Monday, October 15, 2012

A slice of Italy

As mentioned last Wednesday, I spent a bit of time in Bologna, Italy. Sadly, due to the nature of the visit, I didn't have a chance to do much sightseeing, but I did get to enjoy some fantastic food.

Italy's always been a bit of a frustration for me. I've visited it twice before and found the people friendly, the country beautiful, but the economy a wreck. Italian infrastructure is incomplete, with many projects derailed by corruption. Traveling through Italy shows many abandoned buildings and poorly maintained rail stations and that's in the relatively rich north. I've not been to southern Italy, which I'm told is in even worse shape. It's bad enough that there is a separatist movement in Northern Italy.

None of that changes the fact that Italy is beautiful and the food is wonderful, though I made a mistake and ordered a pepperoni pizza. I've had this happen before that I've ordered pepperoni pizza here in Europe and wound up with bell peppers instead of the spicy salami we all love.

Yes, this is a real pepperoni pizza.
To say I was disappointed when I received my pizza would be about right, particularly since I am not a fan of bell peppers. But damn if that wasn't one of the best pizzas I've ever had, bell peppers or no. I've generally preferred Chicago-style pizza, but now I realize why people say Italian style is the best. When a cheese pizza with bell peppers tastes this good, I think I've finally begun to understand.

On Thursday we had dinner at Le Golosità di Nonna Aurora, a local restaurant which specializes in Bolognese food. That made me happy because quite often I go to conferences and we get taken to an "ethnic" restaurant which is completely unrelated to the local food. If I'm going to be somewhere, I want to experience as much of there as I can.

The starter was a lovely soup with ham tortellini in a clear chicken broth.

Nice and light. A great start.
This was followed by the primo course. In this case, it was two types of hand-made pasta. Both were incredibly delicious (all of the pasta I had in Bologna was very good). I particularly enjoyed a green and yellow pasta with ground beef that was unlike any pasta I've quite had before. Yummy.

Both were great, but that pasta on the left was superb!
What really surprised me was the secondo, which is main dish. This is the course where you typically get meat or fish. Nope, not here. They served what I would have called antipasto (literally "before meat"), something which is usually served before the primo. Instead, it was served with these light, puffy pieces of fried dough that you split open, slather on some delicious cream cheese (which was more like yoghurt, to be honest), perhaps add some meat and wolf down. They brought out plates and plates and plates of this stuff for the main course. It was delicious.

A surprising main course.
Dessert was a lemon custard pie. It was a bit on the sweet side, but then, I've never been a huge fan of sweets, so I'm probably not the best judge.

Lemon custard pie for dessert.
While I've been to Italy twice before, this was far and away my best food experience. I'm spoiled due to all of the delicious food here in Paris, but this trip gave Paris a run for the money.

The rest of my stay in Bologna involved me giving a couple of talks at the conference and wandering around Bologna a bit. Sadly, I never really got any good photos of the city. It's mostly an industrial town and like most Italian architecture, it's red, yellow or orange brick and stucco buildings. It's not very large and easy to walk through. Many of the residential areas we were in were very beautiful and I kept thinking, once again, that it's a shame about the state of the Italian economy. I could easily live there.
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