Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Cooking and Eating

I don't remember the first time I had carbonara. I'm sure I was very young, propped up in my high chair, pigtails in my hair, and wearing a much-needed bib. My mother probably brought it out with the grown-up dinner, cut it up, and placed it in front of me in a miniature bowl, which I probably tipped over to eat directly off my high chair while exclaiming "Yoi yoi yois!" (which my parents somehow interpreted to mean 'macaroni') in a perfect New York accent. From that moment on, carbonara, particularly with fettucine or "bowties," has been my favorite food.

After consuming carbonara for twenty years, I've become somewhat of an aficionado. There are several rules that I've devised when it comes to carbonara.
  1. Carbonara is a special meal comprised of special ingredients. These ingredients include egg, prosciutto, broth, onion, pasta, and Pecorino Romano. These ingredients are not to be tampered with.
  2. Never, ever pronounce the word 'carbonara' as it is spelled. I'm talking to you, Olive Garden. Carbonara is meant to be pronounced "ca-bon-ad-a," or something like that. I'm not that hooked on phonics.
  3. The carbonara I have grown accustomed to is a family recipe.  My mother would personally murder everyone who ate the meal if it was stolen.
  4. If you use bacon, you're doing it wrong.
That being said, I was delighted to come to Italy to try some real, Italian carbonara, for which Rome is apparently famous. First, I tried it at a little restaurant by the Colosseum where our program director took us all to eat on the first day. It looked thick and yellow. There was no soup-y aspect at all, and the pasta was rigatoni. The meat used was pancetta, which I had heard was the Italian way. When I got back to the hotel that night, I used my extra seven minutes of free internet to tell my mother that hers was still the best.

To be honest, that first experience with Italian carbonara kind of threw me off it for awhile. For the next three weeks, I didn't order it at restaurants for fear of another let-down. Then, just three nights ago, I decided to take the leap and try it again.

The plate that the waiter put in front of me was piled with spaghetti, which I accepted as a step in the right direction. It was less yellow and a bit more malleable, still sprinkled with pancetta and garnished with Pecorino Romano. I took my first bite and noted a thicker consistency than my mother's cooking. Of course I cleaned my dish (I've learned that it's quite insulting not to here in Italy), but I still felt disappointed.

I don't know if I'm ever going to find carbonara better than my mom's. Sure, I'll eat it, but it's more for the sake to say that I had it in Italy, not because I'm enjoying it so much that I never want to eat it again at home. I haven't eaten much outside of Rome, but so far, I've decided that, at least with meals, Mom makes it better. Maybe I just have a little bout of homesickness.

Or maybe I haven't ordered the right meal yet!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Sink/Let It Sway: Capri, Positano, Amalfi

(I'd like to quickly preface my next blog post by asking that you watch the above video and by saying that every time I was on a boat this weekend, I thought of the song that is also the title of this post.)

Signore e signori, I took my first legitimate inter-Italy trip this weekend. A few friends and I worked out accommodations at a friend's house in Sirignano, which is a little town near Napoli. I've been mistaken for a local in Rome before; Italians ask me for directions, speak to me entirely in Italian, and sometimes even ask if I'm Italian (I guess I'm a "maybe she is, maybe she isn't" kind of Italian). No such thing would ever happen in Sirignano. It truly is an "everybody knows everybody" type of town, and so we were met with a lot of skeptical stares. We were also met with a lot of stray dogs. One of them, which we named Carlos, followed us around the entire town both nights we were there.

My new best friend, Carlos.
After a light dinner of home-cooked Neapolitan meat, meat, and meat and a sparse night's sleep, we arose at 6 a.m. to drive to Napoli to get on a ferry boat that took us to our first weekend destination: Capri (pronounced "Cah-pri," not "CaPRI," like the sort-of pants). The first thing we did was get on a smaller boat that took us around to il Grotto Azzurro, which is, as translated, a blue grotto. In order to enter into the grotto, though, one must lay down completely flat in the boat so as to avoid decapitation by the top of the entrance. It's quite comical to watch. The laying, not the decapitation. Which I didn't see.

This is what you do to get in the grotto. The water is more than slightly rough in a boat of this size!
Then, you float around the grotto, admiring its naturally blue water from your little boat!
  It's very dark in there.
Having successfully avoided seasickness, we returned to Capri and took a trolley to the top of the island, where the main piazza is, then proceeded to walk around the town for a few hours before heading down to the beach. Note to all future travelers: look for buses down to the beach FIRST. DO NOT attempt to walk down on your own, unless you're on some kind of suicide exercise routine. And, for the love of God, don't even think about trying to walk up. You won't make it.
The next day, we arose at the *bleep*crack of dawn to catch a bus to take us to yet another boat. This boat was much smaller and seated just about the entire town of Sirignano comfortably, with room for Carlos. The boat took us out first to Positano, a hill town with a lot of shopping and not much else. There's no denying Positano's beauty, though. And there were a lot of little animals to photograph.
Following our short stay in Positano, we re-boarded the boat and set a course for Amalfi, a far more crowded mountain town with lots of beach space and limoncello.

Amalfi from the boat

A more detailed photographic account can be found on my Flickr page on the right hand side of this blog. We stayed a short while on the beach, cooling off in the clear, salty water before walking through the town's main piazza and connecting streets, which were lined with delicious food and stores that were so expensive I could hardly bear to look at them.

My favorite part of the whole trip? It's a three-way tie.
  1. Capri: This is easily one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen. The foliage is expertly landscaped, yet it looks like it's grown naturally. The views from the cliffs are simultaneously overwhelming and scary (but would be much, much scarier if there were not handrails or natural walls). And the views of the cliffs are, well, on the right.
  2. Carlos: Some would say I'm obsessed with this dog. If I lived in Italy, I would take him to the vet, get him all his shots, and take him home with me.
  3. Our Weekend Host-Mom: Otherwise known as Teresa Mulé. She made sure we were completely accommodated at all times and was so much fun to travel with. There's absolutely no way we would've been able to have such a perfect weekend if it hadn't been for her. Thanks, Teresa!
More weird observations and stories on the way!

Ciao, amici!

Monday, September 5, 2011


This past Saturday, I went to the first beach that I can remember that was not the Jersey shore. They're pretty much the same thing.


Differences between Sperlonga beach and the Jersey shore begin with transportation. The road to Sperlonga is quite unlike the road to Long Beach Island. We traveled to Sperlonga by train, passing by small mountain towns, farm land, and a surprising amount of goats along the way, before transferring to a bus that took us up a winding path to the town. The town is quaint, to say the least. You couldn't drive a car down any of the roads without knocking out shop walls and running over people and cats, and you wouldn't have to; a walk around Sperlonga took no more than ten minutes without a destination. Compared to this, driving to the Jersey shore is like traveling in a clown car packed with luggage on a straight, dirt "sidewalk" that smells like a truck-stop bathroom with New Jersey drivers who aren't actually driving because how do you merge? Strike one, Snooki.

So, what next? Well, at Sperlonga, you vacate the bus and walk about the town, maybe picking up a small, refreshing gelato along the way to a set of [hundreds of] stairs that lead you down to the beach below, where umbrellas and towels are neatly organized on the clay-like sand and are available for rent (if you're Donald Trump; strike one, Sperlonga... but maybe just a mini-strike). And the water? It's so clear, I bet even the fish are afraid to pee in it. I swear, it even sparkled. As for the Jersey shore, well, I'll just leave this here:

But imagine it with waves. I'm not at all sorry to say that this is strike two for the "Dirty Jerz," and strike one for me for using that vomit-inducing term.

I guess it's just like Michael Scott said: "Fool me once: strike one. But, fool me twice: strike three."

Friday, September 2, 2011

Viaggi Internazionali

Just about a half hour ago, while perusing a few of my old Facebook photos, reminiscing about last year's college antics and missing my friends, I received a message. The sender was one of my friends here in Rome. It was a long message, but for you, I'll paraphrase: it contained details regarding a cruise of the Amalfi Coast (which comes at a very modest price!). I nearly squealed. Translation? Yes, I am going.

International travel seems to be today's theme; this morning, following our Italian classes, five of my friends and I sat down in an empty classroom and planned out four months of trips to Italian cities and towns and to other European countries. A list that initially contained places like Germany, Belgium, the UK (specifically London), France (Paris), and Spain (Barcelona and Madrid) ended in a far more appealing group of Ireland, the Netherlands (Amsterdam), and the Czech Republic (Prague) for fall break, with weekend trips around Italy (a long one for Sicily/Palermo), Switzerland, and Greece (Santorini). If we can afford all of this and the first flight doesn't scare me into staying in Ireland for the rest of the semester, I will be totally excited, pumped, jazzed, and possibly even stoked.