Monday 22/8/2005

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Diary and Notes

I don't normally include information about what I have for lunch as this blog is about having a different dinner every day. I also avoid general photos of things and places as it's supposed to be about food. I have decided that on holiday I might dispense with both these things as I want to demonstrate not just the excellent food I've been getting, but also the flavour of the place and the people who have made me so welcome. As such each day's blog will be a longer affair than usual and I'll include lots of photos of just about anything. I don't want this to be like going around somebody's house and having to sit through their boring holiday snaps however, so I'll try to be selective.

I should also point out for future reference that the following are illegal here and should not be done on any account:

  • Shooting wild boar in the mountains around San Bernado.
  • Fishing eels from the rivers around Varese Ligure.
  • Distilling grappa in a giant home made still in your garage.

    Nobody I know, or met, did any of these things either whilst I was there, before or ever. Any eels/grappa/wild boar etc... that I may have been eaten or drunk, were not obtained by any of these dastardly means - though where they did come from is anybody's guess...

    La Feste San Bernado

  • Today I got a real treat. One of those cultural experiences that stick in the mind for the rest of your life. It was all a bit surreal really but quite special indeed.

    Marcello's girlfriend Marika is also back at home in Italy and we went to meet her today. We had been invited to join her family and friends at a shindig they hold once a year near a little church in the middle of some mountains where nobody outside the region ever goes. The get together is a three day affair and everybody camps out in tents - even the old folks - then they cook a giant feast and eat and drink until they are ready to burst.

    The party begins with a procession of a statue of San Bernado then they light a massive fire and roast meat, every kind of meat available. Unfortunately the roasting happens on the Saturday and Sunday, the Monday being more a winding down and eating the left overs but lunch was still something else.

    I took a photo of a selection of the things that I ate, and can remember the following:

    Salami, pancetta, rice cake, roast pork, stuffed aubergines, roast wild boar (not hunted the day before in the hills of course - that would be illegal) and then roast chicken.

    Next followed osada - whole sides of beef hung near the fire and smoked for over a day. Sadly I missed seeing this in action but the osada itself was delicious.

    Then came the cheeses and then cakes, plates and plates of cakes. I don't know how many I ate or of what type as by this point I was completely pissed. There was of course loads of wine, Marika's dad brought his home made limoncina (a lemon liqour made from lemons in his own garden) and some dodgy grappa which he doesn't make himself and is definitely totally legal. Then everybody started eating peaches. Next, as if this wasn't enough they decided to make some testuro - something I believe no Englishman in history has ever seen before and is worth a photo or two.

    The testuro are a sort of pancake and are served with pesto (very excellent and home made of course - this is the region that invented the stuff). The texture is more like a crumpet than a pancake and if I hadn't already eaten far too much I'd have had more than the two they forced down me. Testuro are cooked in testi which are small clay dishes which are heated over the fire until white hot and then stacked with the batter inside away from the heat. In years to come when food writers from The Times and Guardian come here and claim to have 'discovered' these and convince everyone in Chelsea to drive to Maidenhead and pay massive amounts for bad imitations in posh restaurants, I shall smile because I will have tasted the real thing and it didn't cost me a cent.

    And here's a few other photos of the entertainment - the church and statue, Marika's dad and his booze, Marika's mum and dad slicing pancetta, people making espresso over an open fire, a guy with a giant knife cutting osada and the people just having a giant feast like people should do.

    As you can probably imagine I had a great time and wasn't feeling particularly like dinner after all this - but I wasn't getting off that easy, when we got back to Marecllo's mum and dad's house there was a steaming bowl of home made (and exceedingly thick) minestrone waiting for us.

    I managed only one bowl and felt quite guilty, especially as it was really good. There was also salami, cheese and bread on offer but I was forced to pass. I don't think I drank more than a glass or two of wine either.

    After dinner we thought we'd have a look around the town and go for a small beer. As often happens, this small beer turned into several beers and a brandy or two as well. By midnight I was completely wankered and had entered some sort of hallucinagenic state from overeating and boozing.

    When I woke the next day I had this memory which I thought must have been a dream: We went into the bar to order more beer and the woman in the bar asked whether we wanted anything to nibble as well. Marcello explained we'd already eaten loads and couldn't even manage a crisp and thank you etc... then about half an hour later they brought us a pizza, quite a large pizza, completely free, just because they thought it would help the beer go down. In my dream Marcello and I ate the pizza and had more beer.

    When I woke up I found it wasn't a dream at all as I had a photo of the pizza on my camera and Marcello remembered it was well.

    As you can probably guess, I wasn't feeling too chipper the next day and things were soon to get much worse...

    Cake Blog

    Here's one of the plates of cakes. Of special note was a small sponge and lemon thing that was quite superb.