In my book, food generally leads to forgiveness. So it’s nigh on impossible to stay angry with a country that serves exquisite dishes of ecstasy. Funnily enough, the things that eventually turned me towards Italy were the basics.
As soon as people found out I was English I had tea thrust at me from every angle, but “English” breakfast tea in Italy somehow tasted of fish, meaning I had to expand my horizons. I had noticed my roommate using what looked like an iron-clad Trojan horse hoof on the stove every morning; she informed me it was for making coffee and would I like some. The one I sipped was Nicaraguan, and I hate to sound like a pretentious advert, but it was like the smell of fresh rain on dark soil with a sweet whisper of nut. (Insert jingle here.) The only problem was that my roommate, and any other Italians I met, swigged it in about five seconds before stampeding off to work rather than sitting and ruminating over the rising steam from the cup. This meant I was almost left behind during nights out as I was intent on finishing it “properly”.
Some nights I tagged along with English course mates after we discovered the wonderful and ingenious aperitivo. I’m sure the price has been hitched up, but at the time you could go to almost any bar in Turin and pay 5 euros for a drink and unlimited buffet. Rather than curling and quartered sandwiches, this buffet had olive pasta, lasagna, salads and cake. Also, I think alcohol tastes like boot cleaner, but the Piña Coladas were fruity and creamy with no hint of chemical burn. Incidentally, apologies if I’ve trapped that godawful song in your head.
Speaking of fruit, another type of drink came to my rescue. Thanks to my living in Piazza Rivoli, at the time the most polluted piazza in Turin, dust-hedgehogs formed under the bed within hours and both my roommate and I developed chesty colds. The only real and delicious remedy was to juice down an entire crate of thick, tart, sweet Sicilian blood oranges to cut through the gunge.
Since this place had made me ill and hadn’t given me the best welcome, Turin was still in my bad books, and it tried its hardest to impress me with its yearly chocolate festival, CioccolaTò.
Marquees were set up in Piazza Vittorio Veneto, there was a band, and an entire tent dedicated to Lindt. I braved the 95% cocoa version, receiving a mouthful of dark, smoky gravel which wasn’t particularly sweet but removed any further desire for chocolate or coffee for the rest of the day. Hot melted chocolate flowed freely too, although most cafés in Turin sold this gorgeous molten decadence.
But what about the food itself? The pirouetted pizza and curled pasta were divine of course, until you have them twice a day for a solid month and your stomach decides it’s carrying a second passenger. Something else was required on the menu, and this ranged from making my own aubergine dish with parmesan, vegetables and pasta sauce,
to visiting both a vegan restaurant and a Hare Krishna restaurant.
Unsurprisingly, a vegan restaurant in Turin wasn’t going to last long and I’ve since heard it’s shut down, but I was amazed at the array of dishes – mushroom bakes, some kind of soy steak and a chocolate pudding – and somewhat less amazed by the sneaky undertaste of soy bean. As for the Hare Krishna restaurant in Milan, everything was served in small silver bowls arranged on a board like an artist’s pallet, and you could well have used these vegetarian, mousse-like concoctions to paint the tastiest artwork ever created.
Eating healthily didn’t last long though. One afternoon out of sheer desperation I stooped to buying a McDonald’s, because nowhere else served hot food between 2pm and 7pm in Turin. I haven’t had one since, but it’s another shameful food mishap to join the Venice vending machine.
A similar sense of shame must have been felt by the other elderly gentleman sharing my flat. Not long after his uncomplimentary feedback, he appeared outside my door babbling nervously about some fresh strawberry “millefoglie” pastries he had bought for me. He didn’t actually say sorry, and crossed the line again more than once, but I let bygones be bygones because few things taste as good as an Italian pastry with cream as bright and fresh as winter sun, strawberries that are somehow sweet and sour, and a huge dollop of peacemaking.