Clandestino Chaos

Parma, Italy

 

The lack of posts can be easily justified by the explanation of the utter chaos and insanity that has been endured in the past 3 weeks of my life. I know most of you come to this blog to read about the adventures of my stomach, but this time the only thing my stomach wanted to do was flip and eject itself from the rest of my body (no I did not suffer a digestive virus).

Here is the a list of events that may contribute to the development of my unforeseen schizophrenia:

1) The organization of Italian Bureaucracy is like a scene out of a 3 stooges film. One person bumping into the next, running in circles around each other trying to feign some thread of structure. This has thus made my immigration process absolutely laughable….to say the least I was given an appointment in MARCH to meet with the immigration office.

2) I currently live in a hotel, and my residence naturally, has been booked by someone else in January, forcing me to find a new place to live in very little time. The upcoming Christmas season does not help.

3) I GOT A JOB! As a gastronomic tour guide for Parma Golosa, a food centered travel agency here in Parma. I’ll be giving Americans tours of Parmigiano Reggiano, Prosciutto, and Balsamic Vinegar factories here in the area. They’re even giving me a car!

After all this mess, I’ve come to realize that my life is like a Woody Allen film…only perhaps a little bit less intelligent.

We’ll have to see what’s in store for the next installment of “My Life is a Mess.”

Buon Appetito.

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Spanish Basque Lands: World of Egg and Pork

After four days of chowing down on French delicacies I thought would never even get close to my dinner plate, we crossed the border into the Spain for our first day in Bidegoian to a traditional farm and producer of a rare breed of Basque pigs called, Euskal Txerria. In my days as a gastronomy student, I’ve been to a fair amount of pig farms, memories of eye wateringly pungent smells, metal gates, and shit-covered hay. Never in my life have I seen pigs as strange and ADORABLE as the pigs we saw here. Black and pink spotted little devils with ears so floppy they had a very limited visual plane.

After kvelling (my Jewish New York maternal side emerges) for an hour about how adorable these little oinkers were, we were then proudly presented with their ultimate destiny and true purpose for being on the farm: homemade Chorizo and Jamon! Never fall too in love with an animal you see on a farm because inevitably it will end up sliced into little pieces on your dinner plate. Nonetheless, the passion conveyed by these producers for their work, and also for their animals permeated into the quality of their products, and ultimately worked to alleviate the pain caused by eating the cutest pig I have ever seen.

Spending the night in San Sebastian, we were then introduced to the extensive cultural practice that is Spanish Basque cider at the local Cideria.  Made from fermented apples, this extremely tart beverage is drunk in continuation by locals of this area. Served from massive wooden barrels, the traditional way to drink the beverage made a lasting impression (until of course my vision was blurred as a cause of over consumption..oops) Opening a little spit on the side of the barrel, the cider came spitting out as we lined up to fill our glass. An important rule however, was not to fill our glasses too high because the carbonation goes away quickly. Therefore, drink small amounts, often. In fact we were told to go up to the barrel as often as we wished, which, was obviously greatly appreciated.

Waking up feeling like I endured a minor concussion, we promptly hopped on the bus again to the Spanish fishing town of Getara, watching the boats unload pounds and pounds of fresh sardines to be sold at the port. The sardines were huge!!

After a scrumptious fish-based lunch washed town with traditional Basque cider, we were off to a the picturesque Aroa vegetable farm to learn about an indigenous pea variety, Guistante Lagrima, which is sold to restaurants at a ‘humble’ price of 40 Euro/half kilo…. though the price seems a bit ridiculous, they were the most succulent, sweet, and crisp peas I have ever consumed. In the garden we were also given the opportunity to pick fresh arugula, a spicy lettuce variety, amongst other deliciously organic fruits and vegetables.

Changing pace completely, we hopped on the bus to yet another farm, however this one was like unlike any I have ever seen. Spread across acres of the Spanish countryside, I was refreshed to see a farm that went beyond industry that truly represented the love this family had for their animals and their main product: Idiazabal cheese. Made from raw sheep’s milk, the cheese was absolutely extraordinary, slightly spicy with a texture that mimicked Asiago. I couldn’t stop eating it. The animals on the farm seemed happy, and the sheep basked in the sun as we met with the cheese producers.

We then arrived in Bilbao, the largest city in the Basque country, unfortunately my impression of the city remains a bit sour because we stayed at one of the most unsanitary hotels I have ever experienced, located conveniently in the drug and prostitution center of the town. Unlike any other city in Spain, Bilbao is an incredibly modernized city, littered with strange and modern art sculptures in the city squares. Most definitely the most memorable moment in Bilbao was the Guggenheim museum, designed by famous architect Frank Gehry. There was an incredible exhibit of Anish Kapoor art that really opened my eyes to the beauty of modern and abstract art.

After one of the most eventful and exhausting weeks of my life, I happily returned to Parma (at 2am) and practically fell into my bed. I calculated the total hours we spent traveling on the bus and it came to about 50. Needless to say, I get chills down my spine at the sight of a tour bus, my ass is still shaped to the mold of the chair. Reflecting on the trip, my stomach is full, I am recharged, and ready to continue to eat my way to gastronomical enlightenment.

This is Grassroots, This is Gourmet.

Off to Spain? The Death of European Airspace

In theory, my UNISG classmates and I are going to seek gastronomic enlightenment in the French wine country of Bordeaux as well as the Spanish Basque country. Touring oyster farms, eating foie gras and confit, and of course drinking the delicious specialties of these regions, including Bordeaux wines as well as Txacoli wine from the Basque region.

Bordeaux wine country
Bilbao

Unfortunately, it seems that our group always runs into large bouts of good luck. Sardegna: blizzard, Liguria: Blizzard and high speed winds, just when the weather starts to normalize…. VOLCANO IN ICELAND CLOSES ENTIRE EUROPEAN AIRSPACE FOR AN INDEFINITE AMOUNT OF TIME! Cool.

Anyway, I write this entry in hopes of being able to part for my trip on Monday to Bordeaux. If you don’t hear from me, I’ll be back next Sunday with an update, if you hear from me before then, it means I didn’t go and I am very sad….and most likely hungry.

P.S. Iceland, WTF?!

What is Gastronomy? A Food Blog Analysis

What is gastronomy? What is it about food that fascinates readers so immensely, making audiences eager to digest every delectable detail? To link the two concepts, I offer a simple analogy of food and gastronomy. Food is the brick, culture and history are the mortar in building the edible sanctuary that is Gastronomy. Stated clearly, Gastronomy is a multileveled, interdisciplinary, interpersonal, and active way to approaching subjects of food, cooking, and most importantly eating.

But! There is an important disconnect here to be explored. While food and cooking traditions have been a part of our global society since the invention of the wheel, gastronomy, comparatively, is an innovation that has begun to take our society by storm relatively recently. Though initially the notion of gastronomy was thought to be limited to the ‘high culture,’ those that could afford expensive ingredients who had the time to care, there has been a sharp change in the definition and access to the term.

What sparked this change? Aside from various cooking shows that have popularized this post-modern interest in food and culinary culture to the general public, the vast accessibility of the internet has given gastronomy its true ‘facelift’, allowing anyone and everyone to discuss their personal recipes, food opinions, restaurant reviews, and general shared excitement for eating.  This limitless forum has taken over the blogosphere, making food blogs an incredibly fun and easy way to spread the word on the world of gastronomy.


Serious Eats (www.seriouseats.com) is an American food blog that I have been following for some time. The website advertises itself as both a food blog and a community  which is a true and important detail about the site. Rather than being just one author, the site allows readers to interactively contribute their ideas, recipes, food photos, and reviews  which has truly helped the site grow over the years. Though this is an example of a more sophisticated food blog, directed for those living in metropolitan areas, it is a great resource to discover new restaurants and recipes from users just like myself as well as professionals.


Conversely, This Is Why You’re Fat (www.thisiswhyyourefat.com) is a completely different type of food blog, and definitely not for the faint of stomach. Unlike Serious Eats, which celebrates food for its diversity and cultural importance, This Is Why Youre Fat is a blog that bastardizes food through disgustingly unhealthy food concoctions. Despite the some of the stomach wrenching images, the website has seen great success, and has even published a book full of the calorific delights. An important detail to note is that This Is Why You’re Fat is based entirely off user contributions to the website, making it an interactive and communal experience.

The contrast in the aforementioned websites shows the interesting juxtaposition in our society’s approach to food and gastronomy within the microcosm of the internet, though these opinions are not limited to the virtual world. Gastronomy has become the world to describe all food-related fascinations, not simply those directed to those with time and money. The evolution of this concept has been catalyzed by popular media, and will continue to grow with increased access to these media sources. Eating is an activity in which everyone in society participates, therefore, we can all connect in someway with this deepened interest in the multi-faceted study of food that is gastronomy.

And then of course, according to Wikipedia, Gastronomy is….

Cenone: An Italian New Years Tradition

Now that the holiday season is winding down, I have a chance to write an update on the various eating endeavors I’ve taken on in the past several weeks. For Christmas, I went to a friend’s house in Montalcino, a small but famous wine area in Tuscany.. For those of you wine afficionados, Montalcino is the home of Rosso di Montalcino as well as Brunello… Brunello has a very affluent following as a bottle in the States sells for as much as $300.

Montalcino Countryside: A view from the top

To say the least, I ate and drank very well over the Christmas holidays. But that wasn’t the end of my adventure. Within two days of returning home to Parma, my boyfriend Andrea and I embarked on a 4 hour journey into the Italian Alps, to a quaint little town called Pozza di Fassa where he has a cozy mountain apartment. Not discouraged by the winding mountain roads, and occasional hydroplanes close to the cliff’s edge, I was excited to see this new region of Italy, Trentino, a place I had never been in the country I call home.

Just a quick aside, I was shocked by how German this area of northern Italy truly is. Trentino-Alto Adige is quite close to Austria, making the culture there very different from the rest of Italy. In fact, the first language there is Ladino, a dialect that combines German, Austrian, and some Italian. Me being me, I was particularly interested in the cuisine of this region, because while traditional pasta and pizza plates can be found in restaurants, so too can German specialties such as kraut and wurstel!

Infatuated by this geographical change in menu, Andrea and I decided to go traditional for New Years and sign ourselves up for something called a “Cenone” which translates to “Big Dinner” at a hotel near his apartment. Now, keep in mind that a “big dinner” on Italian terms isn’t your traditional 3 course meal… rather, a 4 hour 13 course eating extravaganza. Could my underfed American tummy handle the pressure??? For a belly busting 90 Euro a person, I was well aware of the magnitude of the feast that was before me.

Starting with an Aperitivo (remember what that is?) at 7:30pm, we were welcomed with sparkling Prosecco, various bitter cocktails, and some light snacks. I made sure not to eat too much of the early stuff because I was well aware of the feast that awaited.

Then we went to our table, which was nicely marked with our names. Then the real deal began. Here is the menu:

New Years Cenone Menu

For those of you that can’t see the menu clearly, there were 5 starters, 2 first plates, 4 second plates, a palate cleanser, and 2 desserts.. accompanied of course by bottomless wine and champagne. This was the hedonists dream.

Aside from the fact that our dinner companions were the strangest mix of Austrians, Germans, Italians, and various other Nordic cultures, we definitely had ourselves a ball of a time. The experience could be described as a strange mix between a John Hughes film from the eary 80s and an awkward European sitcom.

Nonetheless. I thoroughly enjoyed my holidays. A little romance, a lot of food, and of course, always gourmet.

Here are some more photos from the trip:

Happy 2010 everyone! I look forward to a very eventful and successful year, and I wish the same to all of my loyal readers. The best is yet to come 😉

P.S. Good luck to everyone who is attempting the beginning of the year diet. I’m with you on that one… until lunch that is…

Gastronomic Racism: Italy’s xenophobic foodie.

I was sitting at my desk just doing mindless internet surfing when I came across an news article about Italy’s new effort to ban any new foreign food restaurants into cities. Starting in Lucca and spreading to other cities in the Lombardy region, Italian president Silvio Berlusconi really feels strongly about Italians only eating italian food…. as a means of cultural preservation of course.

Alright so, a little background. I lived abroad for about 6 months in Parma, Italy… home to Italy’s booming food industry, and when it comes to food, Italians are not kidding. There is so much diversity across the different regions in Italy that apparently there is absolutely no room for the cuisines of immigrant cultures from Africa and the Middle East….at least not anymore.

Luca Zaia, the Minister of Agriculture and a member of the Northern League from the Veneto region, applauded the authorities in Lucca and Milan for cracking down on non-Italian food. “We stand for tradition and the safeguarding of our culture,” he said.

Mr Zaia said that those ethnic restaurants allowed to operate “whether they serve kebabs, sushi or Chinese food” should “stop importing container loads of meat and fish from who knows where” and use only Italian ingredients.

Asked if he had ever eaten a kebab, Mr Zaia said: “No – and I defy anyone to prove the contrary. I prefer the dishes of my native Veneto. I even refuse to eat pineapple.”

Mehmet Karatut, who owns one of four kebab shops in Lucca, said that he used Italian meat only.”

Don’t get me wrong. I am a huge supporter of eating local and maintaining national food traditions, but is this taking the “eating local” thing too far, and turning into a gastronomical form of racism? In Italy the culinary culture is synonymous with nationalism, but is this enough justification to completely ban other forms of cuisine?

What if someone is craving a burger, or a kebab? NO! *slaps hand* PASTA FOR YOU!

Anyway, go read the article. It’s a real trip.

And yes, Italians really are this crazy. (If you are Italian and reading this, I hope you are not offended, pero e’ davvero cosi in Italia, tutti politici pazzi.)