Through winding rounds over the alps we made our way into Italy. Unfortunately the weather did not play along and we could only catch a glimpse of the beautiful town of Lugano as it stayed hidden under fog and mist. A quick refuel verified that we were indeed in Italy as the shady looking truck-stop sold local cured meats and cheeses and my fellow trucker friends were elegantly sipping there freshly made Illy coffee. This is what Italy is all about to me, ingredients! Oh my goodness it is like coming home – my foodie home!
First stop was Lake Como and we stayed in the hill side town of Brunate overlooking Lake Como. Maybe the Funicular was the clue but while attempting the near vertical road up from Como we were met by drivers with little cars shaking their heads at us, how strange we thought, but then Italian drivers are Italian drivers. Yip, we had to be hand led into the narrow alley ways and into the driveway as the car narrowly escaped being scratched or worse hoisted between two very ancient walls. We decided there and then that the car could have a well deserved rest for 3 days as we explored Como and Brunate.
The rain was here to stay and we explored Como in the pouring rain. It was Saturday, Market day and I was excited at the prospect of finding some treasures to eat. To our relief the food market is indoors (and well hidden!) just outside the old town walls. The produce shouts from afar of what is in season – clementines, sweet chestnuts (which by the way one could forage all around the forest areas in Como), walnuts, barlotti beans, olives, artichokes, cima di rapa, porcini just to name a few. On the fish counter we saw little red and grey mullets, mackerel octopus and a variety of fresh local lake fish. Every single ingredient sold in the market was from Italy – how lucky are they that everything grows in the small old boot! But then again I think the Italians are fiercely seasonal and would not have it any other way.
I can probably write a whole blog on the quality of the ingredients in Italy VS supermarket ingredients everywhere else- so without sounding like Mr Oliver – I will keep it brief. We bought 4 bags full of fresh produce, meats, cheeses and some breads – the amount was less than £30 – to me this is the point. Because supermarkets are more expensive the Italians would rather spend their pennies at the food market, therefor the farmer is happy because there is a demand, because of the demand prices can be kept reasonable, therefore making it cheaper to buy from the market rather than the supermarket. Off course supermarkets are convenient etc etc (I will miss Ocado in Cape Town!) but the point I am trying to make is good fresh produce should be cheaper than supermarket food (don’t get me started on convenience food!) but we are stuck in a culture that we should be paying more for fresh local produce just because it’s fresh, local and not from a supermarket. Enough enough back to the food.
Alas, the next day the sun came out, we explored all the sights again and at last the beauties of Como was revealed to us. Mr Clooney stayed at bay but he has become a bit of a residential celebrity and one can ask any waiter or owner about him and they will tell a story. Apparently he helps old woman cross the roads and drink regular coffees at local cafe’s with the locals.
Como and Brunate is touristy and there is plenty of bad restaurants about and we unfortunately fell pray to some, but thankfully we had a delicious simple meal of local fish lightly fried in some olive oil and a side order of nicely grilled vegetables all washed down with a cold glass of local white sipped in the sunshine – glorious.