Food can be a revelation, especially for Italians. Like any art, taking it in can teach you things about yourself and perhaps the people with whom you’re breaking bread. The acts of chewing, slurping, sipping, savoring are all intimate and personal. And the food itself sends messages. When you’re eating ethnic foods, for example, you are tasting the culture of a place. You’ll note the spices and flavors that unite their people. You’re likely sampling the kinds of meals moms make for their kids in that part of the world. It’s an experience. If you’re eating your own country’s comfort foods, you are saying – often unwittingly – “I’m part of this community and this is our grub.”
That’s why most of the Italians I know can’t wrap their brain around America’s fast food culture. Don’t get me wrong. They like some of it, namely burgers (preferably from Wendy’s), but as a “do as the Romans type of thing” when they’re visiting the United States. It’s not at all shocking to me that Ischia, an Italian tourist trap by many accounts, has not had an infestation of chain restaurants or even a McDonald’s move in yet. None of the natives would give the place much business, and the tourists have come to expect something more. Besides the fact that almost every household on the island will boast that Nonna or Mamma’s cooking bests them all, they appreciate sit-down restaurants that revere food and hold meal time on a pedestal.
These guys invented the farm-to-table philosophies that American chefs are spouting today. But they never had a name for it. It’s just how people live and eat around here. The folks who moved to the United States and other parts of Europe and Canada and Argentina have continued the tradition (or at least my people in those new places have).
Our lives revolve around food. As soon as I arrive in Ischia, my husband and I have a list of must-have treats. Among them is a meal at what is arguably Ischia’s most elegant and romantic restaurant, Zi Nannina a Mare. The images above are all from this upscale dining establishment and you’ve often seen my photos of the view of Castello Aragonese from this restaurant (if you frequently read this blog). My husband is long-time friends with the owner and one of the waiters. It’s like a homecoming when we arrive. They pretty much know what we’re going to order before we say the words – the julienne di calamari (which is thinly sliced and lightly breaded calamari on a bed of arugula and topped with Balsamic vinegar and shaved Grana Padano cheese and sauté di frutti di mare (which are clams, mussels and other shellfish sautéed in white wine and oil with toasted bread for dipping) are our usual antipasto. We’ve also become big fans of the primo piatto of spaghetti with shrimp and almond and mint pesto.
Truly, the entire experience of eating with the wind blowing in your hair, overlooking the ocean (usually full of yachts, sunbathers, and swimmers) and the castle, which is the focal point of Ischia, is so Italian that you’ll want to wrap it all up to take home as a souvenir. Then, when you take into consideration the quality of the ingredients and execution of the dishes you’re eating, replete with 5-star presentation, you’ll feel validated in your recognition that this is unique. For real. It is the embodiment of an authentic Italian summer, and it’s unforgettably delicious.
Di Meglio uses the written word to help families create memories and stick together. You can follow her on Facebook at Francesca’s Newlyweds Nest and on Twitter @ItalianMamma10.