The bandwagon

Italians take a very long time to jump on the bandwagon of any fad sweeping other nations. But when they do jump — and they always do — they jump hard and all at once. It’s like there’s a memo that goes out:

Dear Italians

Take all of your savings and open an electronic gambling and bingo parlor. Do it now. It doesn’t matter if there are two or three on the same block. The demand is there. We promise.

Signed

The Bandwagon Gods

And then a few months later:

Dear Italians

Sorry about the electronic gambling and bingo parlor thing. We really thought that would take off. No matter. Now we want you to put all of those empty storefronts to good use by opening up electric cigarette stores. Do it now. This is going to be great.

Signed

The Bandwagon Gods

For years there were only a handful of Irish pubs in all of Rome. And then, overnight, there were hundreds. Rome recently discovered sushi about 30 years after the rest of the (non-Japanese) world and BAM! Now there’s a sushi bar on every street corner and you can even buy it in the supermarket (which also didn’t really exist a decade ago. Today there are four supermarkets less than five-minutes from my house).

So what makes Italians such late (but enthusiastic) adapters? (BTW, this doesn’t really seem to apply to fashion). No idea, but if I had to hazard a guess, I’d say it has to do with the economy, which has forced many people — especially young people — out of their comfort zone of caution and has made them willing to take more risks than their parents ever did. Youth unemployment is nearly 44% here so when a bandwagon shows up, everyone jumps on without thinking about the dangers of opening up an electric cigarette store when everyone else is doing the same thing at the same time. That’s how the youth do. It’s a theory. Even if I’m wrong, it’s probably about the economy. It’s always about the economy.

The reason I bring all this up is that I noticed something recently that surprised me. I used to work at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations — better known as FAO (pronounced FOW). FAO’s headquarters is in Rome, right across the street from the Circus Maximus. And, since I know you are longing for your Mussolini fact of the day, I’ll add that the HQ building was optimistically constructed by Il Duce to house his Ministry of the Colonies (in 1937 it was renamed the Ministry of Italian Africa). After WWII, the Italian government leased it to FAO for 1 lira per year. FAO employs nearly 3 700 staff, a little over half of whom are based in Rome. The international staff hail from all over the world plus there are interns and consultants and people constantly coming in for meetings. You get the picture: big melting pot.

Despite the existence of thousands of international mouths to feed, Viale Aventino (where FAO is located) has always been wanting in the restaurant department. The restaurants range from good (Taverna Cestia, a classic Trattoria Romana. I used to live next door and I ate here every Sunday night for years.) to Meh (Da Rino) to bad (La Viletta dal 1940). And, with the exception of a halfway decent Asian place (Court Delicati), there was nothing non-Italian to be had for love nor money (a condition that was mostly true for all of Rome until relatively recently). Not anymore.

Sorry this is so boring. It's August and al of the restaurants were closed!

Sorry this is such a boring photo. It’s vacation time and all of the restaurants were closed when I was nosing around. The restaurant is good though.

Over the past couple of years, in rapid succession, Viale Aventino has seen the opening of a greek diner, a French eatery, a burger joint, a Japanese place, a Mexican restaurant (which quickly closed and is set to reopen soon as something else. I’m hoping Thai), a couple of high-end sandwich joints, a cute Italian bistro with a tasting menu, a fancy gelateria (celery ice cream, anyone?) and probably some other stuff that I’m forgetting about. I’ve tried the gelateria (two thumbs up), the Greek (very good) and the Japanese (excellent sushi and I am still dreaming about the spicy eggplant). I’ll let you know about the rest in due course. Sorry I have no photos of food. Here’s a dog instead. IMG_0725

I think I have written about this before but while I’m in the neighborhood… On 10 September 1943, two days after Italy surrendered to the Allies, partisans and Italian soldiers tried to stop the Germans from entering the city at Porta San Paolo, just down the street from FAO. There were 570 casualties. You can still see bullet marks on the facades of some of the buildings (including the place where I used to live). There’s a nice little park dedicated to the Italians who died that day. I used to take my dog there for walks and always parked my car just outside the entrance. Once I came home from a business trip to find that a homeless man had taken up residence in my Volvo. He had broken the window to get in. There was a bag of bread rolls and his clothes were neatly folded on the back seat. Fortunately he was not at home when I stopped by. I never parked there again.

Porta San Paolo, where Italian soldiers and citizens fought to keep the Germans out of Rome.

Porta San Paolo, where Italian soldiers and citizens fought to keep the Germans out of Rome.

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#augustinrome/Il Giardino

It’s August and no one is around. Well, not no one. I imagine (although I keep a healthy distance at this time of year) that central Rome is currently teeming with tourists and the folks that feed, water, lodge and tour guide them. But out here in the ‘burbs, it’s very quiet. Which I like very much. And because it’s been a weird summer, with tons of rain and not so much beastly heat (although that’s in turnaround at the moment), the park across the street is lovely and green. Villa Pamphili  in August normally resembles Oklahoma in the era of the Joad family. This year there is usually a cool breeze of an evening and not many people in the park so I’ve been enjoying hanging out there with the Morgster and a book (or if I am being totally honest, QuizUp).

Villa Pamphili on the evening of the 'super moon.'

Villa Pamphili on the evening of the ‘super moon.’

August in Rome can be really quite pleasant. Unless you have something to do. Which I did one day last week. Three somethings, to be exact. I had to make photocopies of some papers. I had to mail them to my landlord. And I had to pay a bill. None of that sounds very difficult or complicated. But we’re in Rome, where even the simplest of errands takes half a day. And it’s August. Much is closed. It used to be worse. When I first came to Italy, shops and restaurants tended to close down for the entire month of August. They take turns now and, by law, there has to be at least one restaurant, pharmacy and food shop open in every neighborhood at all times. And now there are big supermarkets all over the city and they pretty much stay open all summer. Back in the day there were only a couple of these and they were mostly outside of Rome so when your neighborhood mom and pop store closed down in August, unless you had a car, times could be very lean indeed.

First I went to the photocopy store. My printer/photocopier is broken and the repair shop is closed. The photocopy shop was also closed. So I kept walking down the big road near my house, hoping that I would eventually come across an open photocopy shop. Which I did, right next to the post office. How convenient! I did my photocopying business and moved on to the next order of business — mailing the documents and paying my bill, both of which could be accomplished at the conveniently located post office next door. Which had closed at 12:30. It was 12:32.  The sign on the door informed me that the nearest open post office was on Via Ozanam, about a 30 minute walk from my current location. Did I mention that it was 8000 degrees in the shade? And that’s what it’s like to get things done in August in Rome.IMG_0811

To fortify myself for the long journey ahead, I stopped into a restaurant that I had been very curious to try. Il Giardino is unprepossessing and even dingy from the outside (also from the inside), but I’d heard good things and it was always crowded when I walked by. Also, it was open at lunchtime, which is somewhat of a rarity around here. The place was packed with locals. I had pinzimonio and a veal chop. Pinzimonio is an antipasto dish featuring cut up fresh vegetables (in this case, carrots, celery and fennel) with a dipping sauce of olive oil, salt and fresh black pepper. So good. The veal was perfectly cooked and served with a wedge of lemon. Really simple, no pretense. I do like the fact that Italian chefs are increasingly playful and creative. But sometimes it’s nice to just go the unadorned route. Il Giardino is a family restaurant with an extensive fish and meat menu. Pizza is served a lunchtime — another rarity. The antipasto buffet includes homemade cheese.  Check it out if you are in the nabe.IMG_0809IMG_0810

Il Giardino. Via Circonvallazione Gianicolense, 119, 152 Roma, Italy
Tel: 06 535951

Vitello tonnato and a life-changing mayonnaise hack

A few weeks back I got a craving for vitello tonnato. A Piemonte dish that probably dates to the 19th Century, it consists of cold, thinly sliced veal slathered with a tuna-flavoured mayonnaise. I know. It sounds weird but it is incredibly delicious: a combination of textures and tastes that is perfect for the hot summer months. Pellegrino Artusi — Italy’s most influential cookbook writer (he lived from 1820-1911) included a recipe for vitello tonnato in his masterwork, La scienza in cucina e l’arte di mangiare bene (The science of cooking and the art of eating well). Artusi’s recipe did not feature mayonnaise, which I wish I’d known sooner, but we’ll get to that.

Pellegrino Artusi with some mighty impressive mutton chops (cue food joke)

Pellegrino Artusi with some mighty impressive mutton chops (cue food joke)

Artusi included recipes from all of Italy’s regions in his book. It was only 20 years after the unification of Italy and he’s often credited with using food to forge a sort of national identity (as well as with giving the hegemony of French cuisine a run for its money). Pellegrino was born to a well-off family in Forlimpopoli, in the region of Romagna. In 1851, 40 years before the publication of the cookbook, a brigand named Stefano Bonelli (better known by his nickname, ‘The Ferryman’ after his father’s profession) and his bandits took hostage the Verdi Theatre, where a bunch of richies were enjoying a performance of the dramatic oratorio, The Death of Sisara. Thanks to the help of his spies (In some circles, he was seen as a sort of Robin Hood who was sticking it to the man), The Ferryman knew the identity of Forlimpopoli’s fattest cats. His men escorted them home, beat them up and robbed them blind.

The bandits also did a home invasion at the casa di Artusi (who seem to have not been at the theatre). Pellegrino was pistol-whipped; his mother was knocked down; one of his sisters was stabbed; another was brutally gang-raped (the father had fainted with shock when the bandits showed up, thus saving himself the indignity of a beating). The family fled to Florence the next day. The sister who had been raped went mad and spent the rest of her life in an asylum. Isn’t that horrible? Anyway, Artusi’s cookbook is delightful and if you care about Italian food, you should have a look.

Il Passatore: The Ferryman

Il Passatore: The Ferryman

Vitello tonnato is one of those traditional dishes that you used to see on menus all the time and now hardly ever do. If I wanted to appease my craving, I was going to have to make it myself. The problem is that this involved a multi-stage and somewhat fiddly process and I am an accomplished but extremely lazy cook. There are a many different ways to make vitello tonnato but the one I used involved browning and then braising the veal; letting it rest overnight; and composing an elaborate mayonnaise made from tuna, capers, anchovies and other yummy things. Ah. Mayonnaise. I had forgotten about that part.

I have tried (and mostly failed) to make mayonnaise on several occasions in the past. I love homemade mayo but I just have never had the knack. I was determined to do the vitello tonnato thing though so I forged ahead, guns a’blazing. Gigantic fail. Gigantic. Before starting, I consulted about a million mayonnaise recipes, each of which was, of course, different. They differed in the order in which to add the ingredients, in whether to use the egg white as well as the yolk and in which beating implement to use. They all agreed that the eggs should be at room temperature and that the oil should go in drop by drop until emulsification was achieved. Or not.

I had the opportunity to use each of the suggested beating implements (blender, food processor, mixer, whisk) and all the ingredients in every possible configuration because I MADE FIVE ATTEMPTS before I (sort-of) got it right. FIVE! What on Earth was I doing wrong? How do the Frenchies do it? The hardest bit is the drop by drop part but I managed to master that with the help of a drinking straw (patent pending).

Okay, well that sorry incident finally passed and, in the end, resulted in a very nice vitello tonnato. By then, my stubborn gene had kicked in and I knew that would not rest until I was able to make perfect mayonnaise. Mayo had become my labours of Hercules, my search for Moby Dick, my cutting down the mightiest tree in the forest with a herring, so to speak. And then I found this at The Healthy Foodie. It’s simple; it’s foolproof; no need for room temperature eggs; no need for any beating implement but the minipimer (meeniepeemerrr) a.k.a. the only kitchen tool you will ever really need; and it takes about 30 seconds. Thank you Healthy Foodie, for changing my life!

Perfect!

Perfect!

 

Cinecittà!

People sometimes think that because Rome was declared an open city during World War II it was safe from attacks. That is very far from the truth. First of all, the open city status didn’t come off until an awful lot of damage had already been inflicted. After Mussolini’s downfall, the government that replaced him — led by the craven Pietro Badoglio — announced that Rome was a demilitarized zone, hoping to safeguard all of its precious treasures. The Allies didn’t necessarily agree and continued to lob bombs at the city until mid-August 1943 when they agreed to lighten up (probably because they were already in surrender talks with the Italian government). Bombs continued to fall from time to time even after the open city declaration was confirmed (including on the Vatican, twice, although Germany was responsible for one of those). All told, the Allies dropped 60 000 bombs on Rome during World War II. 

On September 3, Badoglio surrendered to the Allies, who had already landed on the toe of Italy’s boot and, sensing that Hitler would not be pleased by this development (he was not, although he had been expecting it), he buggered off (at dawn) to Brindisi with his buddy King Victor Emmanuel III. Hitler promptly took control of most of Italy, including Rome, disarmed tens of thousands of Italian troops (so the Germans wouldn’t have to fight them), busted Mussolini out of jail and set him up in a puppet regime known as the Repubblica di Salò on Lake Garda, near Brescia.

The head of Venusia from Fellini's film Casanova greets you at the entrance to Cinecitta.

The head of Venusia from Fellini’s film Casanova greets you at the entrance to Cinecitta’.

You might wonder what any of this has to do with the largest film studio in Europe. I’ll be getting to that. But first let’s talk some more about Mussolini. It is no secret that he was massively vainglorious and blustery and that he loved to hear himself speak. So naturally, he went into the movies. In 1937, Il Duce inaugurated Cinecittà, handing the reins to Luigi Freddi, who had previously been the vice secretary of Fasci Italiani all’Estero, an organization that sought to convert expatriate Italians to fascism. So, lots of film experience there. Not.  But experience probably mattered less to Mussolini than Freddi’s fascist loyalty since a major purpose (but not the only one — he also wanted to boost Italy’s feature film industry) of Cinecittà was to roll out propaganda films disguised as cinema. For example, Scipione l’africano wasn’t actually about Scipio’s defeat of Hannibal at the Battle of Zama in 202 B.C.E. It was about the Italian military victory in Ethiopia in 1936. Meanwhile, the Istituto Luce was producing hundreds of newsreels a year showing Mussolini striding around in the snow bare-chested or fulminating from his office balcony in Piazza Venezia. Starting in 1926, every one of Italy’s 2 500 movie theatres was obligated to show one Luce newsreel a week. In 1929, an estimated 13 million viewers attended 1.2 million screenings. That’s some pretty powerful propaganda right there. BTW, Google has put 30 000 of the Luce newsreels on YouTube. They are pretty entertaining. 

Doesn't everyone go sledding with no shirt on?

Doesn’t everyone go sledding without a shirt?

In the summer of 1943, Allied bombs hit Cinecittà, destroying three of the studios. Yes, that’s what that long meandering introduction about the open city was leading up to.  Italy’s movie studios were bombed. Kinda anticlimactic, but the open city stuff is interesting I think.

Looters and the Germans did even more damage than the bombs. According to film historian Mario Verdone, “In the days that followed (the armistice), Cinecittà was ruthlessly sacked for its technical apparatus. The anonymous  looters even made off with the faucets in the bathrooms, while the Germans confiscated all the film equipment and carted it off to Germany.”

Starting in 1943 and until 1947, the Cinecittà opened its doors to about 3 000 war refugees, both Italians as well as displaced people from colonized Libya and Dalmatia. There was also an international camp, where the refugees ranged from Yugoslavia, Poland, Egypt, Iran and China. When the studios reopened after the war, the refugees sometimes worked as movie extras, receiving a token payment for their trouble. 

Neorealism and the Hollywood on the Tiber phases of Cinecittà’s existence are worthy of their own blog posts so consider this to be part one. The reason that I am writing about Cinecittà in the first place (apart from my WW2 in Italy obsession) is that I visited the place not too long ago and it was fun and interesting. You should go if you have the chance. There are two exhibitions, one permanent and one ‘current,’ which I suppose means temporary. The permanent exhibit tells the story of the building of Cinecittà and its history. Here are some fun facts to know and tell: Cinecittà consists of 73 buildings spread over 59 hectares. It was built by 1 500 workers in 475 days. It has produced over 4 000 films since 1937.

Another room is dedicated to Federico Fellini and contains photos, drawings, costumes and footage of the Maestro. The temporary exhibit, ‘Backstage,’ is all about filmaking’s main elements: direction, screenplay, sound, costume and fiction. The best was the costume room, which had touch screen tables to let you dress up virtual actors in costumes from famous movies. Paper dolls for the digital age!

The best part is the outdoor sets: Broadway (created for Gangs of New York) and Ancient Rome (created for the TV series, Rome).  There is also Florence in 1400 (created for the Italian miniseries, Francesco) but we couldn’t get in there for some reason. The sets are frequently adapted for reuse. The day we were there they were ‘directing’ a ‘movie’ set in Ancient Rome using some of the visitors as extras. Here’s Julius Caesar following his unfortunate incident in the Curia of Pompey.

Et tu, Brute?

Et tu, Brute?

I don’t even know what this is. Storm Troopers in Ancient Rome?  Anyway, the kids loved it. DSCN0127

Some sort of religious ceremony involving Vestal Virgins.

Some sort of religious ceremony involving Vestal Virgins.

Ancient Roman scenery.

Ancient Roman scenery.

The Great White Way, Roma-style.

The Great White Way, circa 1860.

Cinecittà has a nice bar and restaurant and a very acceptable book shop. If you are in Rome, you could do worse than to pay the studio a visit on a sunny afternoon.

Cinecittà, Via Tuscolana 1055

BOX OFFICE – open Monday through Sunday 09.30 to 19.00
EXHIBITION – open Monday through Sunday 09.30 to 20.00

GUIDED VISITS:

10.00 (In Italian)
11.30 (in Italian and English)
13.00 (in Italian)
16.00 (in Italian and English)
17.30 (in Italian)
19.00 (in Italian)

Closed on Tuesdays

 

Celebrating the 4th of July at Villa Taverna

The Upstairs Vegetarian is a VIJ (very important journalist) and people are always inviting her to shindigs in the hope that she will write about them in her fancy newspaper. Sometimes I get to tag along as her plus one so that works out well for me. Last week, it was the 4th of July cookout at the residence of the American ambassador (which actually took place on the 3rd, but whatever). Before I get started, here are some things you might like to know about  the residence. Villa Taverna dates back to the 15th Century  although there has been stuff going on on the property much longer than that, e.g. it was owned by a monastery in the 10th Century, one pope gave it to the Jesuit German-Hungarian College in the 16th Century and another took it back in the 18th when Europe was busily suppressing the Jesuits. The German-Hungarian College is now located very near the US Embassy so that’s an interesting coincidence. The property served as a papal seminary college for awhile until it was purchased by a Milanese aristocrat in 1920. The American Embassy started renting the villa in 1933, handing it back during the war when it served as a convalescent facility for Italian soldiers. The US bought the villa in 1948. You can read more about Villa Taverna here.

A view of Villa Tavern's lovely garden

A view of Villa Tavern’s lovely garden

Now, as I said, the UV is a VIJ but there are lots of very important people in Rome apparently and when we got to the villa we were confronted with a queue that was about three blocks long. Apparently 3 000 people are invited to this party and we were about 2 8ooth in line. But the queue moved quickly and it was very entertaining to see all the Italian women teetering down the sidewalk in their very tight dresses and very high heels (it was even funnier to see them negotiate the pebble walks and grass lawns inside the villa). My favorite was a lady in her mid-sixties with pale orange hair, gigantic lips and heels so high that she must have used a stepladder to climb into them. She was concentrating incredibly hard on not falling down (which you could tell from the panic in her eyes; she couldn’t move her face due to all of the Botox). Honestly, her hair was orange — like the guy who shot all those people in the movie theatre two years ago. Remember that? That was awful.

Villa Taverna is a beautiful spot with statues, fountains and sarcophagi all over the place. There were also — more to the point — about 15 tables groaning with grub. The food was a nice combination of American and Italian styles. There was fried chicken, hamburgers and hot dogs of course (and freedom fries courtesy of McDonalds) but also pasta salads and porchetta. And about a million other things as well. For dessert there were brownies and cupcakes arranged to resemble an American flag. And there was Haagen Dazs. And popcorn.

Lining up for hamburgers

Lining up for hamburgers

The band played tunes from the Great American Songbook.

The band played tunes from the Great American Songbook — my favourite music.

Partying with 3 000 of my closest friends. The ambassador is in there somewhere too.

Partying with 3 000 of my closest friends. The ambassador is in there somewhere too.

Living room furniture on the lawn is the height of luxury. or so it seems to me.

Living room furniture on the lawn is the height of luxury. Or so it seems to me.

Now here's an interesting cultural difference. The Americans took one each of these little sugared almond bouquet things. The Italians took at least three!

Now here’s an interesting cultural observation, which I will make without further comment. The Americans took one each of these little sugared almond bouquet things. The Italians took at least three!

I thought this was cute.

As American as apple pie (and baseball)

Reunions/Angelina

The other night I went to Angelina for dinner. But before I get to that, just let me tangent for half a mo. Earlier this month I was back in the USA checking out the old folks and going to my college reunion. I went to Princeton (b***h) and our reunions are supposedly the best attended in the world. About a third of my class of 1100 came back this year and, overall, the 4-day event welcomes about 20 000 alumni family and friends each year (most people come back every fifth year). For the first 20 years, alums wear costumes and it is good fun to see the campus crawling with people dressed as Roman senators, firemen, hula dancers, astronauts and pretty much anything else you can imagine. From the 25th reunion on, apparently having reached an age where greater gravitas is warranted, we ‘graduate’ to blazers, which themselves tend to be wacky and emblazoned with tigers, ivy and other silly things. Donald Rumsfeld and his class, back for their 50th this year, wore kimonos and those conical hats you see in every photo of an Asian rice paddy.  The costumes seemed somewhat racist but at least he didn’t shoot anybody in the face. The high point of reunions is the P-rade where the alums traipse around campus accompanied by marching bands (and this year, the Mummers! ). The theme of my reunion btw was the World Cup, which I didn’t really appreciate until several half-naked Brazilian dancers jumped the queue to lead us in the march. The Old Guard usually ride in golf carts during the P-rade (the oldest alumnus to return this year was from the class of 1935, making him 100 years old by my count). The P-rade is usually accompanied by many locomotive cheers (so-called because they sound like train engines), which is when classes greet each other by shouting Hip! Hip! Rah! Rah! Rah! Tiger! Tiger! Tiger! Sis! Sis! Sis! Boom! Boom! Boom! Bah! Insert class number here, as in: Oh-Eight! Oh-Eight! Oh-Eight! Rah!!! Here are some photos:

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Roommate selfie!

The P-rade, Class of '47

The P-rade, Class of ’47

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Annie, a college roommate, marches in the P-rade with her dad’s class.

Random Brazilian dancer bacause, apparently, my class is all about the World Cup. I think next time we need some women on the costume committee.

Random Brazilian dancer because, apparently, my class is all about the World Cup. I think next time we need some women on the costume committee.

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Me and some roomies in Prospect Gardens at Princeton.

Reunions — despite the silly jackets — was great fun, especially because it gave me the opportunity to catch up with many old friends and roommates, one of whom (Amelia, not pictured) inspired this tangent by turning up in Rome this week and that’s how I ended up dining at Angelina. The restaurant is in Testaccio, formerly a very traditional working class neighborhood but these days very up and coming and full of interesting restaurants and night spots. It’s just down the street from the Mattatoio (once Rome’s slaughterhouse and now home to museums, music schools, bars and all sorts) and across from the hideous new farmers’ market, which looks like an underground parking garage.

Scary street art across from the restaurant.

Scary street art across from the ugly new farmers’ market.

Formerly a warehouse where animals and animal products were bought and sold, Angelina has several dining rooms and a large terrace that features a happy hour from 7 pm on during the summer. Everything in the restaurant is painted white and there are some butcher-type implements — wooden benches, scales, price lists — hanging around to recall its past and give the place a homey feel.

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The main dining room features signs and price lists from when Angelina’s was a meat warehouse.

Given its history, Angelina’s is all about the meat. You can get pretty much any animal barbecued here and they even feature the inside bits that restaurants in Testaccio love so much (Known as the ‘quint quarto’ or fifth quarter, slaughterhouse workers took these bits — which included heads, tails, hearts, lungs, glands, intestines, feet, and esophagus — home as part of their pay and the neighborhood tradition of eating them stuck after the slaughterhouse closed in 1975). The Upstairs Vegetarian was somewhat nonplussed but there are lots of vegetables (and pizza) on the menu so she managed just fine. Here’s some of the things we ate: IMG_0669

Fried vegetables and stuffed zucchini flowers for a light and tasty appetizer.

Fried vegetables and stuffed zucchini flowers were a light and tasty appetizer.

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I had an amazing tagliata and some grilled Belgian endive.

I had an amazing tagliata (sliced steak) and some grilled Belgian endive (above).

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Amelia had a couple of skewers of mixed meats and her husband Tom ate lamb.

Amelia had a couple of skewers of mixed meats and her husband Tom ate lamb (above).

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The U.V. enjoyed some random vegetables and a hunk mozzarella.

The U.V. enjoyed some random vegetables and a hunk o’ mozzarella.

We were too full for dessert but I have partaken on a previous occasion and Angelina’s tiramisu in a jar is highly recommended. Why does everything come in a jar these days?

Tiramisu in a jar.

Tiramisu in a jar.

Here's a feature from the cute tablecloth, which probably harks back to the butcher days of yore.

Here’s a feature from the cute tablecloth, which harks back to the butcher days of yore.

Angelina, Via Galvani, 24/a – Rome. Tel:  06 5728 3840

 

Street food!

I have been to two Roman street food fairs in as many months and here’s the thing: Italians don’t really get it. In the US, street food, as provided by food trucks, hies back to ye olde cowboy days. Chuck Goodnight, a Texas rancher and yes, that is his real name, introduced the chuckwagon in the 1860s. He fitted out an old army surplus wagon and went on cattle drives, where he served things like beans, salted meats and coffee. ‘Chuck,’ we learn from Wikipedia, is a slang term for food and not the nickname for the wagon’s inventor. There are still some places out west that feature chuckwagon cookoffs and some rodeos have chuck wagon races and blah blah who cares.

This is described as a "humourous western painting" by beloved cowboy artist Charles Marion Russell. I don't really see the humour in a bronco stomping on my eggs and bacon although a cowboy called Marion? Hilarious. That's a chuckwagon in the background.

This is described as a “humourous western painting” by beloved cowboy artist Charles Marion Russell. I don’t really see the humour in a bronco stomping on my breakfast, although a cowboy called Marion? Hilarious. That was also John Wayne’s real name, no? Hmm, perhaps I should not be so quick to scoff. That’s a chuckwagon in the background.

Most big US cities — at least the ones I know well — have long had hot dog trucks (otherwise known as ‘roach coaches’) parked on major thoroughfares or near construction sites where busy office workers or labourers can pick up wieners that have been sitting in a scary witches brew for hours on end. The wieners are — of course — delicious but inevitably and almost immediately to be regretted. My meditation on hot dog carts, btw, spun me off on an Ignatius J. Reilly tangent and recalled a favorite quote from A Confederacy of Dunces: I am at the moment writing a lengthy indictment against our century. When my brain begins to reel from my literary labors, I make an occasional cheese dip. 

In the past decade or so, food trucks have become gourmet-minded. Apparently this was prompted as much by a slow economy as by the rise of hipster foodies. Fewer construction projects and the closure of high-end restaurants meant unemployed food trucks and out of work chefs. Two plus two equals fancy food to go. The new generation of food trucks features everything from gourmet burgers to Japanese noodles to cupcakes to lobster rolls. Lil Dan’s Food Truck in my hometown of Philly has this on its menu: an Oreo-crusted Chicken Sandwich, which is breaded with vanilla Oreo crumbs, then topped with lettuce, tomato and a spicy sauce. So yay, no need to dress up and sit at a table and be ignored by grumpy wanna be something else waiters in order to eat pretentious silly food. Remember the sitting at a table concept because I think one of the points of street food is that you don’t need to do that, a point we will come back to anon. Street trucks are Zagat-rated and trackable through Twitter and Facebook. More and more, they are growing controversial as restaurants complain about stolen business and local officials worry about health code violations.

Okay, as noted I have been to a couple of street food fairs in Rome of late. Neither of them took place on the street. The first — which I wrote about here — was held at Eataly, the city’s foremost food court. The second, known as ‘This is Food’, took place at the Officine Farneto, a sort of events location near the Stadio dei Marmi (formerly the Foro Mussolini, the stadium was used to train Il Duce’s Blackshirts and later was the scene for hockey matches in the 1960 Olympics. More on this interesting story another time). Essentially, both events gave space to local restaurants to show off some of their signature dishes, few of which could be considered street food, unless you consider a bowl of delicate gazpacho or rice salad to be boulevard-friendly. Fortunately, in both cases we were provided with some nice seating.

And by the way, it has been illegal to eat  food on the streets of Rome — at least in areas that have a particular historic or architectural value, i.e. everywhere — for nearly two years. Fines can run up to Euros 500, although to be honest the law seems to have been pretty much forgotten as soon as it hit the books. Here’s what the Upstairs Vegetarian had to say about it at the time; this story features one of my favourite NYT quotes ever: “Stefano, look! There’s another eater.”

All this by way of saying that while the Romans have dutifully adopted the upscale street food craze, they neither sell upscale food on the street nor are they even allowed by law to eat there (In fairness, you can find a plethora of trucks along the river selling food items akin to Ignatius J’s Paradise hot dog carts of yore). I am sure that there are other Roman examples of this sort of magical thinking but in the meantime, here are some photos from the ‘This is Food’ event.

Fried meatball in green sauce.

Fried meatball in green sauce. Morgan got most of this.

Street-friendly gazpacho.

Street-friendly gazpacho? I think not.

Bagel with salmon and cream cheese. Warning to those expecting an H&H experience in Rome: Italian bagels tend to take the form of round bread with a hole in it, maybe some sesame seeds.

The U.V. displays her bagel with salmon and cream cheese. Warning to those expecting an H&H experience in Rome: Italian bagels tend to take the form of round bread with a hole in it, maybe some sesame seeds.

Hamburger with caramelized onions and cheddar cheese.

Hamburger with caramelized onions and cheddar cheese.

Rice salad with all sorts of stuff in it for vegetarians.

Rice salad with all sorts of stuff in it for vegetarians.

Cannoli-favoured gelato with custard and candied fruit.

Cannoli-flavoured gelato with custard and candied fruit.