Not Much ‘eat’ in Italy

,

Two famous Italian dishes.
Two famous Italian dishes.

South African novelist, journalist and social commentator Jaco Kirsten, reflects on Italian cuisine after one of his visits to the country of Ferrari, babes and garlic breath.

To understand Italian food you have to understand Italian cars. And there’s not a lot to understand, really, because they’re all shit. Total rubbish. From a Fiat Palio to a Ferrari 360 Modena ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ and all the hideously unreliable Alfa Romeos in between. A while ago we were driving back from a delightful lunch at Franschhoek when two supercars, a Porsche 911 GT3 and a Ferrari F50 overtook us. “Ferrari’s are nice to see and to hear,” I said to my wife, just as the juvenile-looking driver changed down a gear and extracted a glorious wail from its engine, “but they tend to be terribly unreliable.” Less than 10 kilometres later we overtook the stranded red car, its gearbox having just joined the choir invisible.

,,,,,,,,, Mention the concept of Italian food in most conversations and the instinctive feedback, like the default setting of a Korean microwave oven, is positive. Same with Italian cars. “Ooh, they’re stylish you know.” Well, maybe if you live in Boksburg, where chunky gold jewellery is considered aspirational and Joost van der Westhuizen’s long-suffering wife Amore (with the ironically Italian surname Vittone) is considered to be a role model of some sorts. Where young Italian, Portuguese and Greek ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ who, if we’re brutally honest, aren’t Greek at all but, in fact, Cypriot ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ men all receive a chrome-plated 9mm pistol and a BMW 3-Series for their 21st birthday. But even they have wizened up to the total unreliability of Italian cars. So the only people driving Italian cars are suckers from other places.

,,,,,,,,, For us repressed, white Anglo-Saxon and Calvinist South Africans there’s a bit of exotica associated with things Italian. Just enough to make the juices flow understand, but not too much to expose one’s lack of rhythm. It’s sexy, with a hint of uninhibited rewards, without risking it all for full-blown jungle fever.

,,,,,,,,, The inside of all Italian cars are identical. The plastic has the consistency of a vinyl record and the tactile sensation of a kitchen top. Switches self destruct after 2 weeks and you are lucky if the electrics work when you buy the bloody car.

,,,,,,,,, But they do have one or two redeeming features. Generally the engines have a nice sound and the outside appearances are pleasing to the eye. So they’re nice to observe from a distance. Much like Italian food.

,,,,,,,,, Most people who swoon about Italian food have never been to Italy and are devout followers of the lithping young Englithman called Jamie Oliver. Yes, he proclaims to love Italian food, but if you come from England anything you come across is bound to impress you, even boiled roof tiles.

,,,,,,,,, I have been to Italy numerous times. I have avoided falling into the canals of Venice. I have marvelled at the incredibly tacky gold jewellery at the Ponte Vecchio in Florence. Scratched my head at the incomprehensibility of public transport in Rome and almost had to defend myself with physical violence against African immigrant “street vendors” in the heart of Milan, shortly after subjecting myself to the Mussolini-like arrogance of the blokes who man the information kiosks at the metro railway stations.

,,,,,,,,, You see, just like the nicest Englishmen are expats, the nicest Italian food is to be found outside of Italy. In Italy they honestly don’t give a toss. Want to order a pizza with speck like the one on the menu? Well, screw you. We’re only giving you one with a teaspoon full of tomato paste and a few scraps of cheese. Looking for salt and pepper at your table? Who the fuck are you?!

In South Africa one has started to get used to the idea of olive oil and balsamic vinegar on tables. I used to think that this was a sophisticated “Italian thing”. I was wrong. Not once have I ever seen it on a table in Italy. I suspect it was the brainchild of a Portuguese restaurant owner from the east of Joburg who reinvented himself as “Italian” after lying low for six months and selling the concept to the themed restaurants at Monte Casino in Gauteng.

,,,,,,,,, Want to order risotto on the banks of Lake Como? Well, don’t expect anything out of the ordinary. I’ve had far superior risotto in Cape Town. Not to mention in my own kitchen ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ which is a rather serious indictment of Italian food if you take into account the fact that I’m usually fairly intoxicated when cooking.

,,,,,,,,, If you eat out in Italy you would no doubt also have had the misfortune of getting to know the exploitative practice of copperto. Basically it is a shady “cover charge” for the privilege of being able to use their table, clean table cloth and cutlery. In a smallish town, a figure of about ?+¦-+??+¬?+¦-+?+¦-Ñ4 or roughly R45 is the going rate. It could be a Mafia-type tax, I don’t know.

,,,,,,,,, What I do know is that the eating experience in Italy is totally overrated. Sure, unlike Indian cuisine it won’t hurt you or make you shit your lungs out, but you can’t exactly accuse it of being rewarding or good value for money. Will eat Italian food again? Absolutely. Just as long as it’s not made by an Italian.

Jaco Kirsten, left, after burying an Italian chef in the Kalahari Desert.
Jaco Kirsten, left, after burying an Italian chef in the Kalahari Desert.

Enjoyed this article?

Subscribe and never miss a post again.

9 thoughts on “Not Much ‘eat’ in Italy

  1. Het heeeerlik gelag, baie funny Jaco. Love the caption and pic. The food may not have been up to expectation but the men are still the best looking and best dressers in Europe. Not to mention the world.

  2. Ag stront, Jaco. Die gemiddelde Monza moutermechanic se ma weet nog steeds meer van outentieke seisoengebasseerde sakpas-kos as wat die hele Top Gear reeks van brandstofinspuiting weet. Jou grootste probleem is dat jy waarskynlik vasgeval het iewers tussen die motor-tertjies en die “outentieke” tourist-traps in groot Italiaanse stede. Daardie soort plekke word, soos meeste van ons restaurante in die Kaapse Waterfront, vir net een rede bedryf: profyt. En as Uilspieels soos jy hulle sakke wil volprop, gaan hulle bankbestuurders jubel.

    As jy wil ernstig saamgesels oor cuccina povera en die vreugdes wat dit n man se honger maag en lee beursie kan inhou, kontak my die volgende keer voor jy op daardie produseerder-geborgde passella uitvlieg, dan leen ek vir jou my kopie van Travelling in Italy for gastronomes.

  3. Jaco het dit te sag gestel. As hy ‘n kosskrywer was, sou hy nog meer die uitbuitery van die Wops se Kamma Momma Cookery ten toon gestel het. Ek was al van Sicilie deur tot Lago Garda, tot Milaan. Toeriste en verskrikte Afrikaners val miskien vir die “Bellissimo!”, “Mamma Mia”, “al dente” (o ja, plus daardie Jamie Oliver swaap). Maar dies wat bietjie oopkop na die storie kyk – en nie boekies nodig het nie, maar gelei word deur Italianers self, weet hulle is ‘n klomp pseudos. Die werklikheid is maar hard as jy nie daardie sentimentele Dago bull-shit glo nie.

  4. “My grootste probleem is…” dat ‘n “Uilspieel soos ek” slegs een keer op ‘n motorvervaardiger se rekening in Italie was. Ons het tie in ‘n eksklusiewe boetiekhotel naby Siena tuisgegaan en ja, die kos was gangbaar vir ‘n bekendstelling van ‘n internasionale maatskappy. Nie so lekker as wat ek al in Duitsland of Oostenryk ervaar het nie, maar niks om oor te kla nie. Die hoogtepunt van daardie werkstrip was egter die glase Calvados saans, maar ook dit is, helaas, nie Italiaans nie.

    Die ander kere wat ek en my vrou op eie rekenening daar was, was die gebrek aan waarde vir geld genoeg om jou ‘n erger sooibrand as Brandvlei se pasteie te gee. Ons kan dit gelukkig bekostig om gereeld in Europa vakansie te hou en einde van vanjaar gaan ons weer. Om weer te gaan ski. Ek dink Livigno is juis so aangenaam weens die nabygelee Tiroolse invloed. Daar verkies ek om vleis by die Galleria supermark te koop en in ons selfsorg-woonstel se kombuisie in ‘n pan te braai.

    In Florence het die Bireria Centrale relatief goeie waarde vir geld gebied. Maar die ander ordentlike Toskaanse eetplek het ons R2300 gekos vir ‘n skaflike aandete. Ek had Bistecca alla Florentina, my vrou ook ‘n vleisgereg, altwee ‘n nagereg en ‘n uiters gemiddelde bottel Chianti. Nee, dis om vinniger trurat te gebied as ‘n Italiaanse tenkbevelvoerder.

    Die doughnuts in Bergamo was egter lekker. Nes in die Kaap. Die pizzas in Sulzano, op die oewer van Lake Iseo, was egter van so ‘n standaard dat die skepper daarvan uit Panneroti’s in Parow se kombuis gejaag sou word. En dit in die Italiaanse winter, buite ‘n ski-area. Dus: Nie-toeriste seisoen vir koskenners soos jy. Ons was ook, afgesien van die plaaslike inwoners, die enigste twee buitestedelinge.

    Ons huiswerk is altyd goed gedoen. Anders as ouens soos jy wat nie weet dat ek vir ‘n hele paar jaar nie meer ‘n motorjoernalis is nie.

    Ek is so bly die grote Schumacher ry vanjaar uiteindelik die Duitse motor wat hom nog altyd toegekom het.

    Arrividerci!

  5. Emilio, die enigste pseudo’s wat ek raakgeloop het buite die toeriste-area’s was Italiaanse mans se selfbeelde. Why do Italian men grow moustaches? Because the want-a look-a like mamma (while not having her balls, of course…) Jy kan deur ItaliGò¼+¦Gö£GòóGö¼+¦+ô+¦-++ô+¦-ú reis soos n uitgebuite Martatjie Martelgat, kos eet wat nie eers vir die klomp by n Stormers wedstryd gevoer kan word nie, en “Chianti” drink wat alles uit strooibottels geskink word. Jy kan ook n raps moeite doen deur n paar kontakte, of op die spoor van n paar locals aan die neus gelei word na agtersteeg-trattorias wat jou dramaties meer vreugde gaan gee as die agterna-kyk van n twintigjarige blondine…boekieloos, Jamieloos en blerire lekker, dankie. Viva Italia!

  6. Jaco, ek beny jou die geleentheid om so gereeld te gaan rondrits in Europa agter die sneeu aan. Ek kom minder daar, maar reis veeleer agter die smul aan! Ek dink nie bekendstellings-of promosiegeleenthede is die ideale plek om n kultuur se kos te ervaar nie- dink maar aan wat jy by die gemiddelde “promotional” in Suid Afrika kry.

    Ek stem met jou saam, wat pryse betref is ItaliGò¼+¦Gö£GòóGö¼+¦+ô+¦-++ô+¦-ú dikwels n gatslag- soos dit deesdae maar oral in Wes Europa gaan. Jy het my egter nog steeds nie oortuig dat mens nie lekker kan eet teen n billike prys nie. In Florence het ons n paar jaar terug by Il Camminetti gedraai; n Biersaal-grootte trattoria in die skadu van die Duomo. n Driegang-ete vir twee, bestaande uit n gedeelde porsie buffelsmelk mozzarella met songegeurde tamaties en vars basilie, vars tagliatelle met pangebraaide boletus, en n yslik-grote Bistecca a la Fiorentina het ons sonder drankies net oor R300 per kop gekos. Hierdie was nie n “vaste” spyskaart nie (vreugde in Frankryk maar hel in ItaliGò¼+¦Gö£GòóGö¼+¦+ô+¦-++ô+¦-ú) maar keuses van die gewone lys van disse af. Vergeet maar van die nagereg, elke selfrespekterende vraat stroll na ete n straatblok af vir roomys by die plaaslike gellateria. Ditto in Milaan waar ek laas Mei n kleinbordjie antipasti op die huis weggesit het, gevolg deur n Osso Buco met risotto a la Milanese en n halfliter goeie Barolo vir onder R400. Die geheim? Trattoria Milanese- oop al vir meer as 120 jaar, n eienaar-kok, en outentiek.

    Ek reken die minste moeite wat mens vir die veiligheid van jou smaakknoppies kan doen is om uit te vind wat die gebied se spesialiteit is, en wie dan juis n ekspert daarin is. Jy het tog n veel beter kans op kulinGò¼+¦Gö£GòóGö¼+¦+ô+¦-+Gö¼Gò¥re vreugde met die bestel van n risotto onder die rys-eters van Milaan as die Polentoni van Toskane. En om wraggies n pizza te bestel buite Napels of Rome? Dan het jou Tenk mos vier tru-ratte, soos die Italianers s’n…

    Wat jy ook nie moet miskyk nie is die geweldige streeksgebondenheid van dieselfde kosse. n Dis sal tussen twee dorpe, twintig kilometer uit mekaar, n metamorfose ondergaan met die uitlaat van een of twee bestanddele en die byvoeging van n enkele ander- en elk van die twee kokke sal aandring hulle weergawe is die ware jakob. Alistair Little beskryf die proses van kook in n restaurant in Orvieto so goed: toe hy kort na sy aankoms sy repertoire met resepte uitgehaal het is hy baie ferm oor die vingers getik deur die maitre’d. Sy beskrywing was dat hulle soggens mark toe sou gaan om die varsste onder die seisoenale produkte uit te soek, en dan terug by die restaurant n ronde-tafel bespreking sou hou oor watter disse die beste is om daaruit te maak, gevolg deur n vuisgeveg oor wie se ma se resep die beste is.

    Wat van die wyn? Bra gemiddeld, tensy jy n vet beursie dra. Dis nou tot jy die plaaslike wyn naas sy beste pasmaat onder die plaaslike disse neersit. En skielik verander daardie vaalstert-muis in n ware Sophia Loren! Lekker reis.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *