Travel Food (in Rome+)

Breakfast at Ciampini – Rome (shopping district)

Returning to Rome after several weeks away, I parked the car in an underground garage, took the stairs going up and found myself utterly alone in the relative green quiet of Villa Borghese park. Weekday mornings in late winter you can literally stroll around there in complete solitude, except for a maybe a cat or two sunning itself on a picnic table. Sure, your can hear the rumble of cars passing by beyond some trees on via Muro Torto, (‘Crooked Wall’ street. No kidding,) but the city seems far away, the air seems cleaner, and it’s hard to believe that you’re a 15 minute walk from all the tourists, traffic, noisy remodeling, priests, politicians and politician’s, er, ‘female (and male) friends’ that dominate the old town.

The trail I was on veered left between some bushes. Once through the bushes, on my left, two horses were grazing. Though I said ‘ciao’ fairly loudly the nearer horse apparently didn’t hear my voice or footsteps until I was only a few feet from him. Startled, the horse jumped back a bit, neighed, and then did something I didn’t know horses could do: he growled at me. Moreover as I walked away the two of us made eye contact and I’m quite sure his gaze toward me meant ‘asshole’. Didn’t think much of it at the time.

Anyway, I continued on the path that in roughly ten minutes brought me to the overlook of Piazza del Popolo, “Public Square”. You get a pretty good panorama of the city, St. Peter’s in the distance, the twin churches beneath you, the Tiber between. Rome is almost perfectly lovely from that vantage point. It’s hard to think that all the way into the 19th century Romans used to gather in the piazza to have fun watching people’s heads getting wacked off, usually women’s. Seems so unlikely in such a beautiful place.

Heading down the walkway into the piazza you start to feel as if you’ve left an idyllic countryside and are back in the 21st century. Lots of taxi’s, people scurrying, mostly women, to go to work or get work done, people strolling, mostly men, to go to the bar, visit, er, their younger, thinner, better-looking ‘friends’, and people looking a little lost, mostly tourists, not realizing that getting lost in the old town is one of the best ways to take in its real flavor. On the right of the piazza you can plop into the church and take a gander at Caravaggio’s works. If instead you’re hungry avoid of the bars you see and head down the middle street, (via del Corso,) for about 500 yards or so until you reach piazza in Lucina. There you’ll find Ciampini.

If the weather’s fine, (which is, like, about 344 days per year,) they have tables outside, and frankly everything they make is usually fresh and high quality, from Cappucino to Cornetti with cream and sugar-glazed chestnuts or wild strawberries, to their ice-cream, ices (granite) in the summer, to their sandwiches (tramezzini).

After you’ve finished soaking in the morning sun you walk straight to Piazza di Spagna, taking a look at the 39-dollar purses in the shop windows that Prada and Gucci will sell you for a mere 600. Once you make it to the Spanish steps, you could take a carriage ride. I can’t, though. Every time I walk past the line of horses waiting in the square they all look at me with that ‘asshole’ expression. I’ll hang at Ciampini’s.

link- ciampini:


Video- Travel Flavors: Sion, Switzerland: What is it with Abruzzesans and great food?

We were looking for a new deli in Rome nearby for our daily cheese and salumi and such, given a sort of spat we had over the holidays with our old one. (It was an expensive place but familiar and, we thought, friendly. So when we placed a sizable order for our Christmas dinner we expected at least the usual relative consideration. Instead, the cold cuts I picked up weren’t up to even supermarket standard, fatty, sliced all wrong – the prosciutto was thick, the Bologna too thin – the small pizzas were dry on top and burned below, the wines poor, the cheeses old-ish… and not only did they not apologize or let alone offer a refund, when we did our shopping there once again to give it one last chance, we got more of the same. I haven’t been back. Another victim of the crisis. Fewer clients means more corner-cutting for shop owners at their customer’s expense. So it goes.)
Anyway after trying a couple other delis we stopped in one not so farther away, kind of touristy it seemed but no more unpromising than others. As soon as I stepped inside…well, I knew we’d found it. Quality everywhere, soft liver salami, thick-cut excellent mortadella, Rocca capperini and stuffed peppers, a superb selection of wine and oil and pasta, all functionally organized in one smallish room. As I stood in line to place my order I heard the owner behind the counter, an aged man without much hair but with smart, small dark eyes and a rock-like chin, slip a moment from a Roman to an Abruzzesan dialect. A-ha. Another one.
So it was and is with the younger guy in the above video, Antonio Angelucci, only he lives in Lausanne, Switzerland. One day I was wandering about the Friday farmer’s market in a different city not so far away (Sion) a bit hopelessly – in most of Switzerland they have great cheese and great, ah, cheese and then they also have really good, uh, cheese. But God help you if you’re looking for anything else. It’s almost better to head for the nearest kebab joint – when my eyes at first, then nose, spotted this odd oasis in the distance. I sauntered up close presuming that as I did I’d find the usual leather-ish lunch meats and local salami which usually have the color, consistency and flavor of, say, slightly burned marshmallows with little pieces of breakfast cereal in it.  The variety is utterly dependent on which cereal is used. I, personally, am somewhat crazy for the coco-puff salami. Yuk-yuk.
I was wrong. The stand was filled with delicious stuff: real Barolo-aged cheese, heavenly small fresh goat-milk squares, artisan-made ravioli, salami felino…it was like stepping out in Cleveland in February to 70 degrees and sunshine. You’re not sure if it’s a dream, or if you’ve stepped into paradise’ waiting room. Then I noted the accent in Antonio’s voice as he waited on the Swiss in front of me.
“Italian?” I asked him.
“Abbruzzo. You?” he answered.
“Amerigo-Abruzzan,” and so on.
In case you’re in that part of the world and get desperate for some real good eats, below is a link to Antonio’s main store in Lausanne. On Friday mornings he’s in Sion, usually, about half-way through the market.

Roman Food – Fresh Fish

Good bless the Swiss. I mean that. No other western populace I’ve visited shows the same level of personal respect as the Swiss. Their country is green and beautiful and because of their relatively strict zoning laws – and the fact that the Swiss respect those laws – its development compared to Italy seems paradisiac, rational, dare I say even sensible. In Italy? The Sardinian coastline has just been re-opened for development. Another law is being passed that will make environment impact studies optional.

   And the Swiss have foresight. While most other nations debated over the reality of global warming into this century, long ago the Swiss accepted the facts and have been working on potential ways to delay the melting of their Alpine glaciers and reduce green-house emissions. In Italy? Wind-power generators have been discouraged as being too asthetically displeasing. The Swiss may be a little cold, yes, but you don’t have to worry about their smiles hiding a nasty surprise. In Italy? That warm, friendly restaurant owner who you might think is treating you like family is actually about to ream you with a 200 euro bill that should only be 85. On balance, the Swiss are, well, easier to live with. (Except, perhaps, when they drive. What do you get when 4 Swiss drivers pause at the same stop sign? A traffic jam.) But after 6 months of Swiss food, and a coming home meal of wild sea bass flavored with capers, a little sage and rosemary, potatoes and Roman broccoli on the side and topped off by a good cassata for dessert, God bless Italy.

   The bass was caught locally and purchased at La Stradera 97, (di Scafetti Claudio) in Via della Croce, a tiny fish store but one of the best, if not the best, in the city. It’s open only in the morning and the best fish is often sold by 11 or so, so get there early. Despite its small size, they have a wide and varying assortment of seafood harvested and brought in on the same day. (How? Well, what do you call a red light in Italy? An optional.)

link – seafood and fish in Italy: