Friday, May 28, 2010


My culinary sojourn in Italy started at a one-stop-wonder called “Eataly” in Torino, which was a destination in itself .I thought it was a great way to know more about the local culture by simply browsing around a well-stocked store!I found some of the best food and wine in Italy there, running the gamut from over 42,000 wine labels, delicious charcuterie and cheeses to fresh fruits and vegetables, meat and fish, hand-made pastas and biscotti which were beautifully displayed and systematically organized into sections.

I loved the “Sundries” area which was full of specialty food from the Piemonte region — and all of Italy and had on offer more than five aisles of local sweets including a semi soft candy called Gianduiotto , a cousin to the marvelous Nutella. In the mid 1800s when cocoa became scarce and expensive, locally grown hazel nuts were roasted and mashed into a cream as a substitute and mixed with chocolate!
I ambled through the best olive oils from each region in Italy, a fresh milk dispenser filled with raw milk from local farms and premium blends of coffee beans. I also learnt here that Torino has been the world’s top chocolate producer for years. I simply loved the cellar too where one could bring an empty bottle and fill it with wine from a huge glass jug. The store even had seven eateries, and a one Michelin Star restaurant — alas only by reservation — a café , a pastry shop, and a gelataria where I had the best gelato ever.
Had I more time on me, I would have stopped for a few cooking classes, more tastings and encounters with great chefs. A whole day was just not enough to enjoy this superior quality, artisanal, and value for money food of Italy under a one roof. If they had a place to sleep too, I would have never left! Why don’t we have such marvels in India yet?
A day later (after doing the tourist stuff in Torino) I moved on to Alba which is home to Italy’s slow food movement . No wonder I cannot spot a McDonald’s here! Alba is also the fount of noble wines made with the Nebbiolo grape (Barolo), and those exquisite white truffles.
After a short tour of the historic centre, I was in Alba’s local food market and it being a Saturday the place was in full swing. For me one of the most enjoyable aspects of travel is a visit to local markets. Sometimes discovering a pocket-sized market in a small neighborhood can lead to a treasured souvenir, or a rare local gourmet product. Either way it leaves me with vivid memories of the sights, smells, sounds and tastes of the local culture.
wandering through Alba’s wonderful and extensive outdoor market I found abundant vegetables, cheese, olive oils, cured meat, seafood and more. As I mentioned before the best white truffles come from Alba, so I found some — for a killer 5500 euro per kilo!. The shopkeeper kindly allowed me to sample a concoction of white truffle — infused with honey and mixed with Brie, he spread it on a piece of baguette. Decadent! A profusion of flowers were on hand as well, a colorful reminder of the importance of beauty in the lives of residents here.
Satisfied I drove on to Langhe hills, for panoramic views and more food and wine experiences. These hills are ancient, rich in visual and culinary pleasures. There’s loads to see: lovely little towns, beautiful scenery and vineyards, up and down the hills and valleys. The best way to explore is always on foot or a bike but failing that a car is essential. stopped for lunch at “La crota” , located in Roddi d’ Alba amid lush greenery and hills, as suggested by my local guide. This restaurant served regional cuisine and wine growers seemed very much at home there. There was also a wine cellar beneath the sitting area of the restaurant located in an atmospheric underground vaulted cave, beautifully decorated with paintings et all.

Young owner-chef Danilo and his mum rustled up a meal that introduced me to the true flavours of Piemonte cuisine, including such classics as “tajarin” which is handmade egg noodles with pomodoro (tomato sauce) and basil topped with a generous amount of shavings of parmigiana reggiano. The tiramisu was the pride and joy of Danilo’s mama, but another good bet was the lush strawberries dunked in sweet wine.
Needless to add, I washed down this traditional meal with copious quantities of red Barberesco wine. I also bought a delicious Barolo for just 20 Euros to carry back home ...Mama Mia, what more could I ask for in Italy...a surreal experience indeed! There can be no doubt; Piemonte is a region where you can taste the best flavours.
That, quintessentially, is the charm of Europe: there are so many places replete with homegrown attractions both culinary and visual that a traveller never tires of it. And everything seems to be geared for the enthusiastic visitor. There’s a lesson in this for India too!
Published in  ET Travel Delhi