This guest blog is by Gaelen Taylor who I have known since he was 8 years old when I became his Big Brother. Fast-forward to January 2016 at age 28, he decided to quit his engineering job with Imperial Oil in Edmonton to pursue his keen interest in composing electronic music in Berlin. Since then, he has been publishing regular blogs about his experience. When I received this blog about his Italian family lunch experience (10 courses and 4.5 hours), I thought it would be fun read for Everyday Tourist readers. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Pescara, Italy: One Damn Good Day!
About a month ago, I rolled the dice of fate and booked a vacation with Diego, an Italian classmate in my German class.
I really didn’t know Diego that well, but decided nothing would be better than to be accompanied by an Italian in Italy - to experience Italy like an Italian. (Especially since I’d experienced his culinary talents when he made handmade pasta for my visiting father and me at a restaurant he is part of in Berlin.) And since Diego, his partner Roberta, and child Amelie were going back to see both of their families (they both come from a small coastal city on the west coast of Italy called Pescara), it just seemed right to take the opportunity.
I slept about an hour the night before the flight to Rome. The night before that I also had very few quality hours of sleep after the SIN festival (Gaelen has formed a collective of techno-musicians in Berlin called SIN aka Strength In Numbers). After incurring what felt like debilitating neck injuries uncomfortable plane seats (not helped by nonstop kicks from the Italian kid beside me who seemed to think he had both seats), we landed. I woke to enormous applause. I thought this was a bit strange, but maybe everyone claps when the pilot lands the plane on domestic flights in Europe.
But as I looked around, everyone was so excited - like children going to Disneyland - which I had not seen anywhere else on my European travels. The reason, I concluded, was they were all “home” - and for these Italians, this was the highlight of their year as home was something very special to them.
As we rushed from the plane towards the bus (Pescara is a 3-hour bus ride from Rome), my legs felt like jelly as my body started to complain about the effects of sleeplessness.
Once on the air-conditioned bus, I fell asleep instantly, only to be awoken by stabbing neck pains (why do I always forget those neck cushions?). As I tried not to move my neck too fast in fear of being paralyzed, I tilted my head to the window and one of the most scenic images filled my view. We were in the mountains now and I could see a plain of small villages below, with other villages literally built right into the rock face - like a bunch of mountain goats eating grass on an impossibly steep rock face.
I smiled and closed my eyes. I had no idea what I was getting into - and that for me, is exciting.
We exited the bus in the scorching 35 degree C heat. I suddenly heard loud intense screams and cries. It sounded like someone had just been shot. My glance scans around for danger - and then I see it - grown men running to their mothers screaming MAMAAAAAA! Cars start pulling over with people getting out and running to embrace each other. Did we just come back from war?
Roberta’s father comes eliciting similar embraces. There is no room in the car for four travelers and our bags so Roberta and Amelie get into the car while Diego and I walk to the house just 600 meters away. We had to hurry though – Italian lunch (and one of the most incredible eating experiences of my life) was waiting.
Diego, also a victim of sleep deprivation (though his was mostly due to excitement) was filled with adrenaline and smiles as we rushed down the scenic Pescara alleyways to the house. We arrive and met his father - a non-stop Italian prankster in his 70s who looks and moves like he is in his 60s. After we settle in, people start showing up, each time involved screaming, yelling, clapping, kissing and embracing - continually surprising me from the previous moments of reasonable volumes of talking.
After seemingly nonstop, celebrity-style arrivals, the first plates of food arrived. A humble bottle of red and rose wine sit on the table - something which I later learned you can never empty - Italian households have an infinite stock despite the modest appearance of two bottles.
The 4.5 Hour Lunch
Now what I am about to describe is surely the top - or close to top-eating experiences of my life. Partly because of how delicious it was, partly because of the atmosphere and people, and most definitely because of the sheer surprise of how the lunch unfolded. You will ask as you read - how could we have possibly digested that much? Well, we ate for 4.5 hours. And no exaggeration- 4.5 hours of nonstop Italian food. So loosen up your belt.
First course: Appetizers
- Fresh tomatoes from Diego’s father’s garden, which taste unlike any tomato I have ever had.
- Fresh salsiccia (like homemade Italian peperoni-type-deliciousness)
Second course: Pasta
- Hand made fettuccine in fresh hand made tomato sauce
Third course: More Pasta
- Hand made (seeing a theme here?) ravioli with vegetable and ricotta filling. Un.be.lievable.
Fourth course: Fresh Cheese
- Fresh mozzarella from cow’s milk. Tastes unlike no other mozzarella I have ever had.
Fifth course: Delicious Meats
- These were the moistest, most delicious meatballs ever. I actually asked Diego what meat they were made of. Turns out just regular beef but ridiculously moist and tender. I have no idea what sorcery was involved in making them.
Sixth course: ArrosticiniAbruzzesi
- Abruzzesi is the region that Pescara is in – and arrosticini is the dish that makes grown men cry.
- Essentially, it is lamb on wooden skewers, but I can’t describe how insane this stuff tastes. It was so tender and full of taste that most often people eat these until they get sick (no lie)!
Let’s take a moment to talk about our lord and saviour, Arrosticini:
One thing to know about arrosticini is the specific way of cooking it. There are special made grills for just this purpose. Here are some photos I have collected of arrosticini grills:
Tall Tale Teller?
At this point, Diego’s father starts telling stories of how serious of an eater he is (all in Italian which required translation for me). One time he said he ate 50 oysters and later that night he needed to go to the hospital where he stayed for a week. He stands by his belief he only ate 2 or 3 too many (not maybe 40 that is likely more accurate).
Another story bubbles up regarding eating a kilogram of mushrooms. However, it ends in the same fashion (hospital). This is a new class of eating – where, at times, a hospital visit from overeating is needed.
Back to the 4.5 hour lunch
Seventh course: More Fresh Cheese
- Buffalo mozzarella, much firmer than mozzarella from cow’s milk and a bit sharper in taste. This one is my new favourite.
- Fresh made ricotta. It felt like you were eating clouds.
Eighth course: Cake from heaven
- Diego’s mother used to be a professional baker at a local cake shop.
- The cake was some form of Italian ricotta cheese cake. I can’t even begin to describe it but it was amazing.
- She made sure to tell me that it “was nothing” and that I should have seen and tasted her baking in her younger days!
- Also, I witness the first time she ever tried the cake, which is ridiculous given she’s made it for years.
Ninth course: Hand made Gelato and homegrown melon
- There were about 7 flavours. Pistachio and melon were out of this world - like way out. At this point, I am so high up on the stairway to culinary heaven; I cannot speak (also because I am so full).
Tenth course: Diego’s mother’s special coffee and “coffee killer”
- The coffee was made up of a secret combination of different kinds of coffee – really tasty and insanely strong. I have no idea how she made it - it wasn’t espresso and she could only make ONE at a time.
- Grappa, the “coffee killer” is a form of schnapps made from wine. I hear the Grappa and coffee are to help your body process all of the food you just consumed.
Walk It Off!
Oh and your wine glass is never empty throughout the course of this lunch.
At the end, they all said I was the first foreigner to eat every dish they prepared - I felt as if I had just received a medal from the Italian President.
Pretty tipsy from all the wine and so full I could barely speak without sounding like Jabba the Hut, I rolled out of my chair in ecstasy and went for a walk with Diego and his father.
During the walk, we stopped every 2 minutes to talk to people they knew. The walk was very good for the digestion – if you ever do this Italian power circuit of food, you must not sit afterwards. You must keep moving!
So tired afterwards, we went back to Roberta’s father’s house where we were staying. My head hit the pillow and I was asleep instantly.
It was one damn good day!
Gaelan’s experience reminded me of my amazing seven-course with wine pairings gastronomic experience at Restaurant Le Cinq in Paris (one of the top restaurants in the world) with renowned Calgary food and restaurant critic John Gilchrist. I was very, very lucky to be the “stand in” for John’s wife Catherine who was unable to make it. I am forever in her and his debt.