Italy: The Rules

Every time I go to Italia, I learn more rules. If you’re gonna go – and I naturally recommend you do – keep some things in mind…

Rule #1: Bring a Swim Suit

The view from our Balestrate beach house

After the long flight I find it important to rest and recharge on the first day in Italia. Especially in the south the weather is often still warm enough for swimming. Last October we swam every day in Sicilia.

Rule #2: Revel in the Local Food

Fish market. Ortigia

Immerse yourself in the food where you are. The 20 regions of Italia boast very different food. When in Sicilia we eat a lot of fish. When in Bologna we eat a lot of salumi and stuffed fresh pasta.

We conjured up menus for our home-cooked meal during our tourist adventures each day and picked up all the ingredients on our way home. Enjoy living as your neighbors do. Shop for food daily, fresh and local is available everywhere. Venture beyond the easy tourist spots and activities and challenge yourself. It will pay off.

Rule #3: Talk with the Locals

Our green grocers in Bologna

I am not fluent in Italian but I always try to develop a relationship with food people. Pick a local caffe and become a regular. Shop in the local mercato and get to know your vendors. Use the same shops and stalls every day to deepen your brief relations. You will expand your understanding of their culinary ingredients and preparations. Listen when folks talk about their culture, and do all you can to experience it for yourself.

Rule #4: Beware of Posted Signs

Salt fields at Motya near Trapani (photo by David Fagan)

A good highway map is essential when driving in Italia. I’ve learned not to depend on signs, they are often confusing or wrong. Check out your route on your map. Ask for directions. Be aware. We often can see the duomo from a good distance and use that as a beacon to guide us to the center of the town. Don’t give up and you’ll reach your destination. If you’re off course, go with the flow and you’ll discover amazing things. We had a hard time finding Motya but persevered and it was wonderful to see the source of the sea salt that I use in my cooking.

Rule #5: Prepare to Lose Weight

I eat everything and I eat a lot, yet I always return home hitching my belt one more notch! ┬áIf you don’t have mobility issues, plan your day so that you get in a lot of walking and stair climbing as you tour. It’s an easier routine in a town or city but it’s harder if you do a lot of driving. I try to ensure at least as much time on foot as in the car.

Vegetable boat Dorsoduro

Be sure to see the details of Gianni’s guided cooking trip to Italy in September.

14 Replies to “Italy: The Rules”

  1. I visited Vicenza, Venice and Verona. It was awesome. I learned that Italy is friendlier than the USA. I also lost weight on vacation there because of all the walking and exploring I did. And I ate local food to experience it. Sometimes, I didn’t even know what I was eating! I had these little potato things… almost oval. Very yummy. Anyone know what they are??

      1. Gianni,
        The little potato things Junie’s talking about I guess is the Gnocchi…..Am I wrong?

        Congrats for such a beautiful website!

        1. Ciao Peppi. Come vai? Yes gnocchi is what Junie ate. I’m pleased that you like the website. I still remember our pizza bake-off at Lucia e Carlo’s home. Your pizza with eggplant was a winner. Want to contribute some of your family’s Sicilian recipes or news from Italia?

          1. Sure John,I already have something in my mind….I didn’t knew you had such a nice place to share italian kitchen experiences….I will be a frequent visitor here….even though I’m not in Italy right now….but in Shanghai.

  2. I’ve never been, but look at those gorgeous vegetables in that last photo!! I’d love to go to see that! Looks like nothing we have here in the States, unfortunately!
    Love your stories, Gianni!
    Best,
    Gloria

  3. I realized to bring a lot of money when you are waiting to get in “Da Michele” in Napoli :D. I love Italy, I’ve been to this magnificent country a bunch of times and totally fell in love with the Puglias, what a beautiful little paradise is that ! I also really enjoyed Tuscany, especially close to Siena. If I had to do a top 5 of my favorite towns in Italy from what I saw (never been to Sicily)it would be like: Ravello, Ostuni, Orvietto, Siena and Volterra. I recently got a summer job at an agriturismo near Orvietto, it’s a beautifull place called “La Locanda Rosati”, I’ll work in the kitchens and on the fields so I’m just dam happy. You should check out that place, it’s really like amazing !

    1. Ciao William. Wow, a summer near Orvieto, I’m jealous. You’ll have to share your experiences of your farm to table experience at the agriturismo.

  4. My rule: get out of the city.
    Sure, Milano was fine and I had pizza that still haunts my memories. Turino was better and I want to return. But the time in the little towns where I could return to a place and be recognised was the best. It is gratifying to sample your way through all the offerings of a bakery with a succession of breakfasts.

    1. Best name for a really small town in Sicily (Ragusa): Frigintini
      Runners up: Purgatorio and Karma near Custonaci

  5. While on the same trip that Stephanie talks about above, I learned how serious the italians take the rules about pairings of pasta and its sauces. While we were in Bologna, Gianni bought some pasta for lunch. When the senora asked him what he was going to do with it and he told her he was going to make a brodo (light broth), she took the pasta back and told him he couldn’t use that one. She then went downstairs (everything is downstairs) and brought up the right kind of pasta for a brodo. These are very important matters in Italy.

  6. I learned a lot while traveling through Italy with John, David and Marie. This story is a good example of how John makes it all seem so easy. We were in a market in Sicily and we were buying eggplant and some Italian guy, just a shopper there, asks John what he’s going to do with that eggplant. John answers in Italian “We’re going to grill it.” “No no no” the man says, “These are not the ones you want for grilling. Put those back and get these over here. Marinate in olive oil and lemon juice and then grill.” So we say okay, grazie, prego, prego, get our veggies and leave. We’re in the car getting ready to leave and this crazy guy pulls his car up to ours at an odd angle. “Wait, wait!” he says, and we realize it’s our friend with the helpful hints about the eggplant. He’s in the car with his wife. He says “My wife says not lemon juice, but vinegar!” And thus, we are saved from true food disaster by an average Sicilian and his wife who care so much about their food that they found us to correct us about the way it should be prepared. I mean, he looked relieved when he spotted us in the car and his wife looked a little angry, like how could he be so stupid. Now that’s love. At least for the food…

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