Everyone knows that although a photo shoot where you are holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa and a gondola ride passed St. Marcs Square are memorable; it is the eating agenda that surpasses all experiences in “Eataly”. Croissants for breakfast, pizza and focaccia sandwiches for lunch, and pasta for dinner- it’s a carb lovers dream (and your digestive systems nightmare). Every city we traveled through was known for something new and unique. Milan is famous for it’s Milanese. You can’t visit Cinque Terre without trying homemade pesto, fresh caught fish, and Limoncello liquor. People visit the Tuscany region and specifically Florence for Chianti red wine and the classic Florentine steak. Rome has delicious and distinctive Carbonara. Lastly, you don’t want to miss out on the cicheti (like tapas), pasta e fagoli and cuttlefish ink in Venice. We did what we could in finding the best local Italian cuisine and are proud to say we safely avoided the biggest tourist traps with the neon signs on the doors that read, “We speak English” and photos accurately illustrating the dishes on the menu. I mean, come on, who isn’t 75% familiar with most Italian dishes anyway? Especially living in America, where obesity rates are so high due to the low quality, poor tasting, processed Americanized replicas of Italian favorites. It’s obvious that Americans are familiar with pasta. We’ve had it once or twice…
So with that being said, Preggo! I am eager to take you all through the Gastronaut Girls’ Italian food journey, with hopes that you can almost taste it!
Our first day in Milan was all too familiar. During the holiday week in December/January, so many days just shut down. I’ve experienced this in Europe before and somehow I keep going back at this time of year forgetting about all of the inconveniences. There’s Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, the day after Christmas (ya know, because you’re depressed it’s all over and you have to face taking down your tree), New Years Eve, New Years Day, and the day after New Years (if you need two days to cure your hangover?). But on top of that, many museums are closed on Mondays! I’m not suggesting not going at this time of year, though! It’s festive and fun and you make do with what is open! It’s just really imperative to plan your trip accordingly, factoring in your top priorities.
After checking into our hostel (private room with bathroom ensuite… #fancy), we discovered Milan, the ghost town. We had about four hours until the fifteen minute viewing slot of The Last Supper painting by Michaelangelo and we took a risk in trying to get into an earlier slot. With no such luck, we had to kill too much time. On no sleep, this was torturous. We found a café and a gift shop across from the museum that were open and ordered coffee at each of them. Complimentary appetizer buffets are common in Milan as a pre-dinner social event when you purchase drinks. There was one at the café and it was relatively small and mediocre, if I could imagine what a standard one would be like. However, we were grateful to be able to spend hours in there nonchalantly napping on the table, and borrowing their wifi and their toilets; that the buffet of cold flat bread bites and mystery fish was just an added bonus.
After The Last Supper viewing, we built up the energy to drink a bottle of wine on our sleep away camp bunk beds as a pregame for dinner. The hotel staff recommended some “popular hangout” streets for us to find dinner, but they were empty and it was freezing. The disappointment was real. Was night one of our indulging fantasies that we’d been dreaming about for months going to be a bust? There are not many times in life where you can consume endless amounts of pasta guilt-free. All of a sudden, we saw something with lights and people inside. Could it be human life? And then they literally waved us inside! A family/friend Christmas party was about to start and we were now the guests of honor! The chef and owner, who spoke excellent English, introduced themselves and explained their menu. We couldn’t help but feel as if we were intruding on their private gathering, even though they welcomed us with open arms. Amongst the three of us, we ordered a bottle of red, a salad, a Carbonara with cool spiral pasta, and ravioli in some variation of vodka sauce. They placed a basket of warm, dense, moist bread on the table and it was divine. We requested some oil to dip the bread into and that is when we first realized the flavor depth of Italian oil. It is thicker and richer than the olive oil we are used to and it is just sensational. I would have loved to fill up my platypus bladder with it! Oh man!
When our salad and pasta dishes arrived, we were ecstatic to try them! We found it so interesting that most Italian salads came with corn (and fish but we avoided those like the plague due to the picky eaters I was traveling with). The salad, like most of them, was basic. The fresh mozzarella on the salad, however, was always spectacular. Even in the supermarket for CENTS, the mozzarella balls tasted like they were rolled specifically for us at that second. The saltiest, juiciest, most delicate mozzarella in all of the land is found in Italy, for sure. I can taste it melting on my tongue as I write these words. All of the pasta was fresh and it was such an exciting experience feeling as though we were in someone’s home kitchen and not at a public establishment.
(I guess we got pizza too.)
The next morning, we caught our train to Cinque Terre, a little area on the west coast of Italy, comprised of five small fishing villages, in search of some tranquility and exercise. Boy, did we get both. We were staying in a beautiful spacious B&B, Le Giare, in the Southern most village, Riomaggiore. The shortcut up to our apartment was 105 steps steep. SHORTCUT. And the second we checked in, we were notified in broken English that the produce market was going to close in FOUR minutes. You better believe that we flew down that crooked, cement staircase on the mountain, as if the last mozzarella ball on this Earth was on the main strip, to make sure we got to that market. There, we purchased some fruit, some wine (and by some, five bottles), and some fresh deli meat and cheese to make sandwiches. Everything from the salami and the prosciutto to the owner’s homemade pesto were “MUCH TOO GOOD FOR CHILDREN” (Matilda 1996). We sat on our porch overlooking the stacked houses on the ocean savoring every bite. That experience was truly one of the most memorable of the trip (and the fact that we contemplated blow drying the bread crumbs outside of our room because we were such ravenous gavones and felt bad leaving the mess for the braless cleaning lady to dispose of).
Later on, we found ourselves at the only restaurant that was open, La Lampara and it was great! Now that Natalie’s mom and her boyfriend were with us, we were able to taste more dishes! The five of us shared two meat pizzas, a cold seafood salad, and a citrus shrimp risotto, paired with some white wine. At this restaurant, we realized that it is common to charge a sitting fee for patrons to dine in. That basically comes out to the same American tip.
Day two in Cinque Terre was spent attempting to discover the towns of Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, and Manarola by foot. We found a stunning hiking trail on the perimeter of Manarola and we took some gorgeous pictures along the way. Our initial goal was to take a bus up to the top of Manarola and then trek down to Corniglia, but the buses were on the holiday schedule and we weren’t prepared for an advanced hike. After the scenic hike, we realized that our only option to travel amongst the towns was by the train that we arrived on. It appeared that each village was more destitute than the next, but Vernazza, ended up surprising us! Because it was the biggest sign of life we had seen since we left the airport, we made it a point to get food from each market that was opened. But do we ever really need an excuse for another snack? The following photos are all of the things that the five of us sampled in about a span of an hour: pesto pizza, rice pizza, onion flat bread, margarita pizza, prosciutto pesto sandwich, spinach pie, and gelato. And, we took some more cured meat and bread to go for later on. That gelato we enjoyed was THE best of the whole trip! They named it “Cinque Terre” and it had a sweet cream, orange base with loads of dark chocolate chunks and whole hazelnuts. And on top of that, it was the cheapest gelato we would unearth the whole excursion. Win, win!
For a mid afternoon snack (lol), we made open-faced sandwiches on our apartment balcony overlooking the main street, “Colombo”. It was totally a picturesque moment. (Yes, the photo with the eye roll emoticon caption on our Instagram.) We hung out up there for a few hours goofing around and watching the passersbys. Then all of a sudden we saw someone fall thirty feet down to the street and their blood spatter was all over the side of the building! Just kidding. Making sure you’re still awake! Rather, we walked down to the ocean and admired all of the water sports we could have done if it weren’t for winter! Next time!
Natalie and I decided we needed to try some fresh seafood one more time before leaving the coast. We took out two dishes for dinner from the same restaurant we’d dined in the night before. We tried the spaghetti and shellfish and the linguini with citrus pesto and prawns (which much to our surprise were not shrimp). That citrus pesto was literally to die for. It contained such flavor and I wished, at that moment, for a never-ending surplus of it.
The following day, we packed up our bags and weaved down the steps for the last time. We fled down Colombo Street and through the tunnel that had a questionable odor of fish or pee, to catch our southbound train to Florence. We’d heard so many positive things about the Tuscan cuisine, so we were thrilled to continue our eating fest in that region.
Since it was Natalie’s sister’s birthday, we sat down and ate a pasta lunch, opposed to getting something quick at a counter. We split a simple salad, four-cheese spaghetti, and what seemed like a sliver of lasagna. We had a running joke that we were hungrier leaving the place than we were going in. The small portions were obviously beneficial, in that it helped us to maintain our slender figures and enabled us to sample more of a variety.
We then battled exhaustion through the Accademia and Uffizi Museums. The sculpture of David and the mass amounts of art were absolutely magnificent and even more impressive when you think about how few resources the artists had back then. Those who have a love and appreciation for art would really be in awe.
We received a recommendation by a local Italian to go to the restaurant Zaza in the San Lorenzo Square for dinner. Our hotel San Lorenzo, happened to be right off of the square in which the restaurant hid in the corner of, yet we didn’t put it together until we actually found it. A few bottles of wine sure didn’t help the confusion that we already had about the location of the establishment, but we did arrive after all and it ended up being so worth it. The joint was packed with a line out the door. We smooth talked one of the hosts into seating us quickly and we scrutinized the menu to make sure we ordered the most delicious sounding options. Italians eat their dinners in multiple courses. First course is pasta, second course is meat, and third course is salad. On this particular occasion, we decided that each one of us needed pasta and meat. We chose spaghetti in truffle sauce, ravioli in truffle sauce, two lasagnas, and spaghetti pomodoro. For the meat course, most of us decided on the steak with mushroom sauce. This was, by far, my favorite meal of the entire trip! Truffle is so predominant in Italy right now and it can be found in anything. The taste is just indescribable. If you’ve never experienced the flavor of truffle, it can sort of be described as a garlicky, musky, earthy fungus. I promise it tastes better than the sounds of those adjectives. A creamy, cheesy, trufflesauce on top of freshly boiled al dente pasta is something I cold live on forever. And when my steak arrived with a warm, bright pink, bloody inside, I was just in heaven. Although it grosses many people out, I enjoy my meat alive, as I’m sure some of you readers know by now. It is so ironic that I attempted a vegetarian lifestyle three years back. Every bite of my steak was tender, buttery, and enchanting
truffles for sale ^
Firenze eats on day two consisted of smoked cheese and zucchini risotto, a marinara pizza and a bleu cheese radish gnocchi at a hole in the wall, Borgo Antico in Plaza San Spirito. Our friend who studied abroad there specifically recommended the place and the risotto! We were thoroughly impressed.
Other random snacks below…
We also enjoyed our day of uncovering hidden gems on the less touristy side of the Ponte Vecchio. We walked miles and miles popping into local shops off the beaten path down narrow side streets, and we got lost in some little neighborhood. Aside from horizontal walking, we climbed the Duomo and the bell tower, each with over 400 steps.
For dinner, we ate market food on our hotel bed and then had an unfortunate encounter with a salesman who charged a whopping seven-euro for a measly gelato scoop. We stormed up our 58 steps back to our room feeling robbed.
When in Rome, we sightsaw around the CAT SANCTUARY (the cutest place ever amongst the Roman ruins, below ground level where the shelters place rescue cats and they’re allowed to roam freely) Jewish Quarter, the Vatican, Colosseum, Forum, and Pantheon. Our walking tours, which I booked in advance, lasted hours and were very informative. We finally learned some history and became a little more knowledgeable on the country we were visiting. Technically, Vatican City is it’s own country. I was really wishing for an additional stamp in my passport when we went through security, but they didn’t offer one up. The Vatican Museum itself is many many many kilometers long and an interesting fact we learned was that if you stare at each painting for thirty seconds, it would take you six months to get through the museum in it’s entirety. Or maybe it was six years…. Either way, two hours of pushing through people to make sure we didn’t get lost and end up on a tour in a foreign language was long enough.
We also did as the Romans did and ate their Carbonara. It kind of made us nauseous knowing that the congealed yellow cream sauce wasn’t cheese, but egg yolk. The following photos are all foods we ate, but nothing else really stood out. Actually the food in the Jewish Quarter stood out as being horrible and a bad decision on our part to even eat there. Kosher food shouldn’t even be advertised as Italian. The food was salty, bland, and dare I say needed Parmesan…
Sorry if anyone was offended…
Jewish Quarter food^
Got this Mediterranean Pita too^
More pizza. I’m losing track of all of the meals we had…
Pizza with squid on it. Disappointing..
This meal wasn’t worth mentioning I guess..
THE SECOND BEST GELATO ON THE TRIP! Coconut!
After a long train ride from Rome, we arrived in Venice and checked into our B&B. We found a café that had some unique looking options at the window. I ordered a fish cicheti and a side of calamari. The cicheti tasted like blue lump crab spread on a piece of bread. The bartender said it was a local delicacy. Both were wonderful!
We spent the day wandering down the cobblestone streets and getting lost in the maze of bridges and canals. Venice had such cute souvenirs and we were on a mission to get them all! We had a brilliant idea to see if we could make fresh pasta taste like restaurant quality. Natalie’s mom and boyfriend had an apartment with a kitchen (and a busted circuit breaker). We whipped up a mozzarella appetizer, pasta with mushrooms in a cream sauce, spaghetti and clams in a seafood broth, and a salad. Natalie cooked while I performed my typical sous chef duties. Our dinner was 100% as tasty as a professionals’. Maybe we have a future as Italian chefs! We drank some wine with our dinner and prepared for the Venice nightlife. Our newly purchased Venetian masks were perfect for New Years festivities! The streets were mobbed with drunkards in full party mode and the anticipation of what to expect at midnight continued to grow. When the clock struck 12/2400, fireworks lit up the sky in St. Marcs Square. Everyone on the island had flocked there by foot and by water taxi in hopes to be a part of this common bucket list dream. It kind of reminded me of Times Square. Everyone is on top of one another like chicken jammed in a crate ready for the slaughterhouse. And they are pushing their way to the front for a better view when the main attraction is in the sky! It’s madness! After some smooching and becoming free from the craziness, we grabbed like four random croissants for dessert and climbed our fifty-seven steps back up to our catholic school bedroom setup for the rest of the night.
This was candy…^
On New Years Day in Venice, we left our room with the goal to find pasta e fagoli. We were lured into a restaurant and promised free wifi and decent fare. We ordered two soups and some more pasta, of course. Scattered throughout it were a few beans and a few noodles. It was good and hearty, just different.
That night, we made our way back by train to the place we started our journey- New Generation Urban Brera Hostel in Milan. We once again went on a journey for dinner and our walk became reminiscent of night one, except we were sober and our clothes were a little dirtier. Approaching the end of the once again, suggested “hot spot”, we found a restaurant that looked open. A JAPANESE RESTAURANT. We stood outside contemplating if we should do it and immediately came to a unanimous answer… yes! We stepped inside to a scent we hadn’t smelled in a while. We sat down and were greeted by a server who spoke no English. Embarrassed, he scurried off to find someone who spoke English. It turned out that none of the Japanese, Italian speaking employees spoke English! It was totally fascinating. We pointed to the menu items we thought we wanted and hoped for the best. We ordered Lo Mein, Fried Rice, Spicy Tuna Sushi Roll, Shrimp Tempura, and Chicken Teryaki… we think. Somehow, this may have been the best Japanese food I’ve ever had in my life! It was light and seemed healthier than Americanize Japanese food. It wasn’t oily. The rice on the sushi was fresh out of the rice cooker! It is amazing that this place was just so incredible. Although we wanted one last gelato experience, we knew it wasn’t going to happen. We went back to our hostel and got ready for our 3 am wakeup call for the airport.
We took a fifteen minute taxi to the airport (for 31 euros because the meter started when the driver received the call!!!!), and flew to Dusseldorf where our layover was delayed for five hours. You bet I didn’t even hesitate to leave the airport and see Dusseldorf. A few short bus and train rides later, we were in the city center, eating lunch. Bockwurst! Bratwurst! Currywurst! Oh my! Oh, and I insisted on trying Halve Hahn because Dusseldorf is known for it. Needless to say, THAT was disgusting. It was previously melted and then refrozen pungent cheese slabs, served with a hard roll, a chunk of butter, and a scoop of caraway seeds. I am the biggest cheese head ever and I couldn’t bear to finish that cheese, let alone the spoonful of caraway seeds. It looked like they were testing a homeopathic cure for some newfound illness. No thank you. Judge for yourself below.
A PERFECT DONUT SHOWN BELOW
Well, there you have it, the Gastronaut Girls’ Italian eating jubilee. Hopefully you’re now inspired to whip up something tasty in your kitchen or to go to the gym. Ha. If you’re looking to plan a trip over there and need additional recommendations or advice, feel free to leave a comment! We would love to hear from you! Ciao!