How the Italians do lunch

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by Mike

Today’s Route

Perinaldo runs a thin ridge 1500 feet above the Italian Riviera and from both sides of the main street you have a view – one side to the north and the other to the south. We found lunch in one of the buildings that dramatically step down the south side of the ridge toward the Mediterranean, but it wasn’t easy to find – the whole town was silent, hardly anything open. In places like these, we’ve learned, there’s likely to be one restaurant where all the locals are congregating for lunch and the prices will be good and the food will be good. We saw a couple guys smoking on the street and followed them to the food.

This place (a trattoria is a family run restaurant) was different from how we think of a restaurant – it’s somewhere between a restaurant, a bar and a living room. I’d forgotten this about Italy.

Here’s what the scene was like today:

There was a table of three men getting some lunch, then another table with a couple. Next to us was the family that ran the place, with the son holding a young boy on his lap and there was a little girl at the table and another young man. The woman serving us was the owner/mom, I’m sure, and there was a girl in the kitchen cooking all the food. Behind us were a couple of guys playing on the slot machines. At any one time people would be getting up and walking around or talking to the table across the room. The floors were red tile, walls were white and the tables and chairs were wooden. The windows had a million-dollar view of the valley down to the Mediterranean, but it was a modest room.

The TV was on, as is the case in a lot of these places, and they were watching the local news. Today there happened to be a story about the observatory 30 seconds down the road from the trattoria, so everyone was glued to the tube for about 5 minutes, people smiling unconsciously when the local astronomer was interviewed with his comb-over flying straight up in the air like mad scientist hair. They seemed to know the guy. When it ended they all started gabbing and the TV was shut off. Italians talk very loud which I find impressive because they must have a lot of confidence in what they’re saying. A young guy (with a great pony tail, dark stubble and a neon-argyle-printed t-shirt) walked in to a chorus of “Ola!”s and kinda took over the room for a while, walking from table to table and talking loudly to everyone, again with the confidence. I understand a little Italian, and I heard someone say, “Eat with us today!”

He sat down at a different table for a minute and looked at a newspaper that a number of other guys had been looking at in turns. There was also a sheet of paper there, and the guys would look at the newspaper and then write something in columns on the loose sheet of paper. I think it might have been some form of betting – they write their picks then someone does the math afterward – but I don’t know for sure.

At this point a kid walked by on his hands, with one of the older guys holding his feet, wheelbarrowing him around the room. There was also an outspoken little girl there and the kids never went without attention. Italians are amazing with children, the little boy, even during lunch, was sitting on someone’s lap, and one guy would reach over and grab his hand, then the kid would get down and someone would grab him as he walked by or give a playful pinch.

When the food came out for the family the ponytail guy sat down with them and they had a bottle of wine and a big basket of bread and talked the whole time. Our food came out at about the same time. Here’s what I have to say about Italian food. It’s the freshest food I’ve had in the world, hands down. The Italians do it right.

Lunch started with a basket of fresh bread and olive oil that tasted so rich I ‘ate’ way too much. The surrounding hills are largely olive tree groves, and I wondered whether the oil in which we dipped our bread had ever been transported in a vehicle. We had wonderful red wine that Azure described as “juice.” Our main dishes were two spaghettis, one with tomato sauce and the other with pesto. Both done simply, tastefully, perfectly. The freshness gave simple ingredients complex flavors that hit across the tongue.

We finished with a little espresso each, as they do here. It’s a great digestive and a good way to give yourself a little kick of energy while the blood rushes to your stomach. When we leave Europe, this is something I’m going to miss.

We drove a half hour down into a valley to the west and are staying in a medieval town called Dolceacqua. We bought some pasta, veggies and wine for dinner tonight.

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