Hungry While Roaming: Italy
Updated: Aug 11, 2022
Local food stories from around the world
Food is culture
Ever since my first trip to Europe 25 years ago, I've been obsessed with the food & drink from other countries. As this obsession grew into a passion, it also raised many questions.
Why does the food taste so good when you travel? Are you simply wrapped up in the experience? Do your taste buds adjust their expectations to each time zone? Are the ingredients and preparations simply better in some places?
With each distance traveled, eating and cooking foods from around the world, I do my best to document and share these experiences. For me, traveling and eating are closely linked to learning about the local culture. I've always enjoyed visiting the local restaurants, meeting the chefs, and then shopping in local markets. I would stuff my carry-on with as many local ingredients as possible, with the goal to re-create these dishes when I returned home.
Following my first trip to Italy in 2000, I brought back a bottle of olive oil from Luca Italy and rationed it for over two years. I would splash just a small drizzle on my pasta, close my eyes, and imagine myself at a trattoria in Tuscany. I knew the taste degraded over the months, yet I wanted to extend my Italy travel experience on my tongue for as long as possible.
One of the benefits of starting a travel podcast/blog is I now have the time to take these ingredients and enjoy them every single day. Each country we encounter offers new, unique delicious foods that remind me why we made the decision to slow travel the world.
The goal of this blog is to bring local food stories from the countries we roam.
Let's start with one of my favorite food countries in the world, Italy where we spent nearly a month eating some of the best food on the planet!
Cooking & eating in Sicily
Being in the land of delicious ingredients, I was excited to try my hand at some pasta dishes. Left we have Pasta Carbonara and right Pasta Amatriciana. Both dishes traditionally use Spaghetti or Bucatini and originate from Rome, yet I broke tradition and used fresh tubular pasta which is very common in Sicily stores, and since we were both C'ho fame! I made the sauces I was most familiar with.
In Catania, we shopped exclusively at Penny markets, which had a wide variety of local ingredients at affordable prices. The star of the show was the AMAZING 30-cent bread available at the local bakeries called Fornos, located all over Catania. This bread has a beautiful crunchy and caramel crust with an amazing air-pocket-filled fluffy interior which I enjoyed every day while in Sicily.
Eating out in Catania
One of our favorite places to dine out at in Catania was Trattoria La Pentolaccia. First up we tried the antipasto as seen in the left picture. The roasted and marinated vegetables explode with concentrated flavor. Christy and I remarked how delicious and different this was in comparison to Italian antipasti in the US. Next up was a selection of delicious plates of pasta with perfect texture, coated with just the right amount of sauce. I typically start with the most basic sauce, so I opted for the tomato basil which was tremendous, yet after sneaking a few bites from Christy's Pasta Ala Norma, coated with fluffy Ricotta Salata, I knew we would return to re-experience this pasta that truly was the star of the show.
The friendly and attentive wait staff at La Pentolaccia take care of you like family. When we were all stuffed and smiling, our waiter brought two shots of grappa, that will make you forget your hat...at least it did for me when I had to return a few minutes later to collect.
We visited La Pentolaccia three times during our two-week stay in Catania, each time ordering Pasta Ala Norma, Spaghetti Carbonara, homemade grilled sausages, and chicken with lemon. Everything was delicious, fully satisfying, and delivered with precision. FYI - they do have grilled horse steak on the menu for the adventure seekers but we both stuck with the classics.
Do yourself a favor, If you ever find yourself in Catania Sicily, don't question anything, go to La Pentolaccia, ask for Giuseppe and get ready to eat.
Hear more about this amazing meal here:
Sicily street food
In Taormina, the street food was the star of the show. One of our favorite places was called StritFud which featured the best Arancini we experienced in Sicily. We ordered two kinds, a classic filled with a meat ragu & peas, and a more unique version that was stuffed with chicken, cheese, and of course Sicilian crushed pistachios. It was a hard decision on what we liked best as both were divine. Take note of the color of the orange juice, it really does taste as good as it looks! Earlier in the day, we also sampled a roasted eggplant and tomato stuffed pie, which was unique and extremely tasty. The cost of this lunch is around 4-5 Euros and this lunch, even with 5 hours roaming, will stick with you till dinner.
With Christy at my side, we were destined to explore sweet treats as well. As she mentioned in Episode 11 we were on the hunt for flavorful granitas while in Sicily. One fantastic Strawberry Granita we tried from BAM bar in Taormina, was a refreshing way to start the day. Before we made our way back to the bus we smelled something that stopped us in our tracks. We noticed a small dimly light forno, so I peeked my head in for a look and saw these golden treats cooling on baking. I raised my hand with five fingers extended and requested a bag of warm & crunchy Pistachio cookies which were devoured in minutes. On a separate day, back in Catania, we also enjoyed a delicious cannoli from Pellegrino, which also featured the local pistachios and make a great ending to a homecooked meal.
Learn more about our Sicily side trips:
Rimini & San Marino
After two weeks in Sicily, we headed to the mainland of Italy. Christy is obsessed with visiting Micro countries across Europe, which took us to the north-central coastal town of Rimini, which is a perfect town to roam, and also in perfect proximity to the micro country of San Marino.
The grocery stores in Rimini were just as good as Catania and also provided an amazing array of fresh pasta, jars of perfect San Marzano tomatoes, freshly grated aged cheeses, olives, and crunchy sesame breadsticks. The prices seemed slightly higher compared to Sicily, yet we were still able to make an amazing pasta meal, for two for under $11, including an amazing bottle of local wine.
We love to stay at AirBNB's with kitchens since you then have the opportunity to cook with these amazing ingredients and also control your budget. Below, right is my simple classic red sauce. Simply fry some garlic and a small yellow diced onion in a generous amount of fresh olive oil with a dash of a red pepper flake. If available and allowed in your diet, fry diced pancetta in the oil for added flavor. Then, simply add half a jar of great quality crushed Mutti Tomatoes to the flavored olive oil, toss with fresh pasta with a little pasta water, and finish with freshly grated aged parmesan. Simple & Delicious- Mangia!
We had just one day in San Marino, so we needed to make this lunch count. Prior to visiting any new town, I make a habit to research and favorite 4-5 places on Google maps, that have the food I am seeking or are simply highly rated with genuine reviews. This way, if a restaurant is too far from your walking route, you can quickly adjust before your "hangry" attitude kicks in. This also gives you an opportunity to view a menu in advance and confirm if prices are within your budget. This strategy paid generously in flavor at Ritrovo Dei Lavoratori, which prepared a perfect pasta Bolognese, Gnocchi with spring vegetables, and delicious grilled pork sausage & chicken brochettes. The place was teeming with locals, and business people where no one spoke English: I knew we hit the culinary Jackpot!!
Wine filling station, Rimini Italy
Let us not forget to explore the wines experienced on this trip. The wine in Italy flows like water. It's everywhere, it tastes amazing and it is very affordable. I'm filling a bottle full of a delicious organic Sangiovese wine for 2.50 Euros at a local corner convenience store in Rimini, from the Cantine Flammetta winery. Nothing fancy, nothing overhyped, just plain simple and delicious wine on tap! Sorry no other wine pics from this trip, I suppose I was too busy drinking it!
Hope you enjoyed this first edition of Hungry While Roaming. Please share it with your friends and family on social media and I'll raise a glass in your honor on a future podcast/blog. If you have any ideas or feedback for future food countries/towns we should Roam to, drop us an email at email@example.com GRAZIE!
About the author: Eric is a blogger, podcaster & educator with a passion for food, arts, and cultures around the world. Follow Eric on Instragram@wanderingwigloo or Facebook or our Instagram page@liveletroam & liveletroam.com
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