We were offered a preview of “Girl Eats World” and compensation to create a post inspired by watching it. After watching the show and because of the nature of the request (we were not asked to post a review or influenced on what to write) we felt that this was an opportunity that was relevant to our community without compromising our values or voice.
Just before Christmas, 2003, I travelled to Europe for my first time. I was nearing my 30th birthday and excited to spend a month travelling through Italy and France. I had no idea what to expect and was ready for anything.
Anything, but the coffee.
My plane was supposed to fly to Florence but heavy fog diverted us to Milan where we were told a bus would take us to our final destination. I had started the trip by myself but met a couple of college kids that were heading to Italy to visit the same group of friends I was visiting. By the time we landed in Milan I was tired and foggy – and they were drunk. It was an auspicious start to my European initiation!
Our two different states required a mutual remedy – caffeine. We must have looked like 3 zombies staggering through the early morning light of the empty airplane terminal before finally finding a small cafe. The three of us were unprepared for the experience and had no idea how to order but the kind Gentleman behind a towering bronze espresso machine nodded in our direction and mumbled, “Americano.”
“EWWWW! It’s just an Espresso with hot water!” exclaimed one of my new bros.
In 2003 we didn’t have the coffee options we have today. “Coffee” usually meant the drip variety and “Fancy Coffee” might have included exotic varieties including Espresso, Cafe Late (yep, you said both words back then) and maybe a mocha. North America hadn’t caught on to the art of espresso or it’s many bastard children (a la the “skinny no foam half cap rapafrapamapacino”) that we have today.
I ate my way across Central Italy for several weeks. I learned several things:
- Simple ingredients make great food.
- Many Italian dishes are described by their ingredients. If you order “Pizza with Tomato” don’t expect Cheese. And that’s ok!
- Food varied tremendously from one region to another (even though many were surprisingly close to each other).
- Many Italians shop for food differently than we do. Many have very small fridges and shop for fresh ingredients daily. The market is a community gathering place and proper etiquette (at the time) required shoppers to ask vendors to choose their food for them (i.e. “I’ll have 1 cucumber) – and shop keeps saved the best ingredients for their most loyal customers.
- Restaurants are often multi-generational affairs and working in one can be a career (something we are starting to see more of here as well)
Watching the Milan episode of “Girl Eats World” brought back vivid memories of each of the above tips. It was like a time capsule – bringing me back to a trip that changed the way I eat – and the way I cook.
I’m a decent cook – like anyone with a passion for anything, I am trying to push myself to continue to learn. Being re-introduced to the simple food of Milan in the episode also reminded me that there is so much more to learn. As an example, Kamini (the host and winner of MasterChef South Africa, Season 2) enters the kitchen of a family restaurant and learns how to make risotto from a master. Contrary to her expectations – and almost every singe recipe I’ve ever read on risotto – he dumps all of the liquid into the dish at once. That single scene has sent me on a mad google hunt to learn more about the technique and I want to try it out.
TVO is doing a great job of looking at food from angles I know you will find interesting, even if you’re not from Ontario. Keeping with their mantra of “Never Stop Learning”, they’ve launched The Food Chain – a series of multiplatform content looking at what we eat, where it comes from and how it lands on our plates – all from a political, societal and economical context.
The Food Chains next Episode is Monday night at 9:00PM and is worth checking out.
Has travel changed the way you cook or eat? I’d love to hear your stories..