegetarian diet. Italians, like much of the world’s population, prefer lighter breakfasts. Coffee, some cookies, and fruit are common breakfast foods throughout Italy. Another terrific breakfast option is a cornetto, or croissant. Though it is not unique to Italy, bread with a buttery taste is popular throughout the peninsula.

For lunch and dinner, dishes that include meat, like the Bistecca Alla Fiorentina (Florentine steak), are very popular. However, there are also a variety of delicious vegetarian options. A dish that I am particularly interested in tasting is “Tagliatelle Funghi Porcini e Tartufo”, which is pasta tossed in mushroom sauce and pieces of vegetable. Another traditional dish, Ribollita, is a soup comprised of stale bread, tomatoes, beans, and other in-season vegetables.

Speaking of bread, restaurants in Florence usually serve bread that may taste bland, with a hard, dense crust. This taste occurs because the bread lacks salt. Back in the days of the Medici family, a feud broke out between the parts of Florence that the Medici family ruled, and Pisa, a port in Tuscany. Pisa cut the salt supply to Florence, and as a result, bakers had to start making bread without salt. Even today, the bread in Florence is baked without salt. Italians do love their traditions!

Now if you truly want to get an authentic taste of the traditional foods of Florence, you must try some street food. Two popular options are lampredotto and trippa. Both are sandwiches made from the edible parts of the stomachs of farm animals. Lampredotto is made from the final stomach of a cow. Don’t get too squeamish-judging by how popular it is among native Florentines, I’m sure both dishes taste great.

Last, but in no way least, is the gelato in Florence. Gelato is a lot like ice-cream, but gelato contains more milk and less cream than ice-cream. Know the numbness in your mouth that you get when you’re eating ice-cream? You won’t have to worry about that as gelato is served at a higher temperature than ice-cream. Here are some quick tips for buying gelato in Italy: avoid buying gelato from street vendors, because their gelato is often made with artificial ingredients. If you want to try the pistachio gelato, which I certainly will do, make sure the color is no brighter than a dull green; a brighter green is usually indicative of a lower quality gelato.

Is your stomach growling? Mine sure is. It’s a comfort to know that there will be more than enough vegetarian options for me to choose from and that my sugar cravings will be met. Just imagine: walking over the Ponte Vecchio at sunset, with some soft Stracciatella gelato melting in your mouth. What could be more perfect? read more →

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Baccalà mantecato alla veneziana. Image credit: Giallo Zafferano

 

In this world, there are so many things that seperate us. They take on all different shapes and sizes, like the human race itself. But I know there are ways we can surpass these obstacles. For me, they seem to take the shape of “weapons;” they are not the usual definition of a weapon, but they do transcend/ go beyond the constructs of men. These ‘weapons’ are the art that we create, the music that we envision, and the food that we share. As people grow older, they begin to add to their arsenal. These additions are things like love, hope, culture, and tradition. Although many people nowadays seem to fear culture, tradition, and even religion, we shouldn’t let that stop us, because they bring in so much joy, sadness, and development. They allow us to enjoy being alive; they give us a sentiment that can’t be explained through words. These ‘weapons’ are things living dormant in everyone, and through my travels I hope to the basics: music, art, love, and the culinarily treats.

A motto I like to live by is: “For everything we do has a purpose.” So, with that being said, today’s post will focus on the Culinary Traditions that Venice, Italy holds dear to its heart. Follow me, as this will be a treat.

Unlike the United States, the average Italian eats a light breakfast. When looking for an average Italian native living in Venice, I discovered that they eat around 8am; depending on work and other variables, they eat when convenient. The breakfast usually consists of an espresso made at home (w/ or w/o milk) and a dunking biscuits or bread, with fresh fruit or juice on the side. Another option would be a “neighborhood café that gives a cappuccino and a croissant, or a simple espresso, fresh squeezed orange juice (in winter, when the oranges are good only) and perhaps a savory sandwich.” For lunch, they usually eat around 1pm; lunch is a two-course meal, usually “pasta plus a protein entrée, or pasta and a salad.”  Dinner ranges from 7:30 to 8pm in Venice. It usually includes soup of some sort, “lots of vegetable side dishes and a light protein entrée, like vegetable frittata or salumi; or ricotta, stracchino, mozzarella or other light cheeses.” They say it’s a lighter meal, that involves wine and reminiscing about the day. One of the events that I can’t wait to experience is the after dinner part, when most people walk around or lounge in their seat staring up at the night sky.

Italy has many special occasions. As a whole they have more than 20 celebrations; Venice has a total of 8 itself, including the celebrations of Italy. These celebrations have a variety of different foods that are specific to the region in Venice. They include: Baccala’ Mantecata, Sarde in Saor (Marinated Sardines), Polenta, Risi i Bisi (Rice and Fresh Peas),  Risotto, etc.. One memorable celebration is April 25th, when the people of Venice come together to celebrate St. Mark’s Day and the Festa del Boscolo. The dish of the day is the risi e bisi known as ‘rice and peas’ in Venice. “It’s  also said that a true dish of risi e bisi  must contain more pieces than rice, because that was the sustenance made the Italian people”. When you read about their celebrations, you discover the history; the risa e bisi, represents unity and what it truly means to be apart of a “family”.

Italy is home to strong people, so when we look deeper into regions like Venice, we are able to see how far they go for their ‘family’. When examining the recipes specific to Venice, I was able to notice similarities between my families recipes and their own. They required you to stay focused, but also multitask. They included fresh ingredients and most required time; they were labor intensive, because they represented what means to be Italian, a mother, a father, and a family.

In the end, everyone can agree that food is transcending. It is apart of our life, and without it we would all die. It allows us to communicate with the everyone despite religion, race, color, gender, disability, and nationality. Food is something we all adore and love. I can’t wait to experience all the things food holds: history, struggles, pain, sweat, joy, and above all else, love.

PS: Venice has amazing street food! More to come… read more →

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Cacio e pepe. Image credit: Food and Wine

The Eternal City is full of delicious and enticing food that really expresses the beauty of Italian culture.

Roman food is rich in flavor and history. There are many family-owned trattorias (small and casual restaurant) and pizzerias. The food is based on vegetables and of course, pasta. Pasta reigns in every part of Italy and in Rome there is the pasta cacio e pepe, pasta all’arrabbiata, pasta e ceci, and more. I am very excited to try the pasta and especially the pasta cacio e pasta (pasta in a creamy olive oil, pecorino cheese, and black pepper sauce).

Produce is also very important in the making of Roman food, and artichoke is the king of the group.  It is prepared in two ways alla romana (Roman-style) or alla giudea (Jewish-style). Carciofi (roman for artichoke) is stuffed with bread crumbs, garlic, mint, and parsley and then braised in a bath of olive oil and water. Abbacchio alla scottadito (“lamb finger-burning style”)  is lamb chops seasoned with salt, pepper, and herbs like thyme, tarragon, and rosemary and it is traditionally eaten with hands.

Roman street food is amazing. Pizza is popular and customers can buy a rectangular slice and have it doubled over to eat while walking. There is also the trapizzino (cousin of the pizza) and warm, freshly baked baguettes to fill up with. A visit would not be complete without trying some delightful gelato. It would be very hard not to find a savory and tasty dish while walking around the gorgeous city.

Meal times are bit different in Rome than it is in the United States. Romans eat lunch at 1:00 and dinner after 8:00. The meal times may surprise many people because of how much later it is in the day. Another surprise may be the portion sizes. The meat portion is smaller than in the US but it is made up by a large amount of pasta that is served with it.

The food alone is a reason why many people head to Rome. The food is amazing just like the art and architecture. The inviting and delectable dishes shows the rich culture and past of the great city. I look forward to taking a flavorful bite out of history. read more →

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Note: To help our scholars familiarize themselves with their host country, we asked each to watch a different 25-30 minute youtube video about a particular region of Italy. Each video stars Rick Steves, a foremost expert on European travel. After they watched their assigned videos, Scholars were asked to provide a summary of its contents and highlight a topic it covers that especially interests them – this could be anything from a moment in history to a place or a person. In addition to explaining their personal interest in the topic. 

Rick Steves stated, “no trip to Italy is complete without Milan and Lake Como.” Many people often overlook Milan, but it has high fashion, some of the fanciest delis, grandest cemeteries, and the greatest opera house. Milan is Italy’s “industrial, banking, publishing, and convention capital”. It overcame four centuries of domination by Spain, Austria, and France, but ended with Italian independence and unity.

Architecture was influenced by the mood and story of what was going at the time. An example is the train station which has a fascist sense to it left by Mussolini. The train station is enormous and was meant to make people feel small, too small to believe they were great enough to betray or question Mussolini. The Pirelli Tower expresses and displays the rise of Italy after the fascist period. The abundance of churches, their size, and the gothic style of architecture represents the era of religious movement. Every detail of the churches from the marble floors up to the golden Virgin Mary conveys the importance of the churches and how critical it was to perfect them.

As people gather at Milan’s Great Square, they admire the great statue of Victor Emmanuel ll who is looking at The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele ll that was a gift for him from the people of Milan because he was their first King. Now, it is the pride of Milan and has prestigious shopping centers where millions of people visit. Along with these centers is Milan’s “world-class shopping zone” called The Quadrilateral. As for prestigious food, there is a deli in Milan titled “Peck” which is where most entrepreneurs and others with prominence go to eat. It has food from sandwiches, cheese, a wine section, and even the displays show the time they take into making the food desirable enough to pay for them.

The Sforza Castle was built with brick and made large for military use but has now turned into a public space for people to visit and tour. The Cimitero Monumentale is a monumental cemetery in Milan whose detailed structure of every statue and painting is precise and accurately conveys the devastating message from death. Having researched Renaissance artists like Leonardo Da Vinci, it was interesting to find out that he was the essential influence to the aesthetics by being a sculptor, musician, dentist, scientist, engineer, and architect. He designed the largest equestrian monument in the world, but one of his greatest masterpieces is the decoration in the Monk’s Dining Hall. The Last Supper has a history of surviving when nothing else did and representing the rush of emotions in the painting perfectly. Da Vinci identified himself with Milan more than any other city which explains the significance and reasoning for his statue. Another great tourist attraction is La Scala which has been devoted to performing the grandest opera’s and having a museum with the greatest actors for those who cannot acquire a seat for the opera.

Lake Como gives off the vibes of relaxation and deja vu. It has not been renovated in many years which is honorable that people get to see what artists viewed. Bellagio is elegant which delivers what “5-star visitors what they are accustomed to”. With the large pools, the elegant food, and care for their poodles. Along with these is Varenna which is a small town with romance and may be considered the ideal harbor. It is like walking in history where artists would paint, fishers would fish, and others would go to enjoy the peace.

To admire the work of great architects like Leonardo Da Vinci and analyze the history through the stories that are expressed in the art, Milan is the optimal city to visit. It also has prestigious delis and shopping centers for those who enjoy the shopping and spending of money. For a time to relax and take a visit in history, Lake Como, Varenna, and Bellagio would be the ideal places to visit. There are many places to relax and admire the calm skies above them and water below them. People often visit the elegant hotels to experience the absolute beauty of them. read more →

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Note: To help our scholars familiarize themselves with their host country, we asked each to watch a different 25-30 minute youtube video about a particular region of Italy. Each video stars Rick Steves, a foremost expert on European travel. After they watched their assigned videos, Scholars were asked to provide a summary of its contents and highlight a topic it covers that especially interests them – this could be anything from a moment in history to a place or a person. In addition to explaining their personal interest in the topic. 

Rome was once the capital of the western world. Today, its ruins show the monumental architectural accomplishment, culture, and history of the great city.

Classical Rome lasted from 500 BC to 500 AD. As the legend goes, Rome was founded by Romulus and Remus. These two brothers were abandoned as children and raised by a she-wolf (I hope those three years of middle school Latin pays off). In reality, the first Romans mixed and mingled in the valley that became the Roman forum. An example of Rome’s great architecture is the Via Sacra. It served as public relations tools. Romes economy was fueled by plunder and slaves gained by war. The Capitoline Hill, which sits among the other buildings of the modern city, is the home of the city’s government. The Pax Romana was a time of stability, military dominance, and good living. Roman history of the Pax Romana can be found in Roman art. A statue of Caesar Agustus -one of the first great emperors of the peace- has trusting and strong eyes that create a feeling of stability and well being. Another statue shows that the peace was coming to an end. The statue is of a boy that is about to become head of state, surrounded by nervous senators (expresses the lack of confidence in the government).

The Romans created many amazing structures, such as the Roman aqueducts and the Appian Way. The Colosseum is an incredible demosntat=raion of the Roman genius. The structure was used as an entertainment house for the million inhabitants of the city. Criminals, warriors, and animals fiercely fought each other to the death as the raging crowd watched and cheered. I would definitely prefer the modern day football over the gory fights of Roman entertainment. The colossal building was made possible by the Roman made concrete and their well-known arches. They respected they Greek culture by decorating the structure with greek of columns-Ionic, Doric, and Corinthian. The passageways under the wooden floor, allowed people and animals to be shuffled around out of sight.

Buildings like the well-preserved Pantheon showcase roman greatness (Its one-piece columns are so huge it takes four tourists to hug one). Modern days architects still marvel at its brilliance. The dome is made of poured concrete which gets thinner and lighter has it rises. The highest is made of pumice, a volcanic stone. The building was used as a place of worship. Emperor Constantine eventually legalized Christianity. As  Ric Steves states ” In the year 300, you could be killed for being Christian. In the year 400, you could be killed for not being Christian. Church attendance boomed and Constantine built the first Christian church “San Giovanni in Laterano”. The adjacent holy stairs are a major stop for pilgrims Thousands scale the Scala Santa on their knees, the stairs believed to be the stairs that Jesus climbed the stairs on the day he was condemned.

Rome collapsed after decades of corrupt rulers, and instability of the great Rome fell in 500 AD. Although the ancient civilization fell, Rome’s political, cultural, and architectural accomplishments are still felt today. Buildings and art are beautifully preserved and can be found today in the equally beautiful country of Italy. I am very excited to see the greatness of Ancient Rome in person. read more →