Wow! I didn’t expect such dramatic passion from my Italy photos. Seems that our adventures in eating might have inspired a few folks to make their vacation plans for la bellissima Italia.
I had bookended my trip with stop-overs in London. This enabled me to check out my former neighborhood and check out the scenery there. While the British Isles have never been considered a gastronome’s paradise (or even pit-stop), each time I visit or have lived there, I’ve really been surprised at how far the food culture has moved. When I first lived there at the end of the 80’s, it was pretty bleak.
The last time I resided in the UK, about ten years later, I was fortunate enough to live in Notting Hill (not the chi-chi part, but the more funky “hmm, that’s an interesting smell” part). One of the hidden treasures of this neighborhood, in my opinion, is that it is filled with great shops and food stalls. There is such a range of tastes and ethnic flavors (in addition to smells) that I felt as though I’d fallen into a culinary wonderland.
Ah, I do sometimes miss hearing the Cockney vendors shouting at each other in the morning. Oy!
They have spices from everywhere. Kaffir lime leaves?
Yep, got them, too.
For me, a trip to London wouldn’t really be complete if I didn’t stop in at one of my favorite places for cooking resources. Books for Cooks (www.booksforcooks.com) is part cookbook store, part cafe, part cooking school, and just an all-around great resource. If you are planning a trip to London and would like to check them out, they offer demo courses or you can stop in and see what is on the menu for lunch. The recipes used are often tests of ones from cookbooks that the shop sells.
But, as with all sightseeing adventures, after that stop, it was time to take a bit of a break. My brother had happened to mention to me a place nearby where one could buy cupcakes. Now, with New York as the reigning cupcake battleground, I felt I could claim a thing or two about what makes a good treat. So, I decided to check out The Hummingbird Bakery on Portobello Road (www.hummingbirdbakery.com
Yum – this was one of the best cupcakes I’ve ever had –
Even better than some NY bakeries I could mention
Did I mention how bleak it was to live and eat in London in 1988-89? Friends of mine who lived there at that time and I still talk about it. Britain definitely lived up to its reputation of having dreadful food at that time. Now, I can’t say that that is still the case.
While looking for a place to eat lunch, I stumbled upon a huge Marks & Spencer just dedicated to food. Interestingly enough, it had taken over the spot of a formerly uber-fashionable restaurant that had been THE place to go briefly when I was last living in London.
I know I keep saying it, but it was amazing to see the variety of foodstuffs from which to choose. Most of these were ready-meals or pre-prepped meats and veggies for a quick dinner. Still, to have something with this much selection at my fingertips every night would be great.
After taking all these photos, I was feeling a bit peckish myself, so I decided to eat lunch. Although they took a bunch of flack when they first opened for being very chainy and not so much pub-like (and definitely not in the gastropub league), I actually enjoy going to All Bar One. I find the food to be good, reliable and at a reasonable price point. Lunch during my trip did not disappoint.
How nice to have a real lunch for a change!
Not exactly a direct quote, but about 3 people emailed me the same question about the photos I emailed around from my recent trip to Italy. I guess I didn’t realize how focused I’d been on the edible delights of the places to which we went, but now flipping through my pictures, I can see that I didn’t take any of the cities we visited.
I took a few days to escape the long work weeks I’ve been having recently (hence, why the blog has been a bit dormant) to travel to Europe. I flew to London and then on to Italy, where I got to explore a foodie heaven – Bologna – and to take a couple of day trips to Florence and Venice. As I’d written about last year on my trip to New Zealand, for me, one of the most interesting things about visiting other countries is to view cultures through a culinary lens.
Kicking off our trip, we flew into Marconi Airport in Bologna, landing amid the red rooftopped houses and green fields of Emilia Romagna. To break our fast from an airport lunch of sandwiches and crisps, we started off with a typical Italian pre-dinner snack of bubbly prosecco, meaty green olives, and warm tigelle stuffed with cheese and proscuitto:
Then, we were off to a local pizzeria for dinner. Unfortunately, the photo of all the food we managed to eat was taking by another person with whom I was traveling, so I don’t have a copy of it. Suffice to say, this was nothing like the local pie you can get delivered to your door. One of my travel companions even commented as to how one could taste the oven-cooked flavor in the crust. We ended dinner with a large piece of tiramisu that took two of us to polish it off:
The next day, we took a two-hour train ride to Venice. When exiting the train station for the first time, it is one of the most incredible sites to see this city on the water. We were so lucky on this trip to have sunny, clear weather. After hopping on the vaporetto (local water taxi), we wove our way around the canals for a water’s-eye view of the great palazzi of Venice, some of which even had their own boat docks.Our destination was Piazza San Marco, the famous town square. In need of some refreshment, I suggested that we stop off for a coffee before going in search of a place for lunch. (Do you sense a theme here?) It was obvious from the crowd in the piazza, that we weren’t the only ones with the same idea.
An 8 Euro cappuccino
Along the way to lunch, taking our time to wander the narrow streets and alleyways, someone just had to have a snack. Pre-ssert anyone?
Tartufo al cioccolato
Then, we found a small, local Venetian place. One of their dishes was cuttlefish in squid ink served with polenta squares. We also had baccala (salted cod) in a creamy sauce and pasta with a seafood tomato sauce.
We spent the afternoon wandering around the city some more. Stopping in at glass shops, checking out the jewelry and other wares. I snapped a photo of some of the pasta nests (nidi
) for sale as well. Hopefully, you can see the detail in the crinkly noodles.
Then, we had time for a quick caffe macchiato before hitting the train back to Bologna. Where, somehow, we ended up having more seafood for dinner!
Spaghetti with clams, mussels, parsley, and hot pepper flakes