Maybe it's my imagination, but foods seem to taste better in Italy! To be sure, there are fewer preservatives. I don't even think they use corn syrup like we do. There's an emphasis on food being whole and healthy, and it shows.
Here's what's on my must-eat list every time I'm here.
1. Cured Meats
At home, I really don't eat much meat, but I turn into a meataholic when in Italy, at least as it relates to cured meats. I adore prosciutto and salami (the log, not the precut slices). They make a great lunch with cheese, and I also chop them up and put them in pasta, eggs, pizza...tutti!
Nothing goes better with meat than cheese! I confess, I haven't found a ton of Italian cheese that I love for snacking. Parmigiano is, of course, great grated on dishes. Above, I have some asiago that was okay for snacking.
On my last trip here this summer, I discovered the game-changing mozzarella di bufala. Oh man. I have always loved mozzarella and burrata, but buffalo mozzarella is like a cross between the two. It's served in balls (I got small balls pictured above). The center is soft and the outside slightly chewy. It's salty and has a slight tang I can't quite describe.
My friend Mario told me that they only have it in Napoli, but clearly he's just proud of the mozzarella di bufala there. I've found it throughout Calabria. A buffalo is a buffalo, right?
You knew this was going to make the list, right?
First off, I can't drink red wine in the U.S. because I get a headache and feel hung over even after one glass. Not the case in Italy (and believe me, I've tested it extensively). I can drink a lot and feel fine (I even was able to get up for 7 am yoga in Tuscany a few years ago!)
So I make up for all the time I can't drink wine back home when I'm here!
Even better, the wine is cheap and delicious. We'd pay $20 for a bottle that is $5 here.
This trip, I stumbled upon an amazing find. A small market advertised local wine for 2.50 euros (about $3). For that price, I could afford for it not to be good. Apparently saying it was "local" meant it wasn't commercially packaged! No way in hell a small-time wine maker in the U.S. could walk into a grocery store and ask them to sell his wine!
It's so good! More of a light-bodied red or dark rose. I'll go back for more!
Italians are proud of the soil and sun that goes into making produce delicious. I watched Stanley Tucci's Searching for Italy series, and when he was in Napoli (Naples) he met a farmer that grew San Marzano tomatoes. The farmer told him that was the only place they grew. Tucci was confused, since we have San Marzano tomatoes canned on the shelves of stores in the U.S.
The farmer explained that yes, they grow them elsewhere, but that was the only place the tomatoes grew like they did, benefiting from the volcanic soil from nearby Pompeii. So, yeah, they're fiercely proud and territorial of how veggies grow in their regions!
I personally love Sicilian tomatoes, but they're not really in season right now.
I couldn't resist these tangerines at the market today. Having the leaves and stems on only makes them more adorable, doesn't it?
I don't eat many blueberries at home (they're usually small and mushy) but these are the biggest and juiciest I've ever had!
5. Local Specialties
Traveling provides such a unique opportunity to try foods you couldn't have at home. I scour the grocery shelves to find something new to try.
These are Calabrian peppers, or peperone crusco. They're sweet, not hot. You can eat them as they are or chop them up and put them in pasta. I also plan to put them in oil to create chili oil.
Last time I was in Calabria, I got some 'nduja, a spicy, spreadable salami. It was great on bread and in pasta.
My advice when traveling? See what's local. Get out of your comfort zone. And share the love! A grocery store is a great place (and cheap place) to find gifts for friends and family!
Now if you'll excuse me, it's time to cook dinner!