I recently got back from Italy where I visited Venice, Florence, Sorrento, and Rome. Besides the history, beautiful views, ocean, and my own wedding ceremony (just my husband and I), my favourite part was the food!! As a dietitian I had a particular interest in the food and the food environment. My short time in Italy really got me thinking about how our food environment can completely influence how and what we eat. Listed below are some food environment observations I made while vacationing in Italy.
1) Fast food was not what we typically think of in North America
Now don’t get me wrong I still saw McDonald’s (those golden arches are worldwide) and Burger King (mainly in the larger cities) …BUT it was much less accessible. In Ontario you can drive through almost every town and find a McDonald’s or another similar fast food (Wendy’s, Subway, A&W, you name it!) In Italy, my experience was very different. Fast food stops were little cafés, where you could purchase anything from pizza to a cappuccino, to a bottle of wine. This is very different then what is offered in Ontario or at least where I live. One of my favourite places in Italy was the Mercato Centrale in Florence. The bottom level was filled with vendors who sold meats, cheese, or fresh produce and the top floor was essentially a food court, packed with vendors and people eating. This was the best experience I have ever had in a food court. I am pretty sure I walked around for a solid 30 minutes because I could not decide what I wanted to eat (everything looked so good!) And guess what I decided to have?? A BURGER (not your typical Italian food). Although this was fast food, it was so much different. The food was made directly in front of me, and by directly in front of me I mean the burger patty was formed and grilled right in front of my eyes. The meat was of great quality, as I was asked if I wanted my burger cooked rare or medium. Anyways, my point is even though it was a burger (and the price of a typical burger combo – 8 euros) it was homemade in front of me, which automatically made it seem healthier (likely was) and tastier than your typical “fast food” burger.
2) Street Food
When I hear street food I automatically think, where’s my hotdog? But in Italy I did not see any hot dog stands. In fact, I was impressed with some of the street food I did see, which included fruit cups (fresh diced up fruit assortments) and in Rome I got a cone of freshly roasted chestnuts (which are actually my favourite thing ever!) I also visited Cinque Terre on one of my day hours (side note: hiking day trip, which I highly recommend) and I got to get a cone filled of fried seafood. That is what you call Oceanside street food. Now of course there was other street food including vendors that sold pop, candy, sandwiches, pizza etc. But it was so refreshing to see all the different possibilities of street foods!
3) Meal time matters
My grandparents were born in Italy so I grew up in a family that really values mealtime, and not surprisingly this seemed to be of value to the Italians I met. I went on 2 full day tours and on both the tour guide saved the best information for last, which was what and where we were having lunch (of course, right?) During my time in Italy lunch was much longer than my typical 30 minutes or eat while I type lunches, it involved sitting down and talking and eating lots! I was on vacation, so this might be different for those working in Italy but I do know that the “siesta” still lives on in parts of Italy. Dinners also tended to be later than normal, starting anywhere between 7:30-8:30 pm and they would last at least 1.5-2 hours. During this time, I got to enjoy time with my loved one and eat great food. It made me realize that even though my day to day life tends to be a lot busier than my vacation life I really do value mealtime. And although, it won’t be feasible for me to spend 2 hours having dinner each night I hope to make an “Italian” tradition of at least spending some time each week enjoying mealtime.
So anyone who knows me really well knows that breakfast is my favourite meal! I love anything from English muffins with nut butter, to slow cooked oats, to waffles, to eggs and toast. Unfortunately for me, breakfast was not a favoured meal in Italy. Breakfast in Italy typically consisted of something small like a fruit and yogurt, or fruit and croissant. There were also lots of cafes where you could get coffee and a pastry. I am sure this sounds absolutely perfect to some of you, but I can truly say that us North American’s do breakfast quite well and that is not something I would want to see change! :)
Enough about my food observations and on to my favourite foods/dishes eaten in Italy!
Sugar Marinated Salmon and Green Tea/Lime Marinated Tuna Sashimi (from Soul and Fish – Sorrento)
The image still makes my mouth water!!
Peach and Zucchini Flower Risotto (from Soul and Fish – Sorrento – I clearly loved this place haha)
Seafood Gnocchi (from Porta Marina – Sorrento)
Florentine Steak (from Toto – Florence)
Don't worry I didn't eat the entire steak!
Cannelle (cinnamon gelato) (from an ice cream shop in Cinque Terre) – unfortunately I didn’t take a picture :(
Fritto Misto (fried fish assortment street food from the streets of Cinque Terre)
I hope you enjoyed this read.
Until next time,
Eat Right Feel Right - Angela XO