Buongiorno! I’ve been in Italy, biking through the hilly countryside, climbing Mount Vesuvius, standing in the spot where gladiators readied themselves for battle at the Coliseum, gazing at some of the world’s finest treasures at the Vatican, and following around tour guides who look like George Clooney (really). But most importantly: one of my dearest friends got married under the Tuscan sun, and I was able to be there. The trip was, as they say, bellissimo.
On one of my last days in Italy, as I floated in the topaz Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Capri, sipping champagne, the thought occurred to me: I’m pretty sure it’s all downhill from here.
Of course that’s not true, but these types of gloomy thoughts settle in at the end of every trip for me. I start to bargain with myself, wondering whether I can make a few lifestyle changes in order to live wherever it is I’m vacationing, imagining myself wearing white linen pants (never) and being tan (never, infinity). I start to play What if? What if I could make a living as an English-speaking winery tour guide? Could I manage a lemon grove? Are wide feet an advantage when smashing grapes? How hard is it to be a shipping magnate? Or could I just live in a cave tucked away in the Amalfi cliffs, eating seagulls and boiling saltwater? Can you drink boiled saltwater? No, I don’t think you can. But I’m so thirsty, and it’s water… now I’m dead. And I never even got the chance to learn Italian.
So I’m home in New York, vacation brain packed away. And though I loved the historical ruins, handsome tour guides, and priceless religious treasures, there’s one real standout from Italy that I know you will understand: the food. And there’s no way to say this politely, you guys. We’re doing food all wrong here. Food in Italy is vastly superior to our own.
I can’t say why for sure, but I suspect it has something to do with the food being local and therefore fresher. (Locavores might be on to something.) You can taste the difference, but also see it: vegetables are more colorful, fleshy, and aromatic. Tomatoes, not even native to Italy, are their hallmark: dozens of varieties in hues of red, yellow, and green, all juicy and flavorful. When something isn’t in season (like artichokes in June), you simply can’t get it. The freshly-made mozzarella di bufala bursts with milk. I never saw a sign for “organic” anything; no need. Italy is strongly anti-GM foods. Ingredients in dishes are simple, and each one a “real” food you can pronounce. Pastas are usually homemade in each restaurant. I never saw corn syrup listed in anything – except in the usual suspects like soda. No partially hydrogenated soybean oil, either. Meals are leisurely and long – waitstaff don’t make a constant sweep, and don’t bring the bill until you raise your finger and say, “Il conto, per favore.” Italy, probably not by coincidence, has one of the highest longevity rates in Europe and in the world.
On a hot boat ride circling Positano and Sorrento, our tour guide asked us if we wanted something to drink. I asked for a Diet Coke (or “Coke Light” as it’s labeled in Europe.) She stared at me a moment, then said, “Honey, there is no ‘diet’ anything in Italy.” Not true, of course; Diet Coke exists in Italy. But I got her point: I never saw anyone other than tourists drinking it. I got a fizzy lemon drink instead – full on with real sugar, real lemons, and real bubbles made of real air. It’s was delicious.
And despite sometimes having two gelatos a day, I came back to the U.S. and my pants were definitely looser. (And also angry with me for not taking them along.) To be fair, I exercised a lot on this vacation, and I sweated out enough water to keep Whitney Houston’s upper lip moist for all eternity in the afterlife. But still – I ate a lot, too. It’s a mystery.
While I consider myself a fairly healthy eater, I’m resolved to adopt some of the practices of Italians: lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, real ingredients that I can pronounce, and letting food inspire and excite me. Also: more wine. ITALY INSISTS.
Oh! Did one of you ask for food porn?
— I know you wanted to see only food photos, but water is important, too! You can’t just drink wine and beer! In Italy, most fountains throughout the country contain potable water. Apt for a country built on aqueducts. (The first photo above is of a still-working fountain in Pompeii.)
And now some non-food porn. So just vacation photos, I guess.
* All images c. Erin KLG and KB Photography