Meals Made of Italy
My worst international dining experience can be summarized in a frozen moment: I’m sitting in an Andean restaurant jaw dropped as a waiter walks to the next table over with a guinea pig on a plate, spindly rodent feet and all. Probably not the most appetizing way for me to begin a posting on food, but I bring this anecdote up only to contrast against the total glory that is being a cheese-loving vegetarian in Italy.
I could almost sleep on a pillow of pecorino, and wake up in the night to take little nibbles of deliciousness between Italian-flavored dreams. Well, almost. The cheese wheels at some of the markets in Venice are certainly big enough to support a human head, but jet-lag or no, the intoxicating stink might stave off slumber. The vegetable carts provide a wake-up call with day-glo carrots, the most darling–but spikey–artichokes, and enough garlic to keep out all the night-feeding vampires of Europe. And, if I ate seafood, I could have partaken of live eels, lovely scallops, and fish so fresh they fluttered atop the ice on which they were displayed.
During my recent stay in Venice, I rented a small flat with a kitchen just so I could frequent these markets, purchasing handmade pastas that always turn out terrific, raviolis tasting like little spinach-ricotta kisses, pesto from Liguria so green and earthy it’s like a mouthful of spring. I found shriveled sun-dried tomatoes that plumped up and blossomed with just the right amount of coaxed soaking. For dessert, the tartest, crispest green apples along with fist-sized pistachio cookies the colors of limes.
As for elixirs, I started each day with espresso, dabbled in the grappa, thought about absinthe, and instead toasted the bitter campari spritz. When I walked into a store that sold wine by the liter, I about fell over with amazement at this land of plenty. And when they threw in a free plastic bottle as a kicker, my head spun. Or maybe that was all the spirits.
Vegetarian or no, what are some of your favorite international dining experiences?
My name: Rachel Berg.
Favorite way to get around: By Venetian gondola during starlit high tide, gliding past decaying and slightly spooky palaces, with perhaps a bottle of prosecco placed between the gondola seat cushions.
View that took my breath away: Unable to sleep in the mystical city of Sfat in Israel, I wandered outdoors predawn and was treated to a purple-on-purple sunrise below the mountaintop that seemed to emerge feet-first through ground-level clouds.
Greatest travel lesson learned: Sunny weather isn't everything. Some of my best travel memories involve go-karting through a deluge turned mud-fest in Mexico, drinking tea in the cold Denali tundra, and watching electric thunderstorms roll through national parks out West.
Most challenging travel moment: Getting leveled by altitude sickness in Cuzco and realizing that my body was forcing me to slow down and rest despite the fact that there was so much to do and see.
Travel ambition: To see the northern lights.